Recently there was a big hue and cry about the release of a documentary titled ‘India’s Daughter’ made by Leslie Udwin for the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation), that focused on the 2012 dastardly gang rape of a 23- year-old girl in Delhi, who subsequently died. This incident shocked the nation’s collective conscience for the sheer brutality of the crime. In what can only be termed as a knee-jerk action, the central government stepped in to ban the documentary and also issued a diktat to BBC not to air the film.
The BBC, being an autonomous body and by no means under the jurisdiction of the Indian government, promptly advanced the screening of the film, which has since been seen by millions despite the ban. What prompted the ban was the exclusive interview with one of the accused (who has been convicted and sentenced to death with his appeal pending in the Supreme Court), in which he had sought to shift the blame on the victim and also made disparaging remarks against women who ventured out at night with their male friends. The misogynist statements made by the defence lawyers too added insult to injury.
The main reason for the ban however, was that India would be portrayed in a bad light to audiences abroad, and this would shame the country in the eyes of the world. The government’s view however was that the victim had been shamed as the documentary showed her in bad light. The grim irony is that the shaming and molesting of women in the country, their brutalisation and violation of human rights with impunity, and the low conviction rates of the accused involved in such crimes, is a trivial matter at best when it comes to upholding the country’s image abroad. The government’s reaction has won it plaudits from some quarters, but by and large it has been criticised roundly by a large cross section that included people from all walks of life.
Be that as it may, the moot question is whether the gruesome rape and murder of Nirbhaya and the death sentence handed over to the accused by a special court has resulted in any improvement in the safety and security of women in the country. Unfortunately, the answer is a loud ‘No’! The media continues to report with monotonous regularity rapes and murders, each one more ghastly and brutal than the other with the victims including children barely out of the cradle. The bestiality and the regressive mindset revealed by the accused who was interviewed for the film is not unique or a rare phenomenon. These views are shared by thousands of potential rapists and male chauvinists including the country’s political elite, who continue to hold on to their tattered logic that it is always the woman’s fault.
One corollary of this warped line of thinking is that at least where our country is concerned, it is the mindset of the men that has to be changed and this can hardly be done overnight; for, the thought that women are an inferior sex with hardly any rights has been ingrained in their psyche for generations.
In the budget for 2015-16, the Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has allocated another thousand crores for the Nirbhaya Fund which had been set up by the government to protect the dignity and ensuring the safety of women in India. It would be in the fitness of things if a part of this fund is used to create awareness in the minds of men, especiall those who have nothing but contempt for women, and hold a firm view that they are second class citizens.
It would be foolhardy to think that by hiding our warts they will just disappear. On the contrary, there is every chance that they would fester and turn leprous and contaminate the whole society. By preventing the rest of the world from glancing at our dark underbelly we gain nothing, and the sooner we realise this the better, that in this world where news travels faster than the speed of light, bans are nothing more than a futile exercise.