Documentary ban reinforces gender inequality in India

Trigger Warning: This article graphically depicts and describes rape and murder.
On the night of Dec. 14th, 2012—just as the malls of the new India were drawing their shutters, lamps illuminating Justin Bieber underwear advertisements were switching off, local radio channels were shuffling between the latest Bollywood hits (“My busty youth is too sexy for your lust” and “Stick my lips to your chest using adhesives”)—Nirbhaya, a 23-year old physiotherapy intern, was brutally gang raped by five men in a moving bus in Saket, New Delhi. Thirteen days later, she finally gave up in a hospital in Singapore. The doctors, though, had given up much earlier: “In 29 years of practice, we have never come across such a brutal case.” Autopsy reports indicated the use of a sharp long metallic object to deepen penetration. Two blood-stained metal rods were retrieved from the bus.

Mukesh, a 24-year old cis-male, currently on death row in Tihar Jail for the rape of Nirbhaya, described the night in the following words:

“The 15 or 20 minutes of the incident, I was driving the bus. They switched off the lights. My brother was the main guy. They hit the boy and he just hid between the seats. The girl was screaming, ‘Help me! Help me!’ My brother said, ‘Don’t stop the bus. Keep driving!’ They hit her and dragged her to the back. Then they went in turns. First the juvenile and Ram Singh. After that, Akshay and the rest went. Someone put his hand inside her and pulled out something long. It was her intestines. He said, “She’s dead. Throw her out quickly.” First, they tried the back door, but it didn’t open. So they dragged her to the front. They threw her out.”

M.L. Sharma, a 32-year old cis-male and one of the key defendants in the Nirbhaya rape case, was all in praise of Mukesh and what he had done, saying: “We [Indians] have the best culture. In our culture there is no place for women.”

2 years, 6 months and 11 days later, a BBC Documentary, India’s Daughter, one which finally explained why Mukesh and his gang had raped Nirbhaya, the same documentary responsible for the accounts mentioned above, was banned by the Indian Government under Section 505 (1) (b) of the Indian Constitution- “with intent to cause fear or alarm to the public”. Progress had been made.

It is ironic how, out of the spate of legislations available to the Indian Government—including a tabled bill in the Indian Parliament that would instate a series of new fast-track courts to deal with pending cases of rape in India and one that would indelibly compromise the careers of 250 members of the Indian Parliament who are currently accused of rape—the Indian Government chooses to institute the one ban that would lead to the most sociological incompetence. Yes, sociological incompetence. By banning India’s Daughter, not only has the Government of India completely failed to grasp the real issue of an assertive patriarchy that blinds the country, but it has also cleansed more than a billion Indians of any moral prerogative for a crime they are all equally responsible for.

The men of India’s Daughter, for those of us who are left aghast by their comments, speak true (not truth). When Mukesh says that “Boys and girls are not equal,” I am ashamed to admit that I know why he would say so. A man born and brought up in a village where there are triple the number of sons than daughters, where dowry is rampant, where child marriage is the norm and where schooling, let alone sex education, is unheard of, would believe that his sister is inferior to him if all his life he has seen reincarnations of precisely that. When he sees his parents give him more milk than his sister, or when he memorizes the lyrics of the latest Bollywood song (“Stick my lips to your chest using adhesives”) or when he suddenly notices his neighbor’s daughter missing for days until people around him forget about her completely; what would he think?

For Mukesh, boys and girls are most definitely not equal, yet the documentary ban hides this certainty from us. It targets not the ideology but its manifestations. Not patriarchy but its aberrations.

“To call them human, is to give humanity a bad name,” proclaims Mr. Badri, a leading activist and spokesperson for a local NGO. I disagree. Calling “them” names, or ostracizing their words is a gross misrepresentation of the reality. The blood of Nirbhaya is on our hands, yours and mine, and Mukesh and Sharma are as human as the persistent rhythm of blood pumping through our veins. Mr. Badri, like so many of us, would love to take the moral high ground on the issue: “How can they say something like this?”­—taking to Facebook walls, writing open letters to national newspapers—only to return to dinner and recorded television shows interspersed with underwear advertisements, relieved of the blame. Sadly he, like so many of us, forgets that Mukesh and Sharma are born in the streets that we have built for them, and studied (or not studied) in schools that are run (or not run) by us. We cannot separate their crime from who they are. Forget what the ban tells us, in order to blame them we have to blame ourselves first.

Watching India’s Daughter is a heart-breaking experience. It piques just at the right spot. It also fills one with disappointment. What could have coalesced into a lasting moment of simulation to the collective conscience of the nation, a gentle reminder of the night of Dec. 14 2012; is now reduced to a closed government file in some dusty cabinet in an old, run-down warehouse.

I realize it has become idiosyncratic of me to use the phrase: “It is not the first time, and I know it would not be the last”- but I mean it with as much, if not more, conviction whenever I use it. It is not the first time, and I know it would not be the last.  Missing the point is an act that the Government of India exercises with thorough proclivity. As it covers up for the comments that the country itself engenders, it revitalizes the concerns that it hopes to eradicate. This is hoping that the next time the opportunity arrives, for the sake of India’s daughters, it knows to hit the center rather than circle around.


—Udbhav Agarwal ’18 is a student at Vassar College.

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