Yes, Leslee Udwin’s documentary has shamed us. Not on the point made by Minakshi Lekhi in Parliament where she said the film will affect tourism. Definitely not. But, it has shamed Indian journalism – that is, us. Why did none of us do it? Why, when all the material is right under our envy-ridden noses, did we not pick up the potential of putting it together to tell the full story?
The documentary is not a patronising white woman’s sermon to India. It is a tribute to India’s youth who poured out on the streets, without a leader, to brave lathi charges and water cannons, to demand the overthrow of old mindsets. It is also a tribute to Jyoti Singh’s parents who crossed all social boundaries of their community to support their daughter in her struggle to become a doctor. (Jyoti’s parents stated that they did not want to hide her name. They want her name known to the public.) And what better way to expose widespread, entrenched machismo beliefs than to show convicted rapist Mukesh Singh’s views justifying his actions. This shows, their brutality did not emanate from a drunken night where they were not aware of what they were doing. All the gut-wrenching savagery they lashed on Jyoti Singh on December 16, 2012, came from the cultural position that they had a right to do what they did, the girl asked for it and deserved what she got.
Questions often asked after Jyoti Singh’s rape were: How could any humans be so heinous? How could they be so inhuman? What triggered the animal-like behaviour where they even pulled out her intestines? The mental space the rapists came from remained a mystery. Until now. This documentary lays bare Hannah Arendt’s famous theory – “the banality of evil”. Arendt wrote it in her report in The New Yorker in 1961, when she was sent to cover the Nuremberg Trials. This was followed by her book “Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil“.
“So if a crime against humanity had become in some sense ‘banal’ it was precisely because it was committed in a daily way, systematically, without being adequately named and opposed. In a sense, by calling a crime against humanity ‘banal’, she was trying to point to the way in which the crime had become for the criminals accepted, routinised, and implemented without moral revulsion and political indignation and resistance.”
Accepted – this we see in Singh’s comments when he espouses what the majority of Indian men think. It is acceptable to rape a woman. Routinised – every 20 minutes a woman is raped in India. What could be more routine? Implemented without moral revulsion – clear that Singh has no remorse. In fact, he feels victimised that many other rapes have been committed that didn’t get the attention or the sentence he received.
In the film, lawyers provide the tragi-comedy highlights. Tragedy because these are “educated” lawyers who think like Mukesh Singh. Comedy because they are ridiculous and funny peculiar. This convict’s lawyer M L Sharma says, “A female is a [sic] just like a flower. It gives a good looking very softness performance – pleasant. But on the other hand, a man is like a thorn. Strong, tough enough. That flower always need a protection. If you put that flower in a gutter is spoilt. That girl was with some unknown boy on date. In our society we never allow our girls to come out of from the house after 6:30 or 7:30 or 8:30 in the evening with any unknown person.
She should not be put on the streets just like food. The ‘lady’, on the other hand, you can say the ‘girl’ or ‘woman’ are more precious than a gem, than a diamond. It is up to you how you want to keep that diamond in your hand. If you put your diamond on the street, certainly the dog will take it out. You cannot stop. You are talking as friend as a man and woman. Sorry, that doesn’t have any place in our society. Woman’s means I [eye?] immediately puts the sex in his eyes. We have the best culture. There is no place for a woman. He will like to create a damage. He will put his hand. Daalo! Maaro! It is just like that kind of action. Beat him. Putting his hand forcefully inside.”
Somebody, perhaps his wife, sister or daughter should calm this fellow down. To put it mildly, he seems a tad over excited.
A P Singh, the other defence lawyer added his gems: “If very important, if very necessary should go outside but she should go with their family members like uncle, father, mother, grandfather, grandmother, etc. etc. She should not go in night hours with her boyfriend. If my daughter or sister engaged in pre-marital activities and disgraced herself and allowed herself to lose face and character by doing such things I would most certainly take this sort of sister or daughter to my farmhouse, make her stand there in front of the whole family, right in front of my family, I would pour petrol over her and burn her. That is the courage I maintain.”
Just one question: why farmhouse?
Let’s accept this fact. The views that Mukesh Singh expresses have already been expressed by a long list of men and women in political power and official positions. Public outrage thrashes these outbursts which are then squirmed out of. But, when these men and women make these pronouncements, they are coming from the same cultural mental space as Singh. They are saying what is “normal” in their lives. What is banal for them is outrageous for a now growingly aware public who will not accept destructive tradition. It used to be normal and banal for Thakurs in villages to grab any lower caste woman for their pleasure. The poor had no voice to protest. Bhanwari Devi, from Bhateri village, Rajasthan, broke the mold when she took action against those who gang raped her in September, 1992. Not that it has brought about a complete change in those men who still believe it is their entitlement. But the change was visible after December 16, 2012, when not only in Delhi, but across the country, conscience driven men, women, often in solidarity with their children raised a single voice against such entrenched acceptability for rape.
In what should be considered a glaring strategic miscalculation, the Congress Party ordered the police to go after the peaceful protestors with lathi charges and water cannons. If Rahul Gandhi had an iota of understanding of Indian sentiment, he would have joined the protestors. This was his opportunity. This was not a controversial political issue. It was a human issue of women’s protection. Until the police started the violence, the protestors were not actually protesting against the government. They were protesting against a barbaric rape and wanted assurance that the rapists would not go unpunished. By ordering the police to become bloodhounds, the Congress Party succeeded in making the issue against its own government.
Could the film give ideas to men that it’s okay to rape and it is better to kill the woman so she cannot give evidence, as stated by Singh in the film? You’re not serious. A man who is serving a life sentence with the highest possibility of being hanged is going to inspire men to rape and kill? That is a stretch. It is crucial that men absorb the torturous pain and grief Jyoti’s parents went and still go through. Perhaps, just perhaps, it might hit a chord and see it could be their parents if it happened to one of their own. For that small chance of ‘perhaps’, it is worth showing the film. Here’s a proposal – All television channels, including regional language channels, agree to a pact that they will all broadcast the documentary on the same day, at the same time. Statement – We will not accept censorship. I wouldn’t force Times Now to broadcast the film since they have taken a position to ban it. I would like to ask Times Now, with no undue respect, if you stand for the film being banned, why should your discussions on the film not be banned? Everything you object to in the film, you are describing in detail on your shows. So who is sensationalising what?
It was Inspector Parveen Kumar of Cyber Crime Cell, EOW, who filed a sloppily hand-written application in Metropolitan Magistrate Puneet Pahwa’s court at 10:30 pm on March 3, 2015. Kumar asked for the blocking of the film from broadcast because “it may cause huge public outcry and may cause law and order problem.” On March 4, 2015, Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Sanjay Khanagwal passed the restraining order.
What law and order problem did they anticipate? The only law and order problem we have witnessed is all the screaming and hysteria on news channels, particularly Times Now.
Who ordered Parveen Kumar to file his application? It has been speculated that the Delhi Police pushed for the ban of the film. Why? Because they are afraid that all that they did in the aftermath of December 16, 2012, was caught on cameras will not make them look good. But, if they saw the film, they would see the police come across as conducting exemplary detective work in bringing the culprits to book in record time.
Why, then, has this government fallen prey to such demands to censor? The BJP was not in government then. It shows up the ineptness of the Congress party at that crucial time. It would be to the BJP’s advantage to show this film. But, censorship is a disease that comes attached with those who come to power. There seems to be a sadistic pleasure amongst politicians in banning books and films. You can just see the condescending smile. WE can see it because we are not the law and order problem. YOU, the masses are. Right. Can we please dig out the statistics of how many members of Parliament stand accused of murder, rape and sexual assault? Let’s not even get into incitement to riot.
Without seeing the film, banning it is the most mindless extraordinarily stupid thing to do. After Narendra Modi’s ground breaking statement in his speech at Red Fort on August 15, 2014, asking parents to rein in their sons and ask their sons the controlling questions they ask their daughters, one expected more from this government.
Back to Arendt – “So if a crime against humanity had become in some sense ‘banal’ it was precisely because it was committed in a daily way, systematically, without being adequately named and opposed.” This film exposes the banality of rape in India. Without exposing this mentality, adequately naming it, how can we oppose it? The BJP has made the same mistake the Congress Party made after December 16, 2012. They presumed that questioning the system means it is against the power establishment. But, they should have realised, this does not question the political system. It questions the social system. Our Prime Minister attacked the social system in his speech. This film does the same thing. The BJP should have adopted this film, translated it into regional languages and shown it across the country. They would only be pushing the agenda the Prime Minister has set and people want, particularly women. The banality of those in power never fails to amaze.
(A version of this piece appeared in the Hindustan Times on March 6)