Wednesday, March 4, 2015

India’s Daughter: ‘I made a film on rape in India. Men’s brutal attitudes truly shocked me’

Leslee Udwin spent two years making a documentary on the horrific rape and killing of young medical student Jyoti Singh. And it asks, has the attack really spurred a sea change for gender equality in India?

Yvonne Roberts

Sunday 1 March 2015

Jyoti Singh, 23, had cause to celebrate. It was no ordinary Sunday. “Happiness was just a few steps away,” says her father, Badri Singh, a labourer. He and his wife, Asha, originally from Uttar Pradesh, had sold their family land, to provide schooling not just for their two sons but also Jyoti. “Papa,” Jyoti had instructed her father. “Whatever money you’ve saved for my wedding, use it for my education.” Badri’s brothers wondered why he was wasting money on a girl.

On this Sunday, 16 December 2012, Jyoti, a name that means light and happiness, had just completed her medical exams to become a doctor. Speaking excellent English, she spent nights working in a call centre from 8pm until 4am, slept for three hours, then studied. Her ambition was to build and run a hospital in her family’s village. “A girl can do anything,” she would say.

But that evening, in Delhi, she decided to go to the cinema to see The Life of Pi with a male friend. At 8.30pm, on the way home, the pair got into an off-duty charter bus. India’s Daughter, a powerful, brave and heart-wrenching documentary made by Leslee Udwin, provokes grief and anger but also pity for the ignorance. It charts what then happened on that moving bus as Jyoti was brutally raped by five men and a 17-year-old (“the juvenile”), eviscerated, then thrown on to the street. It shows how for the next 30 days across India, women and men demonstrated on the streets of the country’s cities, calling for the equality recognised in India’s constitution but never delivered, marking what a former solicitor general, Gopal Subramaniam, calls in the film “a momentous expression of hope for society”.

“It was an Arab spring for gender equality,” Udwin says. “What impelled me to leave my husband and two children for two years while I made the film in India was not so much the horror of the rape as the inspiring and extraordinary eruption on the streets. A cry of ‘enough is enough’.

Unprecedented numbers of ordinary men and women, day after day, faced a ferocious government crackdown that included teargas, baton charges and water cannon. They were protesting for my rights and the rights of all women. That gives me optimism. I can’t recall another country having done that in my lifetime.”

India’s Daughter is broadcast on BBC4 next Sunday, International Women’s Day, and simultaneously shown in seven other countries including India, Switzerland, Norway and Canada. On Monday 9 March, actresses Freida Pinto and Meryl Streep will attend a screening in New York, launching a worldwide India’s Daughter campaign against gender inequality and sexual violence against women and girls. It begins by 20 million pupils viewing the film and taking part in workshops in Maharashtra, a state that includes Mumbai.

Each country has its own appalling bloody tally. India has a population of 1.2 billion. A rape occurs every 20 minutes. In England and Wales, 85,000 women are raped every year. In Denmark one in five women has experienced a sexual assault. Sexual assault, rape, acid attacks, murder, domestic violence, the termination of female foetuses, sex trafficking and female genital mutilation are all manifestations of male power. What is writ very large in India’s Daughter, but camouflaged in other countries where equality is more strongly embedded in law, is the low value placed on females and the determination of some men, educated as well as the impoverished, to keep women padlocked to the past.

“We have the best culture. In our culture, there is no place for a woman,” says one man in Udwin’s film. What is shocking is that he is ML Sharma, defence lawyer for the men convicted of Jyoti’s rape and murder. A second defence lawyer, AP Singh, says if his daughter or sister “engaged in pre-marital activities … in front of my entire family, I would put petrol on her and set her alight”.

“I began this film with a narrow focus,” Israeli-born Udwin, 57, says. “‘Why do men rape?’ I discovered that the disease is a lack of respect for gender. It’s not just about a few rotten apples, it’s the barrel itself that is rotten.” Udwin was an actress before becoming an award-winning producer. Her work includes Who Bombed Birmingham?, about the miscarriage of justice that imprisoned the Birmingham Six, and East is East. For India’s Daughter she spent 30 hours interviewing rapists including Gaurav, a 34-year-old man serving 10 years for raping a five-year-old. “He told me in minute detail what he had done. How he had taken off her knickers. How her eyes were wide with fear. How he had done it front and back. I asked him how tall she was. He stood up and put his hand above his knee. I asked him, ‘How could you do something so terrible that would ruin a child’s life?’ He said, ‘She was a beggar girl, her life was of no value.’” Udwin found the girl, Neeta, now aged 10, and plans to make a film about her family’s resilience and resistance. “She is doing OK. Her mother is a beggar and has put Neeta and two other children through school.”

Central to India’s Daughter is an interview in Tahir jail, Delhi, with Mukesh Singh, driver of the bus. His brother, Ram, was found hanging in his cell months after the trial. The two lived in a Delhi slum. Also involved was Pawan Gupta, a fruit seller; Vinay Sharma, a gym assistant; unemployed Akshay Thakur; and “the juvenile”, living on the streets since he was 11. They had all been drinking before going out where “wrong things are done”.

Mukesh Singh says: “You can’t clap with one hand – it takes two hands. A decent girl won’t roam around at night. A girl is more responsible for rape than a boy … about 20% of girls are good.” Jyoti fought back. Singh says: “She should just be silent and allow the rape. Then they would have dropped her off after ‘doing her’ and only hit the boy.

“The 15 or 20 minutes of the incident, I was driving the bus. The girl was screaming, ‘Help me, help me.’ The juvenile put his hand in her and pulled out something. It was her intestines …We dragged her to the front of the bus and threw her out.”

Udwin, in Hindi, reads a list of Jyoti’s injuries to Singh, caused by an iron bar and multiple rapes. They include bite marks and massive internal injuries. He shows no remorse. A gynaecologist who cared for Jyoti says for months she asked herself the same question. “Why?”

Jyoti, initially given the name Nirbhaya, meaning fearless in Hindi, to preserve her anonymity, died after 13 days. Her parents, given 2 million rupees (£21,000) by the government, set up the Nirbhaya Trust to help women who have experienced violence. “We want to help those girls who have no one,” Jyoti’s father says.

The government, to quell the protest that followed her death, set up a three-member commission, headed by JS Verma, a former chief justice of India and human rights lawyer. It received 80,000 responses and delivered a landmark 630-page report in 29 days, calling for the law concerning sexual violence to be modernised, removing terms such as “intent to outrage her modesty”. New legislation failed to fulfil many of the report’s recommendations. Since then, the number of reported rapes has increased hugely, as more women come forward.

The juvenile is serving three years. Two of the convicted men are appealing against their sentence, a process that could take years. The judge said they should hang because “this is the rarest of cases”. Except that it isn’t. It is one of many. Just over two years after Jyoti’s rape, a woman was raped by four men, beaten, her eyes gouged out. Jyoti’s father, a man of shining integrity, says of his daughter: “In death, she lit such a torch … whatever darkness there is in this world should be dispelled by this light.”

India Reacts.

Documentary on 2012 Delhi gang rape banned in India

MARCH 4, 2015

NEW DELHI - A documentary film about the fatal gang rape of a woman in New Delhi in 2012 has been banned in India over government concerns about derogatory comments made by one of the rapists and the violation of guidelines set for filmmakers.

Leslee Udwin's "India's Daughter" features conversations with Mukesh Singh and fellow convicts who raped and tortured a 23-year-old woman on a moving bus in December 2012, sparking nationwide protests and forcing India to toughen anti-rape laws.

India's Home Minister Rajnath Singh on Wednesday said the documentary would not be aired in India and accused its makers of violating "permission conditions" by not showing the complete unedited footage to jail officials.

"It was noticed the documentary film depicts the comments of the convict which are highly derogatory and are an affront to the dignity of women," Singh told lawmakers in parliament.

"How was permission given to interview a rapist? It is shocking. I will get this investigated."

Comments released to the media this week showed that in the film, Mukesh blames the victim for the crime and resisting rape. He also says women are more responsible than men for rapes.

Late on Tuesday, the home minister directed Delhi police to obtain a court order prohibiting the film's release. Police said the ban was imposed as Mukesh's comments could create an atmosphere of "fear and tension" that may fuel public anger.

Mukesh's comments in "India's Daughter" have grabbed headlines in Indian newspapers and sparked outrage on social media. On Wednesday, it was debated in parliament.

The film had been scheduled to premiere in India and several countries on March 8 on International Women's Day. Udwin told Reuters she was "deeply saddened" by the ban in India, but the film would be released worldwide as planned.

The British filmmaker told reporters on Tuesday she had the necessary approvals and had given jail officials a chance to sit through hours of unedited footage, but they did not do so. Officials later approved a pared-down version, she said.

Street protests in the wake of the December 2012 gang rape inspired Udwin to make the hour-long documentary.

Four men including Mukesh were sentenced to death for the crime, but their execution was later stayed on appeal by India's Supreme Court. One of the defendants hanged himself in prison, while another, who was under 18 at the time, got three years in juvenile detention.



Mar 05, 2015

India blocks BBC film after outrage over rapist's remarks

Convict blames Delhi gang-rape victim for 2012 crime in interview inside jail

By Nirmala Ganapathy India Bureau Chief In New Delhi

THE Indian authorities have blocked the broadcast of a BBC documentary in which one of the men convicted of the notorious Delhi gang rape in 2012, blames the victim for the rape, an accusation that has triggered disgust and anger in the country.

Mukesh Singh, with three others, was sentenced to death in 2013 for the brutal gang rape and murder of the 23-year-old physiotherapy student on Dec 16, 2012. The four are appealing against the death penalty.

Singh, in the 2013 interview with British film-maker Leslee Udwin for the documentary, India's Daughters, showed little remorse for the crime, saying women were responsible for rape, not men.

"A decent girl won't roam around at 9 o'clock at night," he said.

He also blamed the victim, who had been travelling with a male friend, for fighting back against the rapists.

"When being raped, she shouldn't fight back. She should just be silent and allow the rape," he said. "Then they'd have dropped her off after 'doing her', and only hit (her friend) the boy."

As excerpts were released on Tuesday, the Indian authorities got a court injunction against the broadcast of the documentary that was to be aired on Indian TV on International Women's Day on March 8.

They also launched a probe into how Ms Udwin was allowed access to the convicted rapist in Tihar Jail. The film-maker maintained that she had all the clearances for the interview.

Ms Udwin, who told an Indian newspaper that she was a victim of sexual violence herself, said at a press conference on Tuesday that she wanted to make a documentary following street protests in 2012 over the gang rape. She interviewed eight rapists, including Singh, in Tihar Jail for it.

But India's Home Minister Rajnath Singh said Ms Udwin had violated the conditions of the access as she did not run the interview by the jail authorities.

"Our government condemns the incident and will not allow any attempt to leverage such an incident for commercial benefits. It was noticed the documentary film depicts the comments of the convict which are highly derogatory and are an affront to the dignity of women," he said in Parliament.

He later said the government was exploring avenues to block the documentary internationally.

As an intense debate raged, the parents of the victim said all they wanted was justice.

"The interview is good for our case because all of India has come to know how this criminal thinks. We are not concerned about whether the interview is aired or not. All we want is justice for our daughter and (we) want the accused hanged," the victim's father told The Straits Times.

Meanwhile, activists said nothing would be gained from airing the interview or giving a public platform to such disturbed views.

"Why are you making a hero out of him by giving media space to this person while the face of the victim is always covered (under Indian laws)?" asked women's rights activist Ranjana Kumari.

But others questioned the need to ban the video. National Conference chief Omar Abdullah tweeted: "It's not the documentary that is defaming India, it's the rape & the attitude towards women."

Also under the spotlight were the attitudes of India's deeply patriarchal society towards women.

Parliamentarian Anu Aga said in an Upper House debate: "We have to confront that men in India do not respect women. These are the views of many men in India and let's not pretend all is well."


A murderer and rapist’s views reflect those of many in India


NEW DELHI — When a condemned killer said the woman he and others brutally gang-raped on a New Delhi bus was responsible for what had happened to her, his comments were shocking in their callousness and lack of remorse. But the underlying view has wide acceptance in India.

Blaming women for rape is what hundreds of millions of men here are taught to believe.

And the code for women in this country is simple: Dress modestly, don’t go out at night, don’t go to bars and clubs, don’t go out alone. If you break the code, you will be blamed for the consequences.

When one of the four men sentenced to death for the high-profile gang rape of the woman in 2012 was quoted in a new documentary as saying “a girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy”, he was repeating something community and religious leaders in this nation of 1.2 billion routinely say.

“A decent girl won’t roam around at 9pm...Housework and housekeeping is for girls, not roaming in discos and bars at night doing wrong things, wearing wrong clothes,” Mr Mukesh Singh said in the documentary, India’s Daughter, meant to be shown on Sunday (March 8), International Women’s Day, in India and several other countries.

But how different were the convicted rapist’s words from comments that Mr Manohar Lal Khattar, the top elected official of Haryana state made last year?

“If a girl is dressed decently, a boy will not look at her in the wrong way,” Mr Khattar told reporters, “Freedom has to be limited. These short clothes are Western influences. Our country’s tradition asks girls to dress decently.”

The convicted rapist learned only what he has heard leaders in his community say, said Ms Jagmati Sangwan, a women’s rights activist who heads the All India Democratic Women’s Association.

“This man is just following the example our leaders are setting for our young men,” she said.

In 2009 when a rightwing Hindu group attacked women in a pub in the southern state of Karnataka, then-Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa said that he wanted to “end the culture of boys and girls roaming around in malls holding hands”.

Women leaders are not immune.

When a female journalist was shot dead in 2008 while driving home from work well past midnight, New Delhi’s top official at the time, Ms Sheila Dixit, made clear she partly blamed the victim.

“All by herself till 3am at night in a city where people should not be so adventurous,” she told reporters.

It’s a view that Ms Sangwan hears all too often.

“It’s a heinous view to hold, but it’s the view of our religious leaders, our community leaders, our legislators,” she said.

The country’s women aren’t surprised either.

“A lot of Indian men think this way. They don’t have any empathy or they are brought up in such a way that they don’t feel anything for women. They feel that women are only for sex and to be thrown away,” said Ms Bhavleen Singh, an 18-year-old student at Delhi University.

Mr Mukesh Singh, who was driving the bus for much of the time that the 23-year-old woman was being attacked, told the documentary film maker that the victim should have remained silent and allowed the rape, and that they would have spared her life.

The documentary, which includes a 2013 jailhouse interview with Mr Singh, set off government alarm bells after transcripts were released this week. Yesterday (March 3), India’s Information and Broadcasting Ministry ordered television channels not to air the film.

It remains unclear whether the government will be able to block the film but the legal wrangling will most likely delay its screening in India.

The brutality, and perhaps the fact that the gang rape occurred on a moving bus in a posh New Delhi neighbourhood, galvanised this country of 1.2 billion, where sexual violence is rampant.

The woman and a male friend were returning home from seeing a movie at an upscale mall when they were tricked by the attackers into getting on the bus, which the men had taken out for a joyride. The attackers beat the victim’s friend and took turns raping her. They penetrated her with a rod, leaving severe internal injuries that led to her death two weeks later.

Four men were convicted of rape and murder in an unusually fast trial for India’s chaotic justice system. A fifth man died in prison, and another attacker who was a juvenile at the time was sentenced to three years in a detention centre.

The four adults who went to trial confessed to the attack but later retracted their confessions, saying they’d been tortured into admitting their involvement. Legal appeals against their death sentences are pending in the Supreme Court.

In response to the 2012 attack and the widespread public protests it provoked, India’s government rushed through legislation doubling prison terms for rapists to 20 years and criminalising voyeurism, stalking and the trafficking of women.

But while laws can change quickly, mindsets do not. India’s Parliament held a stormy debate today on whether the film should be screened. Some legislators questioned how the filmmaker, who is British, had gotten into the prison to do the interview. Many, though, were uncomfortable with having India’s problems aired publicly — particularly by a foreign filmmaker.

But several lawmakers, many of them women, disagreed.

“What the man spoke reflects views of many men in India,” Ms Anu Aga, a prominent businesswoman and legislator said in Parliament.

“Every time a rape happens, the victim is blamed to have provoked the men. Let’s be aware of the view and not pretend all is well,” she said.


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