India’s Daughter shouldn’t be the locus of campaign on violence against women: Kavita Krishnan

Controversy broke out over India’s Daughter, a documentary by Leslee Udwin on the December 16 Delhi gang rape, which was aired by BBC in UK despite a call by the Indian government to ban it. Its release was prevented in India citing among other reasons the fact that the case is sub-judice. Kavita Krishnan, secretary, All India Progressive Women’s Association, shares her views with Ranjita Ganesan on the ban, the film’s content and why it cannot be the centre of a global campaign.

What do you make of the response to the documentary India’s Daughter ? Is the ban justified? 

I have never sought a ban on the documentary. The debate over airing or not airing is dated because the film is already out in the public domain. What I felt was that a postponement of the screening was needed given that the interview of a rape convict, obtained through extremely unethical and dubious means while the matter is in court ,  would risk obstructing justice.

The ministry stated that the case is sub-judice and the telecast could interfere with the process of law. What sort of impact could the film have on due process?

The film maker has claimed that she had the prosecution’s permission to air this. But they said it would be unethical to view the material and did not see it. What will be the impact of showing it publicly to those who may be involved in the judicial process?

What is your take on the content of the documentary? 

My critique of the content, apart from the interview of the rapist, is not my basis for seeking postponement. But the title says India’s “daughter” ,  which is patriarchal and problematic. Some of the popular slogans during the protest following the December 16, 2012 rape were, “We want freedom from fathers and brothers”. The protesters said, “Don’t call us ‘daughters’ and offer us ‘safety’ in exchange for freedom.” The title of the documentary does not reflect this quest for autonomy. While ( India’s Daughter ) locates the ugly rape culture mindset in the rapists and their defence lawyers, it does not show how the same mindset is shared by those who are on the side of the law and justice and government. The latter, like the former, also speak the language that defends the accused and blames victims, and advices women to remain within limits in order to be safe. I am not saying Westerners should not make films on us. There are many in the West with whom we have had productive conversations about how to stand in solidarity with each other.

Is the documentary only meant to be viewed by certain audiences? Among those people who are convinced that girls should be confined to household work and not step out after sundown, do you think that rape accused Mukesh Singh’s views would reinforce this regressive belief? 

The story of the rape victim herself is very moving and inspiring but I question why the film maker needs to tell us about her getting permission of her parents before going out. Why is it relevant to know whether she had permission, that she was good, aspirational, spoke good English and obeyed her parents? This idea of the ‘good Indian daughter’ flies in the face of the spirit of the protesters who said we want to be adventurous, not obedient. I am told by some women that their parents, having watched the film, said, “We don’t think women who go out at night with men are bad. But you see, rapists think this way, so you should not dress provocatively or go out late.” This is the heart and soul of the problem that protesters raised in the movement. The film does not address this problem of wider rape culture.

You were featured in the documentary. Did you have reservations about it at the time of filming? 

I was told that a film maker wanted to meet me to talk about the movement. At the time I was meeting many mediapersons and researchers who came to get a sense about our intervention and the movement. (Udwin) had simply not done the basic homework. It seemed like she wanted a prop to say something about the movement. The film quotes people ,  including myself ,  but there isn’t a single line where I am analysing the templates of violence against women in India. All that is done by an academic from a British institution. And it is not someone who is actively involved in the feminist movement there like the Southall Black Sisters or South Asia Solidarity. You are talking to an academic there to tell you what is happening here.

One point being raised is that the documentary intends to tarnish India’s image. Your views.

I reject the government decision and rationale to ban it. Many Indians have rightly rejected the ‘image’ argument and said, “We don’t want to run away from bad news. We are acknowledging the fact that these horrible statements by the rape accused and his lawyer have come from our society”. My point is that the discussion about rape culture in India has not started with this film.

Now that the documentary is in the public domain, what is your view on what should happen next? 

My concern and priority is that the film should not be the locus of any global campaign. If there is a campaign on violence against women in India, this should not be used as educational material. Films that we show (like Izzatnagri ki Asabhya Betiyan , for instance) are brutally honest in their look at misogyny and violence against women in India. There are several other films and material talking of the denial of autonomy to women in our country, or the violence and misogyny. Those should be used. I would urge the UN secretary general to not allow such a campaign around India’s Daughter . It is a film, let people watch it. But it cannot be the authoritative film to lead a discussion on violence against women globally or in India.