By the Blouin News World staff

Indian ban on rape documentary sparks debate

by in Asia-Pacific.

Filmmaker Leslee Udwin. (Imtiyaz Khan/Hindustan Times/Getty)

Filmmaker Leslee Udwin. (Imtiyaz Khan/Hindustan Times/Getty)

Journalist and activist Ketan Dixit was arrested in Agra, India for hosting an illicit screening of the film “India’s Daughter” at his home Sunday night. The documentary by British  filmmaker Leslee Udwin, which unpacks the horrifying gang rape, murder and disembowelment of Indian student Jyoti Singh in 2012, has attracted global attention since being banned by Indian authorities last week. The film has been blasted by authorities as a “conspiracy against India,” who are enraged that India is shown in a negative light. Dixit declared his intention to “face any action that was initiated” by officials in retaliation for his defiance against their censorship.

The international condemnation of the ban has been so passionate that one wonders what Delhi expected to gain from the move. Scenes from the film are widely available online, including an interview with one seemingly remorseless perpetrator of the 2012 crime. So haunting and candid was his interview that some authorities cited it as the reason behind banning the film from being broadcast on television — they said it amounted to giving a rapist a platform.

But other criticism of the film has come from an unlikely source: Indian feminists and anti-rape activists. Among them is Kavita Krishnan, who articulated her views on “India’s Daughter” in an essay for Indian Magazine “Daily O.” For one thing, Krishnan argued, why name a film on the dehumanization of women in a way that defines them in relation to their families? Krishnan has repeatedly in her activism pushed back against the perception that women are merely men’s mothers, sisters, wives or daughters, not as people in their own right. To Krishnan, a title like “India’s Daughter” reinforces this perspective.

Krishnan also blasted the film as the creation of an outsider pathologizing India for a culture of misogyny that is not uniquely Indian. She wrote:

Moreover, why should a global campaign against gender violence be called Daughters of India? …Does it seek to convey the impression that “India’s daughters” are in need of a rescue mission?…What comes through, then, is a sense of India as a place of ignorance and brutality towards women, that inspires both shock and pity, but also call for a rap on the knuckles from the “civilised world” for its “brutal attitudes.”

As one of the most visible organizers of the wave of protests following Singh’s 2012 rape and murder, it is understandable that Krishnan could come to resent a white “rescue” from a problem that her fellow Indians have been working so hard on.

Still, Krishnan and her fellow activists agree that Indian misogyny must be addressed. Other women have been raped and murdered in India since Singh, and rape culture runs deep. As Rega Jha notes in an essay at BuzzFeed, Bollywood films depict sexual harassment as romantic, Indian men are prone to victim-blaming, and Indian politicians are constantly under fire for making ignorant and sexist statements.

Of course, these situations are familiar to people living outside of India as well. Perhaps Udwin’s project should have focused less on trying to make India look different than other countries, and more on how misogyny plays out in different national settings. That way, banning the film would make Indian authorities look even more cowardly than they already do.