New Delhi gang rape documentary sparks heated debate in India

BBC brought forward broadcast of India’s Daughter from Sunday to Wednesday

Leslee Udwin, director of the documentary India’s Daughter, pictured during a press conference in New Delhi on Tuesday. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

Irate over the release of a British-made documentary film on a 2012 gang rape in Delhi, India's home minister, Rajnath Singh, told Parliament on Wednesday that the Indian government would "not allow any organization to leverage such an incident and use it for commercial purpose."

The documentary India's Daughter features an interview with Mukesh Singh, now on death row for his role in the crime, who tried to justify the brutal attack by saying "a decent girl won't roam around at 9 o'clock at night." Excerpts from the interview were released Tuesday as part of an advance publicity campaign.

Things moved quickly after that. After a condemnation from the home minister, the Delhi police moved for a restraining order, and a court issued a stay banning broadcast in India of the film.

The BBC brought forward their showing of the documentary which was meant to go out on Sunday, March 8th (International Women’s Day), but which was instead aired on Wednesday night.


A news release from by the Delhi police said Mukesh Singh “has made malicious, derogatory, offensive, insulting remarks against women, causing harassment and disrepute.” The excerpts, the statement continued, “are highly offensive and have already created a situation of tension and fear amongst women in our society.”

The restraining order also bans websites from uploading or posting the interview.

Sexual violence is a highly charged topic in India, and though the vast majority in the US had not yet seen the film on Wednesday, it was nonetheless the subject of stormy debate among activists and public intellectuals.

Nilanjana S Roy, an author, warned of the "very real risk of turning a rapist into the Twitter celebrity of the day."

Kavita Krishnan, of the leftist All-India Progressive Women’s Association, saw patriarchal undertones in the advance foreign coverage for the film, describing “a sense of India as a place of ignorance and brutality toward women, that inspires both shock and pity, but also call for a rap on the knuckles from the ‘civilised world’ for its ‘brutal attitude.’”

Others defended the film. Shobhaa De, a popular Mumbai-based columnist, wrote that the film “must be made compulsory viewing in our schools, colleges and government offices.”

Writing on the news website FirstPost, Sandip Roy, a journalist and novelist, questioned why people were so outraged by the convict’s statements, considering that, as he put it, “Singh’s observations would not sound that out of place in the mouths of many law-abiding Indians.”

In Parliament, many lawmakers endorsed the home minister’s view, and some wondered whether it might be possible to ban the film outside India’s borders. Anu Aga, a member of the upper house, was one of the few members who spoke out in defence of the film.

“In glorifying India, saying we are perfect, we are not confronting the issues that need to be confronted,” she said. “Any time there is a rape, blame is put on the woman - that she was indecently dressed, she provoked the men. It is not just men in prisons’ views. It is the view of many men in India.”

She added, “Let’s be aware of it, and let’s not pretend that all is well.”

The filmmaker, Leslee Udwin, said she was “deeply saddened” by the ban, which she described as the “flouting of a basic right of freedom of speech.”

“India should be embracing this film, not blocking it with a knee-jerk hysteria without even seeing it,” she wrote in a statement on the website of NDTV, a news channel.

The film will make its United States premiere on Monday night at Baruch College in New York, at an event hosted by celebrities, including Meryl Streep, and sponsored by two advocacy organizations that work with women and girls, Plan International and Vital Voices.

The 2012 rape and subsequent trial transfixed India for most of a year, prompting passionate discussions about women’s safety in this rapidly urbanising country.

Many Indian women are afraid to travel the streets alone after dark, and street harassment has long been dismissed indulgently as “eve teasing.” Although the per capita rate of rapes reported to the police in India is below that of many developed nations, some experts say that much sexual violence goes unreported.

The woman attacked in 2012, a 23-year-old physiotherapy student, had boarded a private bus with a male companion, not realizing that the bus was off duty and the six men aboard had been driving the streets in search of a victim.

After knocking her friend unconscious, they took her to the back of the bus and raped her, then damaged her internal organs with an iron rod. She died two weeks later of her injuries.

One defendant hanged himself in his prison cell; another, a juvenile at the time of the crime, was sentenced to the maximum punishment of three years in a detention centre.

When the remaining four men were sentenced to death by hanging, crowds outside the courthouse erupted in celebration.

New York Times