December 16, 2012 was a terrible day. That day, Delhi saw one of the worst cases of gang rape in its history. December 17 was another day. There were widespread protests in the city starting with university students who came out in large numbers against this ghastly violence, demanding justice for the victim.
The protests swelled and, soon, almost the entire country was on streets.
This activism was phenomenal, though 23 year old Nirbhaya — it was clear the identity of the victim would be protected at all costs — could not survive the brutality that had already been committed. She passed away on December 29, fighting her injuries and having spoken out about what had happened to her.
The victims were arrested, the Challan was submitted in record 17 days, and by the September of 2013 the accused were found guilty and sentenced to death. A high powered judicial commission was set up to suggest changes in law etc. and is said to have come up with “path-breaking” and “progressive” recommendations.
A BBC documentary India’s Daughter, which has now been seen by all and sundry despite the ban on it in India, has brought the incident alive in people’s minds once again. If the incident itself shook their conscience, this film has indeed allowed an extensive debate on the issue of rape.
The cold and insensitive comments made by one of the accused have allowed people to become angry again. These comments only show how meaningless sexual violence has become, made worse by the realisation that even a conviction like death sentence could not change mindsets. And that gender discrimination cuts across classes.
The film, just like any other piece of writing or work of art, was bound to be variously interpreted. But the controversy that this particular one generated pitched left-leaning feminists alongside ultra rightwing forces; a criminal’s utterings were said to amount to hate speech for which a value like freedom of speech could be compromised; the film was said to be sensational, affecting India’s image and liable to influence the legal outcome of the case.
On all counts, it deserved to be banned or at least not shown depending on which side of spectrum you stood.
But there were saner voices too. Somebody rightly suggested that people who had come on the streets after the crime did not feel compelled to come out again on the call of the detractors of the film.
But, as said earlier, different people would pick different ideas from the same film. To many, the brutal ignorance of the perpetrators was balanced rather well by the enlightened parents of Jyoti. This process of rethinking and education could go on and there could be other films on things this one did not cover.
In this whole episode are lessons for Pakistan where the instance of rape is almost as bad, because most cases do not even get reported. Scratch a lawyer who knows two things about rape and he will turn out to be equally misogynist. There are systemic handicaps in Pakistan and we need to learn a lot from India. To begin with, Pakistanis should start counting the things that are banned in their own country.