India’s Daughter: A Review
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India’s Daughter: A Review

The documentary is not sympathetic to the rapists – it makes the case against them stronger.

By Rajyasree Sen

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I am of the strong belief that we need to repeatedly remind ourselves of the cruelty that man is capable of. (Man as a species, not as a gender.) I know many may not agree, but it’s why I feel people should visit Cambodia or go to Auschwitz. It makes you realise the great evil that many people are capable of, and that we as a society should do everything possible to not let these horrors take place again. I feel the same way about murderers and rapists. It is necessary to interview these criminals and to broadcast their views to a larger audience, so that people are aware of how a sociopath or a psychopath’s mind works. It makes you realise how “normal” and “ordinary” most of them are.  How they could be the man next door to you, or the woman who lives down the lane. Of course, without glorifying them or sensationalising what they did.

Which is more than I can say about the programmes – many under the guise of news – which have preceded the documentary, India’s Daughter. Like most women in Delhi, I too was shaken by the December 16th gangrape. After all, it could happen to any of us. The incident took place in a busy part of Delhi, outside Select Citywalk Mall. By seemingly ordinary men – a bus driver, a bus attendant, a cleaner.

After the protests which have faced India’s Daughter – and it being banned peremptorily in India, I couldn’t not watch the film. I’m not a fan of censorship or the banning of anything – unless it is a call for violence. Critics of the film – none of whom have seen it, as expected – claim that it glorified the rapist who was interviewed and would drive people to rape others. According to Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, “the government will not allow any attempt by any individual, group or organization to leverage such unfortunate incidents for commercial benefit”. If only Singh had voiced such concern when he was in the Opposition, and had watched Crime Patrol’s programme on the rape as well as the interviews by various media houses of Jyoti’s parents and her friend.

The hour-long documentary is being shown on BBC Four’s Storyville series – which showcases international documentaries across a range of topics. If you’re quick enough you can watch it on YouTube. My only bone of contention with the documentary is its name. India’s Daughter – The story of Jyoti Singh. My contention is for no other reason than it reduces women to being someone’s sister, mother or daughter. Taking away our individuality and reducing us to being identified to how we are related to a man in our family. But that seems to be the only pandering to sensationalism that I noticed.

The first two minutes of the film talk of the rape, the protests that ensued, the police inaction, and how the case has turned out. What is shown in the first few minutes are the protests at India Gate. You see protestors being manhandled by the police. Policemen walloping women protesters. Water-cannoning them. This is not an advertisement for the Indian state.

There is a reconstruction of the night of the rape – but one which is as non-sensationalist as possible. There is no re-enactment of the rape or close-ups of actors playing the rapists. This is a documentary the way a documentary should be made – without emotion.

Through the duration of the documentary, not once do you see the interviewer or the film-maker. The people being interviewed all speak directly to the audience. Badri and Asha, the parents of Jyoti – the girl who was raped on that night – are interviewed. As are the parents of the rapists. There are no long pauses waiting for the various parents to breakdown or close-ups of their weeping faces.

We’ve seen multiple interviews of Jyoti’s parents by now, but what still got me was how calm they are, and how proudly they speak of her. They describe how they treated Jyoti as they would have a son, even though people around them couldn’t understand why they would do so. And I think – if anyone is worried about how India will be portrayed to the world – they should be pleased by the fact that this interview shows that not everyone in India thinks that women are second class citizens. And that is what comes out through the duration of the documentary. The dichotomy of views – some of the most regressive being held by educated and supposedly economically comfortable people like the defence lawyers in the case.

Within the first 10 minutes, we are taken to Tihar Jail, where the convicted rapists are incarcerated. Mukesh Singh, the 28-year-old who has been sentenced to death by hanging along with his other compatriots, is the one who is interviewed. His views are those that you would expect a rapist to hold. To sum up – a girl is more responsible for rape than a boy. Boys and girls are not equal. Girls should look after the house. They should wear decent clothes.

He claims that he didn’t rape her or attack her friend. That he was driving the bus. But he doesn’t think twice before throwing his other friends to the gallows – claiming all of them were guilty. We are shown footage of his expression after he has been told about the litany of injuries that were found on Jyoti’s body. There is not a spot of remorse in his eyes, or shame or regret. In fact, he follows it up by saying that if she hadn’t fought the rapists, she would still be alive. There is one point where he calmly describes how the juvenile pulled Jyoti’s intestines out and threw them on the street. And how they all went home, washed the bus, cleaned up and went to sleep.

You are also shown footage of the others walking in and out of the cells, talking to the police, being taken to the court. You see the juvenile – with his face covered – being escorted around. All of them look healthy, extremely fit, very well-groomed and are conversing casually with each other, a little bored.

Not once will you feel a spot of sympathy for these criminals. Unless you yourself are a sociopath, then you may. In fact, what I felt was deep anger at the fact that these heinous criminals looked so undisturbed. You see them yawning and relaxing – living in far better conditions than what they’ve come from. Not seeming at all disturbed by the prospect of death. Maybe because they doubt it will happen.  If they haven’t been hanged yet, shouldn’t they at least be under rigorous imprisonment or Coventry?

If anything, this film makes the case against the criminals stronger – especially Mukesh, who is not only a rapist but is also a turncoat. It also makes a case against our legal and prison system which seems to believe in treating prisoners of heinous crimes – as guests of the state.

We are taken to Ravidas Camp in R K Puram, where a few of the accused used to live. Cloistered lanes, people bathing in the open – but coolers lining every house. Mukesh, the rapist, describes how their idea of entertainment was to drink and then go to GB Road (Delhi’s red light area). Much as they had planned to do the night of the rape.  These are men with hardly any education and very little money and no family – a situation which was described in detail by Jason Burke in his article on the antecedents of these rapists.

We cut to where Jyoti used to live in Dwarka. A normal, middle class colony. With cluttered roads and unpainted buildings – but with creature comforts like a washing machine at home. Her mother describes how Jyoti was to start a new internship and decided to go for a film before she began work the next week. The presence of “family” comes through, without being overtly stated. Something which you notice a clear absence of in the lives of the rapists.

The defence lawyers of the rapists are interviewed. And it is their views which are far more shocking than Mukesh’s. Paraphrasing what ML Sharma said – a female is just like a flower. A male is like a thorn. If you put that flower in a gutter it is spoilt. He comments on how “the girl was with an unknown boy who took her on a date. In our society, we don’t allow girls out after 6.30-7.30. They left Indian culture. They were under the influence of the filmi culture. She should not be on the street like food. Ladies are more precious than a gem. It is up to you how you want to keep it  – in your hand or on the street. A woman means I immediately put the sex in his eyes. We have the best culture. In our culture we have no place for the woman”.

AP Singh, the other lawyer, says that “girls should only go out with family members. Not with outsiders. That also if very important or necessary.And only with uncle, father, grandfather (showing a total lack of awareness of domestic rape or rape by family members).  They should not go in night hours with boyfriend”.

These are educated men involved in upholding the law of the land. If anything should worry the protectors of all that is right in India sitting in the Parliament, it is the views of these lawyers. After listening to whom, you realise why Mukesh the rapist seems to believe that Jyoti asked to be raped. If this is the counsel he is getting and if these lawyers are speaking to even one more person, god help our society. Mukesh also seems to be extremely well informed about other sex crimes – asking that if the people involved in the rape in Barabanki or the ones who set a woman on fire aren’t getting the death penalty, why should he and his comrades.

Leila Seth, Former Chief Justice, Member of the Rape Review Committee is interviewed. As is Sandeep Goyal, Jail Psychiatrist For Rapists. Raj Kumar, the patrolman who found the two victims describes the state he found them in and that despite people – 30 to 35 – gathering around them, no one helped. Rashmi Ahuja, the gynaecologist at Safdarjung Hospital describes Jyoti’s wounds. Pramod Kushwa, the Additional Deputy Commissioner Delhi Police details how they caught the rapists with the use of dental forensics for the first time.

The parents of the rapists are interviewed, giving an insight into the abject poverty they have come from and how women in their homes are not viewed as equal to men. You also realise the difference between various parents. Mukesh and Ram Singh’s parents claim it’s not their sons’ fault and that it’s everyone else’s fault. The father lets slip that his sons used to hang out with the other accused very regularly, only to be visibly nudged to keep silent by his wife. The mother of the juvenile says she hasn’t seen him in three years. She is living on tea as there isn’t enough money to buy food. Akshay’s parents are the ones who took him to the police. His wife, though, believes he isn’t guilty.

The documentary adequately brings out the fact that these are men who are totally uprooted from family, with a peer group which is similar to them. And it is very important that we realise where these men have come from to understand why they reacted and acted the way they did. What drove these men to rape and to think that they were doing nothing wrong.

The government is actually shown in a good light in parts. That it took a decision, honouring the voice and sentiment of the public, to set up the Verma Commission. The Verma Commission report is commended – how liberal it is, the important recommendations that were made, the relook at the definition of sexual assault, and that the language of modesty and shame needed to be removed from the IPC.

What stays with you is what Jyoti’s father says – that when he met the rapists, there was no shame or fear or regret for what they’d done. What stays with you is what the parents say about the juvenile rapist and their utter helplessness at the fact that he has been given such a mild sentence – on the technicality that he was just short of turning 18.

That is what I feel we should outrage at. The fact that the juvenile will be out in December of this year. Walking amongst us. Maybe working next door to you, or looking after your children, or delivering food to your house. Outrage at that. At the limitations of the legal system.At the fact that the men who brutally raped Jyoti are living off the fat of the land, looking comfortable and healthy in prison. Living in far better conditions, than they were living when they were free men. If they are to be hanged, why have they not been hanged yet? How long will their appeal take? Till such time, should they not be in solitary confinement or under rigorous imprisonment? Our government should focus on these aspects instead of on banning a film which frankly is neither stellar nor offensive.

For the rest of us, instead of shying away from the evil that lurks in the hearts of men, watch these documentaries and interviews to understand how seemingly normal people commit the crimes they do.

Charles Manson interview

Jeffrey Dahmer interview – Stone Phillips

John Wayne Gacy documentary

Paul Bernardo’s prison interview

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