Leslee Udwin’s documentary India’s Daughter relies on emotional narrative but fails to form a coherent understanding of rape culture
By Supriya Madangarli
The past few days the BBC documentary India’s Daughters directed by Leslie Udwin has caused a furor in media, both print and television, as certain segments of the film were released to the public. There were legal questions raised about the film, how did the producer-director get permission to interview the convicts in the case when the matter was sub-judice. With the case under appeal in the Supreme Court, is it legal to show the film to the public?
The film was fought over in the Parliament with the Government’s decision to ban it. I got an opportunity to watch the film on youtube and these are a few comments I would like to make.
a. Watching the rapists and the reconstruction (in my opinion not necessary) was nauseating and gut-wrenching.
b. The pain of the young woman’s parents was heart-rending
c. The quotes of the rapist and his lawyers overwhelmed the narrative.
It evoked a response of fear, agony and anger. But as the film went on, I was disappointed in its attempt to analyse the rapists ‘mind-set’.
A very feeble portrayal of their economic class and deprivation and the environment they lived in, is shown and I am confused of its purpose. The film talks to an ngo director and a prison psychiatrist in an attempt to understand the ‘why’. Why did these men commit the rape? Are we to understand, that the focus of the film is purely and subjectively on only this particular case and it was treated in isolation – that the analysis was only about these men? However, the quotes of ‘mindset’ and ‘cultural values’ sought to link it with society and the ‘mindset’ of the society.
The intersections of caste, class, consumerism, misogyny, patriarchy and other factors that create rape culture have been ignored. This could have been done if the director had talked to those women who have fought for and been instrumental in changing not only Indian laws, but also fought rape culture from the Mathura rape case to Nirbhaya
Even as activist Kavita Krishanan spoke in the film of how the protest movement that raged in the aftermath became not just about the young woman in Delhi but about a collective anger against rape culture, no such analysis is done in the film. There were no in-depth interviews with the women activists in India, instead the film kept talking to a writer/historian from Oxford who gave inputs which one could have got from wikipedia.
There was also no mention of the painstaking work put in by individuals, activists and women and human rights organisations across India who worked within a nearly impossible deadline to give their submissions to the Justice Verma Commission – these submissions were the core of the content that framed the recommendations for the amendment to criminal law.
However, the criticisms aside, there is no call to ban the film. The need is to continue the conversation by talking about the points that were feebly addressed or ignored by the film. If we are to talk about justice to the young woman, then we need to talk not just about her case, but about Manorama Devi, about Soni Sori, about Sister Abhaya, about Nilufer and Asiya, about Khairlanji, about Rohtak, about Bhagana rapes, the rapes in Gujarat and in Muzaffarnagar etc.