Now that the whole charade of drama regarding Leslee Udwin’s documentary, India’s daughter, has ended, with all the usual suspects playing their parts, with the script unfolding with its share of turns and trite dialogues, let us look back at all the ridiculousness that had happened with the release of the documentary(this post is a review of that drama, if you will).
Bane and ban
First of all, the whole controversy started as part of a media war between Times Now and NDTV. Times had won the battle overwhelmingly by effectively using its imposing presence on TV, social media, websites and print media to rake a controversy vilifying NDTV. It spinned the story to paint as if NDTV was supporting the views of the rapist(Mukesh) and even worse, almost accused it of being ‘unpatriotic’.
The twitterati and the ill-informed Time’s audience got carried away by the sensationalist news, asking for the ban of the documentary. Most people who were feeling anger about various other things, displaced their anger towards the documentary. People are fed up with our snail paced justice system failing to provide prompt justice in even such a high profile case and they are ashamed about the tag of being the ‘rape country’. Times has cleverly used this anger by channeling it towards the documentary and its makers.
If BBC had partnered with Times Now instead of NDTV to air the documentary, it would not have refused the chance to garner some good TRPs. The whole controversy would not even have happened and most people in India would not even have known the existence of such a documentary.
Some of the reasons people called for the ban and why they are wrong:
- Some said that the documentary gave a platform for the rapist– It’s a documentary i.e it documents what all happened regarding that rape, including inside the rapist’s mind. No where does the documentary supports Mukesh’s view, on contrary it mirrors the sick mind of some individuals in our society. Interviewing the rapist is not giving him stardom if he is shown as a psycho and a sick person. If you want to be blind to the truth, do not watch it. But you have no right to decide my choice. This is not a question of freedom of speech for the rapist, but the importance of depicting the ugly truth in the society, which many of us choose to be blind about.
- Some even sympathized with the rapist, saying that the documentary comes in the way of a fair trial for the convicts, see TOI blog. These are the same people who sensationalize rape and call for indiscriminate capital punishments by conducting media trails. The documentary was made with the full consent of the convict and he gave the same arguments that his lawyers are arguing for his appeals in the court. Convicts absolving themselves of crimes in front of media and reporting of the same in news is nothing new and it is not illegal as there is no jury system to make them biased.
- Times started a hashtag called #Nirbhayainsulted and demanded the ban for insulting Nirbhaya. Was she insulted by the words of a man who brutally raped and killed her? He did far worse then blaming her for the rape. By selectively showing a single clip from the documentary, Times have made the documentary look like it was supporting the view point of the rapist. And the emotionally charged twitterati-mostly feminists jumped the gun making assumptions without even watching the full documentary. If India is to deal with the problem of rapes, it needs to have an honest discussion about rapists’ motivation to commit such brutal rapes. Documentaries which record the reality about the mindset of rapists are vital for such a discussion.
- How did the makers of the documentary even enter the ‘high security’ jail and interview a convict?-this is also a popular reason for people to call for a ban. Interviewing convicts in jails is not a new thing especially in India, nor would this be the last. VIP prisoners literally run their offices from inside a jail and you are worried about a director entering the jail for a documentary? More over, she had taken all the legal permissions from the then home ministry, so accusing the documentary of illegality is baseless.
- The most popular reason for calling of the ban, that no one whats to admit, is that the elite of the country do not want to confront the ugliness in our society. They want to live in a bubble in which India is the greatest country in the world, which had aeroplanes and plastic surgeries thousands of years ago and in which the caste system and even Sati has some twisted justification. Any information contrary to that is termed as an effort to defame India or Hindu culture. This pattern is seen ever since the Hindu nationalist government had come to power. Films which depict reality of common people using abusive language are censored. Books like Wendy Doniger’s The Hindus: An Alternative History are forced to withdraw and authors like Perumal Murugan are coerced to issue apology for their books. By the way those two book were published long back, but we are seeing such protests after May 2014-make the connection. The elites does not want to see some of their own-two prominent lawyers who are the counselors for the rapist, echoing similar views that of the rapist(one lawyer said if his daughter goes out of home at night with another man(boy friend) he would pour kerosene and kill her).
The only reason calling for the ban, that I can understand(but do not agree for a ban) is the effect of such a documentary on India’s image and soft power. From last three years, global media had vilified Indian men, making them victims of the propaganda about the so-called India’s rape culture. Do people like the lawyer in above picture exist in India?- of course they do. They are what we call sick people and they have no idea about Indian culture. Such individuals exist in all cultures, but taking some instances of extreme nature and stereotyping a whole nature as a country of rapists is utter foolishness and this raises doubts about the intentions of such documentaries.
However, I do not believe the conspiracy theories about how the western media is deliberately using the issue of rape to damage India’s international image and its eventual raise as a global power. There are an assortment of reasons for focusing specifically on rapes happening in India. The reasons may not be deliberate but their effects are very real and profound.
Effect of such an image as a ‘country of rapists’
Last week, an Indian student was denied internship, by a German professor who was wary of India’s rape culture. This shows how effective Western media has been in vilifying the image of India. Someone no less than a professor, is of the opinion that Indian men cannot be trusted and placed in a group with females in it, because of their ‘rape attitude’ and that she does not want to support such people. She also reportedly said that, many other female professors across Europe were turning down male students from India, for the same reason.
I hope that at least in such extremely ridiculous cases, everyone would agree that the behavior of the professor’ is wrong. The German ambassador strongly denounced the actions of the professor, may be this information will help some among us to stop victim blaming India. I also hope, that they could see the profound effects of unbridled India bashing by western media on the country’s image around the world.
This is not a one-off event which could be blamed on the professor, I also do not think that she is some lunatic. The professor is just being logical and was looking out for the females in her group. Every other story the professor read in the last three years about India involved a savage rape and may be the one movie she ever saw concerning India was Slumdog Millionaire in which Latika gets raped and is forced in to prostitution. All the information she knows about Indian men is about their ‘attitude of rape’ and she just did not want to risk it. Every story we hear about Nigeria is about Boko Haram kidnapping girls and hundreds of people getting killed in suicide bombings. But how many of us know that Nigeria’s Nollywood is the second largest film industry in the world. With such a lopsided negative media profile of Nigeria, what would the professor be thinking about her/his Nigerian students?
The real culprit is the biased media portrayal of Indian reality.
The culture of rape
I do not intend to be blind and say that there is no problem of rape in India but it is not ‘India’s rape problem‘. Every nation has the problem of rape, it is not something unique to India. Saying that rapes in India happen because it’s culture promotes rape, is utterly wrong.
There are a lot of problems in India, but not every thing stems from its culture. First of all, there is no single Indian culture so I do not understand what Indian culture they are talking about.
Secondly, no Indian mythological story has ever supported rape or shown women as second class citizens. The great actor, Kamal Hasan has recently said in a TV show that, Hindu mythology is responsible for Indian male’s patriarchal attitude towards women. He gave the example of Pandavas betting and losing their wife, Draupadi in a gambling game of dice. He said that, such a story gives the message that your wife is your property and you can use her for a bet. That’s not the message I got as an Indian male. As Vyasa intended, I internalized the negative consequences of gambling and how wrong Pandavas were in using Draupadi for their bet. For such immoral actions, Pandavas were punished according to their Karma and were sent to Vanavasam(forest dwelling), lost all their possessions, and they even had to pass through hell for some time before going to heaven. Draupadi is not portrayed as a meak character in Mahabharata, she is a fiercely independent women. After being insulted with Vasthrapaharanam(robbing of her clothes), she demanded justice directly from the King Dhritarashtra for the wrongs committed by his sons and threatened to curse them all. She even criticised great warriors such as Bhishma, Drona, Kripacharya and even her five husbands for not saving her from the humiliation.
People like Kamal Hassan and many left liberals are atheists with which I have no problem. But they displace their anger at religion(for causing ignorance and suffering in their view) towards our mythology and traditions as well. They are finding the casualty between rapes and Indian mythology & culture where none exists. Some left liberals have blind faith in what ever the western ‘intellectuals’ have to say about human existence and reasons for the sufferings of humanity. They not only accept these theories without criticizing them, but also apply those theories to Indian settings with out any validation. In a sense, they fit the data to the theory instead of drawing conclusions from evidence.
Patriarchy is not something unique to Indian culture. Except may be in some tribal cultures of Trobriand Islands, patriarchy is the norm. Marxist feminists have portrayed this general arrangement in all cultures as some male conspiracy to subjugate females. In keeping with their tradition of seeing division and rivalry between different classes in every setting, they saw the same in the institution of marriage. This same sociological theories are being applied to Indian setting as well and are painting all Indian men as villains who subjugate their women by raping them. Any man who disagrees even slightly is termed as having a patriarchal mindset. Again, I am not supporting patriarchy but one should understand the context in which developed in almost all cultures of the world, before blaming Indian culture.
If rape is an Indian problem, why are rapes happening all across the world. If a rape happens in Britain, why is it not termed as a result of Britain’s rape culture? Jimmy Savile the celebrity tv presenter of BBC, the same channel which is airing India’s daughter, has been accused of hundreds of rapes which he had committed hiding behind his celebrity status. If British culture is so fair, why did not those rape accusations of Jimmy taken seriously when he was alive-isn’t this silence a symptom of patriarchy?
Rape of India’s image
The negative effects of such a dastardly portrayal of Indian society has huge negative impact on not only our pride as a nation, but also on our economy. Soft power has been a great asset for India which the country has been a result of our rich, vibrant and ancient culture. But lately any story about India that reaches headlines of international news organizations is about India’s rape problem.
One of the negative effects of such a portrayal as in the case of the German professor is that no one would wants to work with or in a country which has such disdain for its females who are treated as cattle. India needs the best brains of the world to come and work here and wants our people to go out work with others to gain skills and experience. Such a negative image is not conducive for our pursuits of being a global power. Since the 2012 gang rape, all the good will that India earned through its Incredible !ndia campaign evaporated, the number of tourists coming to India got reduced compared to previous years. Tourism industry is a indispensable source of foreign currency and a mass employment generator. This vital industry has been severely affected by such negative image. Also, India sees itself as a bright star of stability and peace among the dark seas of the region. An image of rape capital of the world does not look good on the resume of the country which champions ‘rule of law’ and wants to be the pre-eminent power in the region.
Banning, a wrong reaction
Indian government is right in being livid with such a uni-dimensional propaganda of India’s image, when the country is gearing up to catch up with the rest of the world. But banning was a knee-jerk reaction by a government intimidated by the media and dependent on a belligerent opposition for passing of some crucial bills in parliament.
First of all, in this digital age, you can never truly ban anything. Internet is like the numerous borrows in the ground like in the Bugs bunny cartoon, if you close one hole, the bunny will appear in another, you just do not have enough resources to close down all holes.
Secondly, Indian government over estimated it’s influence. I wonder, if the government really believed that it can stop a huge western media behemoth like BBC from not airing the documentary globally.
Thirdly, the banning itself generated huge negative PR. Now as per the image-not only does India has a rape problem, it has an authoritarian government which is against free speech and is a country which intimidates those who speak the truth. For a country which advertises it self as a champion of democracy, banning of the documentary by BBC has been a huge blow to its credentials.
Fourthly, by making this a big issue, Indian government had only fanned the flames and more people around the world, came to know about it and watched it.
What should India do?
Firstly, don’t do stupid things such as banning documentaries. That would only generate further heat and paint a wrong image about the country for wrong reasons, as restriction of freedom of expression is viewed more negatively than even rapes!
Secondly, consider the advice the German ambassador had for the ignorant professor:
“I would encourage you to learn more about the diverse, dynamic and fascinating country and the many welcoming and open-minded people of India so that you could correct a simplistic image, which – in my opinion – is particularly unsuitable for a professor and teacher.”
The key word here is ‘learn more‘. Why would I want to voluntarily learn more about Nigeria or about some other country. And where would I get the information from. Similarly, why a German professor would want to learn more about India other than what her news source ‘informs’ her and where would she ‘learn more’?
Instead of hoping that people outside India will learn more, India should educate them more. India needs to provide an alternate narrative to the so-called rape problem for international audience. Rape should not be the first thing that comes to mind when they think of India. People must be made to understand that rape is committed by a sick individual and it is neither sanctioned nor condoned by our culture. For this, there are many tools that we can use. These include, books illuminating the typical role of an Indian woman in her family, the respect that an Indian woman commands in the society and the great heroic women in our myths and our long history. Similarly, documentaries and films could be encouraged which portray simple stories of Indian lives which point out the similarities between Indian families and that of others, this reality check breaks the stereotypes and prejudices that people hold about India.
However, the most potent but ambitious tool of all is having our own International news network. Every major western country like USA(CNN), UK(BBC), France(AFP) and even Spain(Univision) have access to millions of living rooms across the world, ‘educating’ people about news from their country’s point of view. Even emerging nations like Russia(RT) and China(CCTV) have huge international media outlets. This is a highly potent soft power weapon that powerful nations possess, giving them great strategic and economic benefits. TV offers many advantages like no other media. TV is visual so it is more engaging, news could be relayed live influencing people’s views as they are forming them and not after they have formed. Our private news networks do not have required resources to develop in to global media outlets and our public broadcaster Doordharshan has no such vision. India needs to consider an international news network as a foreign policy priority and take up its development. Though, this news of DD signing MoU with German public service broadcaster Deutsche Welle (DW) is encouraging, but its vision is limited as it aims only at Indian diaspora and not general international audience like Al Jazeera or CNN does.
Banning a documentary is not only counter-productive but shows that India as being defensive about it’s rape problem. Instead, India needs to develop its own offensive tools offering alternate view about India to enlarge brand India’s global appeal.