By Vice President of Public Relations, Heather Dande
It was the ban heard of around the world on March 4, 2015 as social media erupted into worldwide protest with the trending hashtag “India’s Daughter.” The Indian government, dominated by men, has once again silenced women’s issues by banning the powerfully stirring documentary, “India’s Daughter,” that revisits the savage gang rape of a 23-year-old Delhi woman in 2012. And all this just five weeks after President Obama delivered a moving speech during India’s Independence Day urging Indians to embrace gender equality and protect its women. But India has made it clear that its fragile ego is to be protected first and foremost before its daughters.
The documentary “India’s Daughter,” produced by Leslee Udwin, a British filmmaker, tells the horrifying details of what began as an ordinary Sunday night in December 2012. After seeing an evening movie, software engineer Avnindra Pandey, 28, and medical student Jyoti Singh, 23, boarded a private bus home. For five minutes, there was not a hint of mischief – until every light went out and the doors locked tightly. The film details a literally gut-wrenching gang rape that resulted in Singh’s death, Pandey’s bare survival, five death sentences, one prison sentence, and world uproar.
In a population of over one billion people, a woman in India is raped every 20 minutes according to the Indian government’s latest statistics. In effort to understand why men commonly rape women in India, Udwin conducted an evocative interview, with one of Jyoti Singh’s rapists, Mukesh Singh, in which he remorselessly said, “A decent girl won’t roam around at nine o’clock at night. A girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy. Boy and girl are not equal.”
Since clips of Mukesh Singh’s provocative statement leaked before the film premiered on March 8, 2015, International Women’s Day, the Indian government banned the documentary. Parliamentary Affairs Minister Venkaiah Naidu said that the documentary was “an international conspiracy to defame India.”
As media outlets across the world picked up this story, two strongly divided sides have been highlighted: those who advocate with and for “India’s Daughters” – all Indian women who are susceptible to rape and those, both men and women, who support them, and those who side with “India’s Sons” – misogynistic Indian men who either rape or victim blame women. The arguments that have emerged on both sides are as follows: the noble majority who stand with India’s Daughters have called on the Indian government to protect its women. The minority of misogynistic Indian men blame Indian women for bringing rape upon themselves due to a plethora of irrational reasons.
If you think this second side could not possibly gain a groundswell of the same opinion among Indian men, think again. From death row to parliament, many (not all) Indian men have exactly the same views on women.
According to the BuzzFeed article, “18 Comments Glorifying Rape That Have Been Broadcast in India,” the following comments addressing rape have been made in Indian media: “Boys are boys. They make mistakes.” “We should stop our girls from wearing jeans.” “Rape is a social crime which depends on the man and the women. It is sometimes right and sometimes wrong.” “Rapes are not in control of the police.” The most enlightening of these comments was “Chow mein leads to hormonal imbalance, evoking an urge to indulge in acts such as rape and sex.” Hang on. Was it mentioned that these comments were made by prominent Indian politicians and leaders currently running the country?
While India’s Sons and Daughters argue over stronger laws and chow mein, a third side that has resided silently in society for centuries remains unnoticed as the root of the problem: India’s bystanders.
These are not simply bystanders of rape incidents; although, that in itself is a problem. They are bystanders of a detrimental mindset that transcends the caste system, religious differences, and subcultures and pervades a society that contradicts itself every time it says, “Jai Hind” – victory to India. Is it victory to India or victory to misogynistic Indian men who allow defecation in public but silence its rape culture to save face?
The story told in “India’s Daughter” highlights just one horrific rape story. The point is not to undermine the gravity of this story because every story is critical to raising awareness for gender equality. But the reality is that rape and crimes in general against women are so violent and rampant that they have become the norm.
Just a few weeks after the Delhi 2012 case, a 16-year-old Indian girl who was gang raped committed suicide because police did not file her report when she asked them to according to a CNN news article published in 2013. A year after that incident, another 16-year-old girl was gang raped twice in two days, set on fire and died within the two month period she had been waiting for police to file a formal complaint according a CBS article published in 2014. And just five days ago, a 6-year-old girl was sexually assaulted by a security guard who inserted an iron rod into her according to an Indian daily newspaper, The Indian Express.
Rape cases are so common, that women are being shamed and will stay silent about the issues because the only place for these women to turn for justice is corrupt. Even when women do raise their voices about this issue, the government deals with the issue on a case by case basis and not the root of the problem.
M. L. Sharma, one of the lawyers defending the Delhi 2012 rapists, said in the documentary, “Our culture is the best culture. There is no place for a woman.”
Rape isn’t destroying India. The misogynistic mentality is. By degrading half of its society, India operates only up to half its fullest potential. India can boast an accelerating economy, but its one billion bystanders that allow this kind of mentality are killing every thing that India stands for slowly.
Unfortunately for you, India, your ban backfired because the documentary and the gender equality issue it raised received much more attention because of the way you handled it. Now the world is in an uproar, and you are center stage. It’s your move.