PARIS (WOMENSENEWS)– The film "India’s Daughter" documents the heinous 2012 gang rape of a woman referred to as Nirbhaya, a 23-year-old medical student, in India. This incident galvanized women and men in New Delhi to take to the streets and wage widespread protests that ultimately led to fast-track prosecutions of sexual offenders.
Leslee Udwin, the director of the documentary, has masterfully aimed the camera directly at the rapists, resulting in candid, insightful and gut-wrenching interviews. The film is now banned in India because of its stark portrayal of the event.
The film recently screened in New York and Los Angeles and has been endorsed by such media celebrities as Susan Sarandon, Gloria Steinem and Sean Penn. Meryl Streep has said the movie left her speechless, and she is campaigning for it to win an Oscar. The film will be screened on PBS on Nov. 16, and will be available on Netflix.
I spoke with Udwin last week by phone when she was attending the UNESCO education conference with 197 ministers in Paris.
Yes, I have seen it and it is about how the police have the situation under control and all is well in India. The movie does not ruffle any feathers and has not led to a conversation, a movement. There is no diplomacy to be had when women and girls are being violated every second of every day across the world. More conversations have been had as a result of "India’s Daughter" in the last two months than have been had in the last decade. We need to move people about this issue as the world has become apathetic to it.
I have nixed filmmaking and have become a human rights activist. When I interviewed these seven rapists for 31 hours, I realized six of the seven had never finished secondary education and had left school at an early age. I thought, mistakenly, that education was a big factor in their abuse. But then I interviewed their lawyers, who in spite of their access to higher education were more deep rooted in their misogyny.
It is not access to education that is the issue but content. We have been educating people’s heads not hearts; not bothering to teach them values like empathy, respect, gender sensitization; not helping them break down ghastly stereotypes where men are seen as superior — little princes that have entitlements — and girls are subordinate. That is true of every country in the world. It is just a question of degree. This default is what is responsible for violations of human rights across the world — not just gender violations but it’s this hard wiring that makes them behead people who are not of the same religion and kill people of another tribe.
I am now working on designing a global human rights curriculum — carefully designed by 20 top experts in education, human rights, gender and psychology — which will be adopted in schools for children from the age of 2 and will be compulsory. I am going to get this human rights education initiative into the world’s schools and I will die in the attempt. It is an ambitious objective but imminently doable.
There was one very chilling insight that occurred when I interviewed a rapist not connected with Nirbhaya (Udwin interviewed many rapists before those in this film). His name was Gaurav and he had raped a 5-year-old girl. I interviewed him for three hours and throughout he had this half smile on his face.
At a certain point I asked him to stand up and show me how tall the girl was. He stood up and put his hand at knee height.
I said, "You have described her in such detail that I can picture her now. Help me understand how you go from having this urge to actually crossing the line and doing it?" He replied, looking at me like I was insane, "She was a beggar girl and her life was of no value."
To me that was a double whammy. First, she was a girl and second, a beggar girl – a victim of the appalling caste system that still exists in India. So she was of absolutely no value.
The only reason I made this movie is because I fell in love with the protesters who came out to protest the ill-treatment of women. This mass mobilization had not been seen since independence. When Indians childishly write saying, "White bitch, why don’t you make U.K. Daughter’s or American Daughters," my answer is, "U.K. or America has never gone out and protested with such admirable courage for women’s rights."
I believe the backlash was due to the fact that the Indian government simply does not want to look in the mirror and face the truth. So much so that they invent all sorts of distracting untruths like "I paid the rapists to talk," "I gave Mukesh Singh (a rapist) a script to learn," "I breached prison permissions etc."
There were cries in the Indian Parliament, the Lok Sabha, that I was decimating the tourist industry and that I had orchestrated a campaign to shame India.
I received the ban by email from the Delhi public relations police officer stating the film would lead to a "disruption of law and order." The ban incidentally has proved utterly counterproductive. When I show the film to international audiences (and I have so far shown it in over 50 countries), these audiences first fall in love with Indians; those who were impassioned enough to protest the ill treatment of women.
Yes. My ongoing disappointment is that the Narendra Modi government is not lifting this ban. What kind of country would ban a public interest film that simply asks for a better world for women and girls?
A few months ago, an Indian minister in parliament during proceedings was caught looking at pornography on his mobile phone. The Indian government reacted by banning the 897 pornography sites. My heart leapt for joy when I heard this as we all know the exasperating role pornography plays in violating the rights of women and girls.
Within a week, there was an outcry on social media by men demanding their porn back, saying, "We have every right to see what we want in the privacy of our home. We are a democracy and you cannot trample on our freedom of expression."
The Indian government lifted the ban in a week. That is the most disheartening thing I can think of in this three year journey of mine.
Kavita Krishnan, one of the most respected feminists in India, started attacking me in a radio panel after the movie was out. She said I was a gori (term for a white-skinned person) who knew nothing about the feminist movement and did not detail the good work done by feminists in India.
At another panel, Indian feminists mentioned that I had not garnered their approval for screening the film on March 8, 2015 (International Women’s Day). On that day the film was simultaneously screened in seven countries to show solidarity in protesting gender inequality and violence. These accusations are petty and ego based.
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