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India stalls controversial rape film

Murali Krishnan, New Delhi
March 4, 2015

The Indian government has banned all media outlets from airing the documentary "India's Daughter." An interview of one of the convicts of the fatal Delhi gang rape in 2012 has snowballed into a huge controversy.

Indien Vergewaltigung Uttar Pradesh Proteste
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

British documentary filmmaker Leslee Udwin's interview of Mukesh Singh, one of the four men convicted of raping and killing a paramedic student christened "Nirbhaya" on December 16, 2012 in a moving bus, has sparked a huge debate in India.

For the film, Udwin interviewed Singh in Delhi's high-security Tihar Jail, where he declared without any sign of remorse that the medical student was to blame for the fatal sexual assault.

Singh, who was convicted and sentenced to death last year added during the course of the interview that "women who go out at night had only themselves to blame" and "a girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy."

Outrage over remarks

The 2012 gang rape triggered street protests across the South Asian nation and turned global attention to the issue of sexual violence. The incident also led to the Indian government passing a new set of stringent laws against crimes committed against women.

Leslee Udwin Regisseurin India's Daughter
'The film looks at the issues of mindset and gender inequality,' says UdwinImage: Chandan Khanna/AFP/Getty Images

The film had been scheduled to premiere in India and several other countries on International Women's Day on March 8, and excerpts from the documentary were released to the media this week. But all hell broke loose when comments from the interview were carried by newspapers and select channels, with many activists and politicians opposing the film.

"This publicity campaign for the documentary is disgusting. Why should any channel give a platform for a rapist to say all those horrible things? It is sickening and must not be aired," Ambica Soni, a leader from the opposition Congress party told DW.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government immediately swung into action following the "national outrage" and initiated an inquiry into how Udwin was given access to convicts inside the jail. "How was permission given to interview a rapist? It is shocking. I will get this investigated," Home Minister Rajnath Singh told lawmakers in Indian parliament. "It was noticed that the documentary film depicts the comments of the convict which are highly derogatory and are an affront to the dignity of women," the minister added.

Examining men's attitudes

Police in Delhi have also reportedly registered two cases against the film, alleging it violated India's penal code. "This documentary contains offensive content which should not be broadcast in the interest of maintaining public order," Delhi's police commissioner B S Bassi told DW.

Udwin, however, stood her ground and said the film was her attempt to examine the attitude of men towards women and that there was nothing sensational in it.

At a press conference on March 3, the filmmaker pointed out that she confronted her own monsters while making the film. At the age of 18, Udwin said she was sexually assaulted and harbored the guilt for many years.

"The film looks at the issues of mindset and gender inequality. It's a very serious campaigning film in the public interest. I studied the issue of why men rape. It's designed to see the change," said Udwin. "This film ends with global statistics around the world, country by country. Rape is not an Indian problem. It's a global problem," she underlined.

Udwin also claimed that she followed the rules and received permission from the Indian authorities to shoot the 62-minute long film.

In her two-year long research and filming of the documentary, Udwin conducted extensive interviews with the convicts, their families, the victim's family and lawyers. Her interview with Mukesh Singh alone lasted almost 16 hours which she subsequently submitted for viewing to a three-member jail panel who, she claimed, cleared the footage.

'Defaming the nation'

Nevertheless, gender rights activists and legal experts in India have come out strongly against airing the documentary, saying it could compromise the rape case which is awaiting a final resolution.

"It (the film) reveals how foreign journalists and filmmakers are given permission to interrogate criminals in jails which is also illegal and encourages foreigners apart from Indians to voyeurism of this kind," said Indira Jaising, a senior lawyer in the Indian Supreme Court.

Proteste nach Vergewaltigung in Indien
The 2012 gang rape triggered street protests across IndiaImage: AP

Barkha Singh, chairperson of the Delhi Commission for Women, said: "This defames the nation. How could they (BBC) be given permission for the interview?"

Others like activist Kavita Krishnan of the All India Progressive Women's Association pointed out that campaigns against gender violence carried no weight if the appropriate stakeholders like women's groups, who were in the forefront, were ignored.

"What gets disproportionately amplified instead is the voice and image of the Indian man with the brutal mindset," said Krishnan.

All four attackers in this high-profile case were sentenced to death last year after the court ruled that it fell into the "rarest of rare" cases. The Supreme Court has stayed the death sentences following appeals filed by the accused.