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The limits of India’s Daughter (and our own)


India’s Daughter, Leslee Udwin’s documentary for the BBC Storyville project, focuses for 60 minutes on the description of the rape and murder of student Jyoti Singh, an incident that came to be known as the Delhi gang rape. Viewers expecting a fully comprehensive investigation of all the social and political issues that surround gender inequality in India can avoid viewing the programme (and can probably avoid viewing documentaries in general). For those, however, seeking a starting point to begin to understand and reflect on this brutal event, India’s Daughter is painful but necessary viewing.

 

India’s Daughter, Leslee Udwin’s documentary for the BBC Storyville project, focuses for 60 minutes on the description of the rape and murder of student Jyoti Singh, an incident that came to be known as the Delhi gang rape. Viewers expecting a fully comprehensive investigation of all the social and political issues that surround gender inequality in India can avoid viewing the programme (and can probably avoid viewing documentaries in general). For those, however, seeking a starting point to begin to understand and reflect on this brutal event, India’s Daughter is painful but necessary viewing.

 

 

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The outcries that have erupted prior to the release of the documentary have been of a specular nature: on one hand, those who support the Delhi government’s decision to censor broadcast of the documentary in India in order to safeguard public decorum (we still don’t talk about things we are ashamed of) and on the other, those who, rather than viewing a documentary lacking the necessary in-depth analysis, would prefer that nothing is broadcast at all.

With India’s Daughter, however, Udwin has made a worthy piece of work, some would call it “Anglo-Saxon” in style due to its sense of detachment, which implies a type of journalism that describes only the facts without “dirtying its hands” with opinions. It is, however, the very selection of which facts to describe that expresses its own opinion, and here the first problems arise.

Udwin concentrates exclusively on the chain of events connected to the to assault on 16 December 2012, when Jyoti Singh was raped by six men on a bus while returning from the cinema. The filmmaker focuses on the details of this episode, going on to examine the lives of the victim’s family, the rapists’ families and, in particular, one of the six assailants, Mukesh Singh, to whom Udwin entrusts the task of narrating the horrific story.

Singh is interviewed inside Tihar Prison in New Delhi, such a scoop raises questions about what strings the BBC managed to pull in order to gain access for a TV to interview with an inmate on death row awaiting the verdict of his appeal in the Supreme Court. In front of the cameras Singh describes the dynamic of the attack, including the horrifying details of the case, and also introduces the viewers to the backgrounds of the other attackers, all of whom were Indians living day to day on the margins of society surviving through petty crime in a city slum. A monstrous identikit emerges of men that India’s iniquitous society has denied the luxury of a respectable existence or even a legitimate one. The six attackers appear to be raging against this discriminating condition through a type of anti-conventional machismo, seizing for themselves their right to entertainment, sex and drunkenness, taking by force at night that which is denied to them. In this way the viewer could think that the socio-economic conditions and sexual violence are closely connected factors, but this would be wrong. In India rape, even group rape, is not the prerogative of only the destitute classes: it is a transversal criminal phenomenon, just as the country’s patriarchal rhetoric is transversal.

Mukesh Singh’s attempts to vindicate himself include the full range of exceptional presumptions of Indian culture: women must stay at home after sunset, if they go out they are doing ‘unwomanly things’ (not dressing according to tradition, going to bars, challenging the established patriarchal order) and so they deserve to be taught a lesson. From Singh’s words, reinforced in the documentary by the same sentiments put forward by the two defence lawyers representing the six men, a picture emerges of the “instructive” intentions of the punishment meted out to Jyoti, who was not only raped (does extraction of non-consensual sex by force not also imply a punitive intent?), but also brutalized with an iron bar. Furthermore investigators managed to determine the responsibility of three of the six attackers by matching the attackers’ teeth with bite-marks discovered on the Jyoti’s corpse.

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