Public discourse on the Nirbhaya documentary has been conveniently reduced to a one sentence non-brainer: should the documentary be banned or allowed to be shown? The reductionism is symptomatic of the innate cowardice of the country’s intellectuals who do not want to look at other dimensions. Reducing the documentary to a ban-or-not-to-ban sound byte has made it easy for these cowards to position themselves on one or the other side of the divide.
But as a woman and as a political analyst I find I am unable to take sides in the ban/no ban debate, except to the extent that this has now acquired a national sovereignty dimension. And it has not escaped notice that with just one or two exceptions, there is a sharp gender divide on the ban/no ban question. Those who have gone public in favour of screening this documentary in India are men: Shashi Tharoor, N Ram, Soli Sorabjee while those who want it banned are women: Jaya Bachchan, Kirron Kher, Vrinda Grover, Indira Jaisingh. And it bears mention that whether for or against the ban, these vocal men and women have chosen to ignore the national sovereignty dimension altogether.
Let me begin with the geopolitics of misery and then proceed to the act of rape itself, and the mindset of any society which protests vehemently against rape as some kind of self-exculpatory catharsis to absolve itself of the guilt for nonchalantly accepting as law of nature the attitudes which continue to position men one step higher on the power ladder – within the family and outside in public life. It is an unassailable fact that in public life generally and in academe and politics particularly, women have to get past some man standing at the door which says ‘Enter’, and past other men who are standing along the way. Needless to say, they need to get past the men in their family first, with or without their consent, before they step out of their homes.
In the geopolitics of misery, one country’s misery is another country’s opportunity, especially if you are a component of the Generic Church, and especially if you are America. It is doubtful if Sonia Gandhi would have cleared the request by the makers of this porno-documentary to meet the rapist in Tihar jail in a matter of two days had they been some Somasekhar Reddy from Eenadu TV or some Sukanya Somasundar from Kalaignar TV and not white British Leslee Udwin from white British BBC.
The fact that Nirbhaya was raped in December 2012 and BBC and Leslee Udwin decide to make a film on the rape within six months of the horrific incident only goes to prove it requires a congenital colonial mind to exploit any situation for commerce, and that too with such indecent haste. Udwin writes to the Ministry of Home Affairs in July 2013 seeking permission to meet the rapist and MHA takes less than 48 hours to allow a foreigner from a foreign news channel to meet, interview and film the perpetrator of one of India’s worst crimes against women. It was not simply that foreigners were allowed to make a film on a heinous crime which was already sub-judice but that permission to intrude was given in such tearing hurry. That they made a full-fledged film with the rapist and equally rapist-minded advocates as the theme of the documentary, violating all national laws, rules and guidelines governing rape, victim of rape and foreigners making films in India, about India is only more of the treacherous colonial genes of BBC and the British woman.
Not only has Leslee Udwin violated Indian laws with regard to disclosing names of rape victims but she has chosen to thumb her nose at the Indian government and India’s judiciary. Leslee Udwin, BBC, Vital Voices founded jointly by Hilary Clinton and Madeline Albright and Plan International have demonstrated their utter contempt for India’s national sovereignty by announcing their intention to hold public screening of India’s Daughter in London and New York.
Now it is Modi Sarkar’s turn to deal America, Britain and the BBC a knock-out punch. Modi Sarkar can begin by evicting BBC from India for a period of two to five years. India’s foreign office in the UK and all diplomatic missions can and should refuse to permit BBC at press conferences and media briefings anywhere in the world. Modi Sarkar must then throttle all foreign finds from foreign governments and foreign funding agencies to NGOs and activists. Banning all foreign institutional and foreign government funds to NGOs will be akin to cutting off blood supply to the brain. This and this alone will permanently disable the local instruments of coloured revolutions.
Leslee Udwin is attempting to varnish her greed and global NGOs are justifying their contempt for India’s laws with the fig-leaf of democratic rights and freedom of expression. But let’s take a quick look at their own freedom of expression and democracy and all other rights.
BBC in their edited version of the documentary which they screened in London, has not given the global numbers on rapes and abuses against women around the world because, and this is astounding, “BBC Storyville has a house style that doesn’t allow them to put statistics on a film”, as Udwin put it. So BBC will not put in UK specific and global statistics on rape. America will flout all international laws, charters and agreements with the in-your-face argument that in America and for Americans, domestic laws override international laws.
In India, we had a former Chief Justice of India declaring in open court that ideally, in India all national laws must approximate to international laws! Which means in this case, protecting the Indian law which prohibits revealing the identity of rape victims must be overridden by the international charter on human rights which includes Leslee Udwin’s right to freedom of expression. Leslee Udwin has not only revealed Nirbhaya by name, she has recorded the rapist describing in graphic detail why and how he raped her. Leslee Udwin has also revealed the identity of the five year old girl child raped by Mukesh Singh five years earlier. That child is alive and ten years old now. This child’s right to privacy and closure has been violated by Leslee Udwin and her right to freedom of expression.
This is not a documentary about Nirbhaya, this is a documentary about a rapist and his wannabe rapist advocates. Hilary Clinton, Madeline Albright, Meryl Streep, Baroness Amos and Frieda Pinto are throwing their political, financial and celebrity power behind a woman who gave visibility and voice to a rapist.
And as the world points its finger at India for being undemocratic (whatever that means) and denying a white British woman her right to freedom of expression, let us point out with all the power we have that America is yet to elect a woman president to the White House, the UN is yet to have a woman Secretary-General and most pan-national instruments have reinforced glass ceilings. Notwithstanding anything else that happens to women in India, Indian women have stormed every prestigious glass ceiling inside the country. And that fact Leslee Udwin, Hilary Clinton and Madeline Albright know only too well which is precisely why this documentary was made. You are like us only seems to the base motive behind the porno-documentary.
However, nothing I have said so far on the issue can whitewash this:
It is a small step which separates Tushar Gandhi from Nirbhaya’s rapist. The rapist said two things of significance: Mukesh Singh said Nirbhaya invited her rape by being out on the streets at night when she should have been at home “cooking and cleaning” as he put it. He then said Nirbhaya should not have resisted the rape; if she had not fought back, if she had submitted meekly and quietly to being raped then he and his three other rapist friends would not have thrust a rod repeatedly into her vagina, pulling her entrails out and battering her to death.
The porno-documentary has jolted the country’s intellectual class into taking a position on the ban or no ban issue. It remains to be seen if any man or woman will demonstrate the courage to raise the question, “what do women want?” I am not qualified and I also think it improper to speak for non-Hindu women. When women like Madeline Albright and Hilary Clinton, when foreign governments and foreign funding agencies pour money into Indian NGOs for activism in women’s issues, one pernicious objective is to create transnational women or women’s solidarity breaching religious and national divides. As always, this lemon is sold successfully only to “global” Indians. Transnational women’s solidarity is like “Workers of the world unite” and other brotherhoods. Transnational women’s solidarity is a global sisterhood with white women spearheading the movement for a white masculine world order. So let me speak as a Hindu woman – daughter, wife, mother and more.
What women want
What women want is linked inextricably with their self-image. Oftentimes this self-image is torn between the truth of what they know, what they have experienced and what they feel about themselves and the image that they have inherited through conditioning. What women want is both good and bad just as what men want is both good and bad. I use ‘good’ and ‘bad’ not in any judgemental way but in the sense that what women want or desire has both good and destructive consequences.
But what most women want is to be empowered to provide for their family and to be economically independent in the event of widowhood with dependent children, being deserted by their husbands or if for some reason the husband/father is unable to earn. Most importantly and not acknowledged frequently or honestly enough is a woman’s desire for empowerment, for self-fulfilment. Women also want the self-esteem that such empowerment brings (which includes education, role in public life, financial independence and the consequent power to make and take decisions) and above all women want the right to decide the course of their life.
The image that Hindu society has inherited of the woman and her role within the family and society has the following main components: Woman must be protected, woman’s complete fulfilment is in motherhood, woman’s discontent, suffering, disillusionment must be invisible and silent, woman is a ‘natural home-maker, woman is emotional, irrational, impulsive, likes gossip, likes jewellery, woman is vindictive, scheming, frivolous, flippant, flighty and so on. Public discourse while pervasively negative and unflattering about women as a whole however sings eulogies to ‘mothers’. Whatever is denied to ‘woman’ is granted to ‘mother’ as a matter of privilege. It is a measure of the inherent hypocrisy in Hindus how we make this disconnect between ‘woman’ and ‘mother’ and speak of both as if they were two different species.
The feeble attempts so far at discussing women’s issues has been characterised by stereotyped idiom and language of ‘matru shakti’ and ‘stree shakti’ and an unwillingness to boldly break new ground. The ugly truth is that most women have no consciousness of their ‘shakti’, matru or otherwise. They feel oppressed, weak, without an assertive and assured self-image, without a purpose in life, and with no avenues for expressing their grief, discontent and anger. Most stay-at-home women find mere housework sheer drudgery. They have been made to feel that expressing anger and discontent is disloyal and somehow not being true to the inherited image of an ideal woman who is happy tending to her home and family. The unwillingness to discuss women’s issues and when we do, to do it within the stereotyped parameters of ‘ideal woman’ reflects a fear to confront the truth that in the real world, there are very few ‘ideal women’ just as there are very few ‘ideal men’.
Higher education and the exposure it gives to young girls to the larger world outside the home causes radical changes to entrenched mindsets and erodes the conditioned responses fashioned by home, village, jaati and sampradaya. Young girls who have seen women becoming providers out of necessity in the previous generation and who have chosen employment and jobs/career for the financial independence it gives them are not only demanding the kind of respect that was and is reserved for the earning man but also want men to participate more actively in child-rearing and home-making. And when men, married to employed women or career women refuse to change their attitude towards child-rearing and household chores, tensions begin to build between married partners. And if career or work demands do not permit man and woman to resolve the tensions in a marriage it inevitably leads to separation and even divorce. Sadly, woman’s empowerment and male insecurity have been made into a zero sum proposition and Mukesh Singh’s justification for raping Nirbhaya fits perfectly in this paradigm.
Leslee Udwin was lying when she said her porno-documentary was intended to give us all the mindset of a rapist. Ask any woman, she would tell you she does not need to watch this documentary to know and understand the mindset of a rapist. Mukesh Singh is the culmination of Tushar Gandhi who is the offspring of a culture which sees woman as only a body with little mind and certainly no soul.
That women should conform to an essentially masculine conception of the role of women in family and society, that women should never fight back or resist abuse, that women should be voiceless and invisible, is not a portrait of the mindset of a rapist, it is a portrait of the mindset of all men in general; which is why at the very beginning of the article I said women have to get past men standing at the doors when they have to step out or step in.
Women get anywhere in public life only with the approval of powerful men. Women in academe and in politics have succeeded or failed because of men, very rarely on the strength of their own merit, talent or capabilities. This is a very bitter pill to swallow but swallow we must if we have to begin chipping away at the monstrous edifice we call ‘man’s world’. Take any woman in public life, trace the path of her ascendancy or downfall and you will find a man behind her growth or her fall. Fathers and husbands, brothers, colleagues and mentors, nobody is exempt from this general rule.
Leslee Udwin’s porno-documentary does not reveal the mindset of a rapist; if anything it reveals the mindset of women like Udwin, Clinton and Albright who see human misery as opportunity to further their own goals.
Radha Rajan is a Chennai-based political analyst. She is also author and animal activist.