The documentary about the brutal rape of Jyoti Singh paints a frightening picture of the way women are viewed in Indian culture.

Aleksander Huser
Aleksander Huser is a freelance Norwegian film critic and journalist. He holds an MA in Film Studies from the University of Oslo, as well as a Writer-Director Diploma from the London Film Academy.

India’s Daughter

Leslee Udwin

USA 2015, 1h 3min.

indias-daughterIndia’s daughter by British film maker Leslee Udwin tells the gruesome story about the gang rape of 23-year old medical student Jyoti Singh on a New Delhi bus in December 2012. An event which received huge international attention and resulted in an ongoing debate about women’s situation in India. The British- and Indian produced documentary, which recently screened on Norway’s NRK channel, did also create some controversies in its own right. Not least due to the Indian government obtaining the right to legally ban the film, which originally was due to be screened on both Indian and British TV on the International Woman’s Day 8th March. The reasoning was that the film put India in a bad light, and allowed a convicted rapist to speak. In addition, there is some doubt whether the correct permission was given for this interview.

YouTube accepted the governmental demand not to screen the film in India – resulting in the film being frequently shared through other online channels. At their end, the BBC countered the Indian ban by bringing the British screening forward by four days. And for anyone in Norway wanting to watch the film, it is available on the NRK’s site for the foreseeable future.

The strong reactions to the sexualised murder has re-awoken Indian’s sleeping death penalty. Two steps forward can all of a sudden lead to one in the opposite direction.

India’s daughter does not really contain much information not already out in the realm, but is nonetheless an important document by virtue of the film maker speaking to so many of the involved parties. This provides the documentary a detailed view of the events, and paints a frightening picture of an extremely skewed view of women which seems to be very widespread in the world’s largest democracy.

The description of the suffering the young woman experienced that fateful evening and until she died from her extensive injuries, makes an extremely strong impression. Jyoti Singh had been to the cinema with a male friend, and around 9 pm they caught a private bus which they believed was driving them home. On board the bus was a group of six intoxicated young men (one of whom was 17, which in India is legally a minor), who first beat up the friend before raping Singh. Here, they showed an almost unfathomable (but not necessarily exceptional) brutality. In the film, we hear from both medical staff and her desperate parents how Singh was abused with a lead pipe, to such an extent that entrails were hanging out of her body. Several of her organs were so damaged that the doctors did not know what they were trying to stich back together. Early on, they warned that she was unlikely to survive. The 23-year old had almost finished her medical studies, only a short internship remained. The parents had sacrificed a lot to be able to afford her education, despite many people around them disagreeing that it was not worth doing this for a girl.

The documentary […] paints a frightening picture of an extremely skewed view of women which seems to be very widespread in the world’s biggest democracy.

Almost as upsetting, is hearing the involved and their lawyers more or less defend their barbarian misdeed. Mukesh Singh is one of the six convicted men (he is even sentenced to death by hanging), but claims in front of the camera that he did not really participate. Despite this, he outrageously declares that a decent girl would not roam around that time of the day. In his view, women are more responsible for rapes than the men who actually commit them. It is akin to a grotesque, reinforced echo of statements heard in Norway about how girls who «dress indecently» and go out for a drink «are often asking for it». This medieval view is advocated even more emphatically by some of the lawyers of the convicted men. «Our culture is the best. There is no room for women in our culture, » comments one of them in the film. And with that, he actually points straight to the core of the problem. Something which hopefully can be rectified as a result of the attention garnered by this film.

As a documentary, India’s daughter is quite well made, without being mould-breaking in any way. We are mainly told the story by «talking heads», in addition to reconstructions, illustrations and media cuttings. A somewhat robust form, but one nonetheless suitable for conveying this story. The film’s greatest strength is the access director Udwin gained to such a variety of participants; from the victim’s family via activists, investigators, lawyers and officials, to the convicted and their families. However, she could have avoided using discrete slow-motion special effects on some of the interviews.

Leslee Udwin

The formulations are more than strong enough not to warrant such cheap manipulation to emphasise the point. But, nevertheless, this is a minor squabble at a wide-reaching film which never loses its focus. Towards the end, there is even a sobering comment on how the strong reactions to this sexualised murder have awoken India’s sleeping death penalty. Two steps forward can suddenly lead to one in the opposite direction. Through the many who share their opinions in the film, India’s daughter paints a wide and upsetting picture of a culture permeated by a view on women as worth far less than men. Simultaneously, it is worth noting, as Nettavisen’s Gunnar Stavrum recently did, that we are here talking about the «Indian» culture as opposed to the «hindu». This is a shining example to follow, as not all religions would have been omitted in the same manner in similar contexts.

 

 

alekshuser@gmail.com


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