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for the sake of our daughters, don’t silence india’s daughter
The day before my birthday in 2012, I was a new mother and I watched a news video on an uprising and riot in Delhi.
There had been a horrific gang rape and murder, one that a doctor described as nothing she had ever seen in her 20 years of practice in Delhi, of a 23 year old medical student named Jyoti Singh, who they called Nirbhaya to protect her name after the incident.
And just last week, a film, India’s Daughter, was made about it by a British filmmaker, Leslee Udwin, who herself was also a rape survivor.
India government officials banned the film upon it’s release and so I started watching it on YouTube via BBC.
I watched most of it, and saved the end for later, the next day, and remember how that first night I literally tossed and turned from what I saw.
It was explicit and shuddered my bones.
When I went to watch the rest of the film, a message appeared on the screen. “This video has been taken down and no longer is content of BBC.”
I Googled it and sure enough, India had BBC pull the documentary off YouTube ASAP.
I found it, on a Vimeo page later, which I am sharing here with all of you.
As a second generation Indian American, I wondered, why would the country of my heritage ban such a film?
It was banned mainly, they said, because of the shocking interviews with the rapist and his lawyers, ones that would harm women in society if those views were fully exposed.
The words those men said still make me cringe, but I’ll get to that in sec.
This quick reaction to hide it was really familiar to me.
I remember when I watched the movie Slumdog Millionaire and my husband and I told our family how much we enjoyed it. His parents, I remember, had said, “Why would anyone want to make India look bad like this?”
While they were just expressing nationalistic pride, that’s exactly the problem.
An article from The Guardian says it best:
“The Indian government’s real concerns on this film are way less about the safety of women than the international image of the country. They worry that the documentary will continue to present India in a bad light rather than showcase its achievements and new government. (The fact that such achievements – especially for women – are few and hard to find is not really considered.)”
And so then for progressive females, for second generation Indians, for families that have daughters they want to protect from misogynist men, what does this mean?
How can we ever support hiding these issues behind the dancing skirts of Bollywood forever?
At one point a lawyer representing the rapists in the film says:
“A female is just like a flower. It gives a good-looking, very softness performance, pleasant. But on the other hand, a man is just like a thorn. Strong, tough enough. That flower always needs protection. If you put that flower in a gutter, it is spoilt. If you put that flower in a temple, it will be worshipped…We have the best culture. In our culture, there’s no place for a woman.”
There is no room for women in this culture.
You know, I have a daughter too. And a mother and a sister.
A few days ago, it was International Women’s Day.
And I think…what if my mother chose not to move across the world. What if she didn’t come from a family that supported her aspirations of becoming a doctor? What if we were still there, in India, and like I used to take trains and buses to go to graduate school…I had done the same in India.
And the next ‘what if’ can cause knots in any mother or woman’s stomach.
What if it was you. Your daughter or your sister.
So, then why create an uproar?
Why talk about things like rape?
Why figure out how we can stop violence against women in a country that worships goddesses?
Because we all have girls and women we love in our lives.
And we want these women to make it through this life unharmed. Valued. Loved. Respected.
Another attorney defending the rapists from the film said, “If my daughter or sister engaged in pre-marital activities and disgraced herself and allowed herself to lose face and character by doing such things, I would most certainly take this sort of sister or daughter to my farmhouse, and in front of my family, I would put petrol on her and set her alight.”
This, since the rape victim went to the movies to see Life of Pi with a male friend. The movie had ended around 8:30 pm, when the two of them boarded an off-duty bus, with six men on board, five adults and a juvenile. The men beat the friend and each raped the woman in turn, before assaulting her viciously with an iron instrument.
The rapist stated, “You can’t clap with one hand, it takes two hands. A decent girl won’t roam around at 9 o’clock at night. A girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy.”
When you watch the interview with one of the rapists, Mukesh Singh, what’s chilling is just how normal he looks. He doesn’t look crazy or mentally disturbed. He is just a guy who truly believes that.
So, while it’s just as important for us to educate our daughters on what can harm them, it’s about exposing these realities to our sons and teaching them how to empower their women…not light them on fire with petrol or rape them.
The sons of India and all over the world need to be aware, because the attitudes displayed on film by the rapist and his lawyer are not unusual, they are pervasive across India, many other countries and in all sections of our society.
Trying to prevent others from knowing about is definitely not a solution.
You see, this extreme form of patriarchy is so deep rooted in history that instead, we have to confront this head on. We cannot ignore it.
We also can’t ignore the reality of the reaction to the atrocious rape of Jyoti Singh. Thousands of Indians protested, men and women alike. We can’t ignore that the government has yet to tackle the problem of a woman being raped every 20 minutes in India, and on a global level, it is even worse in the country I live in.
In the United States, every 6.2 minutes, a woman is raped.
This is not a ban that only affects India and the U.K., but banning India daughter’s affected me. My friend. My sister. My own daughter.
And even if it this film is a detailed portrayal of a crime against a woman and her family’s loss that can feel uncomfortable to watch, I’m sharing this video and it’s message here with you today, in the hopes that the world can one day show their sons that India embraces it’s daughter. In the hopes that my own daughter will grow up in a world where no one will say there is no place in their culture for her.
Because, to me, there is no place for rapists in my culture, or any culture for that matter.