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The banning of "India's Daughter": what is Delhi afraid of?

 
Tuesday, 10 March 2015 09:24
 
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Epos converses with Seema Shekhawat

by Nicolamaria Coppola (EPOS)
EPOS Conversations

 

Seema Shekhawat is a social scientist with a PhD on intersection of gender, conflict and displacement. She researched and taught at the Universities of Jammu and Mumbai, India, from 2004 to 2012. She is a member of several organizations including Dignity and Humiliation Studies, Action Asia and our agency EPOS. She has published several articles, reports and books: her publications include Conflict and Displacement in Jammu and Kashmir: The Gender Dimension (2006); Contested Borders and Division of Families in Kashmir: Contextualizing the Ordeal of the Kargil Women (2009) (co-author). Her latest publication is Gender, Conflict and Peace in Kashmir: Invisible Stakeholders (Cambridge University Press, 2014) and her forthcoming book is Gendering Conflict and Peace Making.

In this exclusive interview for EPOS, Seema Shekhawat talks about the banning of India's Daughter and the echo and the effects that it has had in India. She also analyses the main challenging issue of gender and equality between men and women in India; she discusses about rape and sexual assault against women in the country, arguing that it is a serious problem and a very sensitive question, and that both society and state together have to act to prevent this kind of violence .

 

Nicolamaria Coppola, EPOS: India's Daughter is a documentary-film directed by Leslee Udwin, based on the 2012 Delhi gang rape and murder of Jyoti Singh, a 23-year-old woman who was a physiotherapy student. The documentary, whose director is a woman who is herself a rape survivor, has been criticised by the government and women’s activists, including some who were at the forefront of the widespread public protests after the rape and murder of the student in December 2012. India's daughter has been depicted as a "controversial film": why do you think it has been defined so? What is controversial? Do you personally think that it is a controversial film?

Seema Shekhawat: I have not seen the documentary yet so I cannot answer this question in totality. What I could gather from the reaction of common people here in India is resentment about providing a public platform to a rapist to put forward his views which are highly condemnable. Personally my view is many people may find parts of the documentary controversial but the basic issue should not be brushed aside. Let everyone discuss the issue-treatment of women in Indian society, this is essential for our society.

Nicolamaria Coppola, EPOS: India's Daughter was planned to be broadcast on International Women's Day, 8 March 2015, in India on NDTV 24x7 and in UK on BBC Four. But Delhi has censored the film, and the government's banning overdrive has caused India more embarrassment than the documentary itself. Why has the Indian government prohibited all Indian television channels to screen the documentary, and why has it gone ahead with getting YouTube to pull down the video because it is "sensitive issue”? What is the real motivation at the basis of the banning? What is Delhi afraid of?

Seema Shekhawat: On 8 March 2015 at night NDTV had to telecast the documentary in collaboration with BBC. Since the government of India banned the screening, NDTV did not broadcast any other content at the scheduled time. On the other hand in some remote places in India the documentary was shown to common people by some human rights activists as a mark of protest. Also thousands of people had seen the documentary on YouTube before it website was pressured to pull down the video. It has already been screened in UK and USA.

Why the ban then? The major claim is that the documentary was made bypassing the established procedures and also it is being used for a commercial purpose. It seems the real motive behind the ban was to save the country from the embarrassment as the screening might tarnish the image of India in the world. My take on this is there is a need to ban rape, to ban mistreatment of women, to ban the mindset that lead to objectification of women, and not to ban one or the other documentary.

Nicolamaria Coppola, EPOS: On 1 March 2015, the film-maker Leslee Udwin revealed that she had interviewed one of the rapists of Jyoyi Singh, Mukesh Singh, when he was being held in the Tihar jail. According to a report in Navbharat Times, it seems that the rapist was paid Rs. 40,000 for his interview. Singh's comments in India's Daughter have grabbed headlines in Indian newspapers and sparked outrage on social media. He said that a girl is «far more responsible for rape» than a boy. He stated housework and housekeeping was the domain of girls and they had no rights to roam or visit discos and bars at night. «They are doing wrong things, wearing wrong clothes» he said, and added that only «20 percent» of the girls was good. Singh added that executing him and the other convicts in the case will further endanger rape victims as now, when girls are raped, they will not leave the victim but will kill her. He showed no remorse for the attack, which he referred to as an «accident». What do you think about?

Seema Shekhawat: At the outset let me clarify that the interviewed rapist do not represent the Indian men. But, it needs equal emphasis that there is a basic problem with the patriarchal attitude widespread in Indian society. It is crucial to note that while Mukesh Singh is not representative of Indian men in general, he is not alone either.

Men consider themselves superior beings and what once was known as ‘white man’s burden’ has been replaced here in Indian society by ‘man’s burden’. Men shoulder the burden of looking after women- daughters, wives, sisters and even mothers. They are the dependents and cannot claim equality with men who are the protectors. Girls and boys are treated unequally since childhood. While boys have the right to roam around fearlessly at their will and been taught to "behave like man", girls are taught to be timid and "behave like woman". While boys have no specified societal rules, girls have hundreds of them, from including not laughing loudly to not wearing "inappropriate dresses". It is the mindset which is at the core of the problem. The sick mindset perceives women as merely an object, which can be used and thrown.

Mukesh Singh possesses that mindset and unfortunately he is not the only one. The interviewed rapist not only committed sexual violence but also tortured the girl in inhuman ways that eventually led to her death. And he showed no remorse for the "accident". This suffices to conclude that there is a fundamental problem in the societal set up. The need is to introspect, analyze and act to make the required correction and not to adopt an ostrich-like attitude or to put the issues under the carpet. Until that time women in India would continue to be at the receiving end.

As far as capital punishment to the rapists is concerned, I think it is the minimum they deserve. Mukesh Singh and many others opine that it will lead to killing of the women after rape. My response is there should be no sexual violence and until that time hang all those who commit such heinous crimes.

Nicolamaria Coppola, EPOS: Sexual assault is a serious problem in India: it has become a flashpoint in a much deeper political dispute over the ways in which Indian culture is changing as the country becomes more urban and less traditional. Indian writer Salil Tripathi argues in Mint that Singh's statements highlight the true discourse about rape in India (and, he points out, in many other countries, as well): «It is not about sex; it is about control, power, and violence». That could help explain why Singh's interview has provoked such a strong response: his comments perfectly capture the logic of that argument — one that many Indian women are desperately fighting against. What is your personal idea about sexual assault in India? Do you agree with Salil Tripathi?

Seema Shekhawat: I agree with Salil Tripathi. Sexual violence is not only related to merely satisfying a physical impulse; it is about controlling a women, about proving masculinity, about defeating her. "The more she resisted the more violent I became" were the words of the rapist whom I interviewed in 2010.Sexual assaults are common in India. Until there is a change in the mindset the assaults would continue unabatedly. The society, which also includes the family, has a crucial role to play in this context.

Nicolamaria Coppola, EPOS: Rape and violence against women are a massive problem in India. According to the country's National Crime Record Bureau, crimes against women have increased by 7.1 percent since 2010. The number of rapes reported has also risen.  Nearly one in three rape victims in India is under the age of 18.  One in 10 are under 14. Every 20 minutes in India, a woman is raped. It seems that India is the "rape capital of the World", but if we go by reported rape statistics, India has one of the lowest rates of rape in the world, at number 94, right next to Canada - Total number of countries in this list, where statistics were available, was 119. This begs the question: is disproportionate coverage of rape in India justified? Or is it driven by an agenda?

Seema Shekhawat: It may be an exaggeration to call India as "a country of rape" and there may be some vested interests cashing the scenario. That said, it cannot be denied that despite public outrage in post-Nirbhaya episode and stringent laws, there is no steady decrease in the reported cases of rape. Rather the reports of rapes and related heinous sexual crimes against women are increasing. So even if exaggerations are kept aside, the issue cannot be. It is a reality that needs serious introspection by the society and action by the state.

Nicolamaria Coppola, EPOS: What should Delhi do to fight and prevent sexual assault, rape and violence against women?

Seema Shekhawat: As I said earlier, it needs introspection and action. Both society and state together have to act to prevent sexual violence. While state should implement laws stringently, ensure speedy trials and justice, the society has to introspect to correct the fundamental problem of gender insensitive mindset. There is a need to engage both men and women to fight this menace. At the same time there is a need to de-stigmatize rape. The stigma of rape is so big that a rape victim is not allowed to emerge as a rape survivor. Rape is a heinous crime but the punishment has to be given to the rapist and not to the raped. Once rape is de-stigmatized and is no longer projected as "life-ending episode" women will have the courage to stand and fight for themselves both within and outside courts. In sum, mindsets have to change; the typical patriarchal mentality has to gradually give way to a humane mindset through education, and family upbringing. And until time that state has to be extra-vigilant not only to prevent such crimes but also to exemplify stringent action against those who commit them.

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DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this article are the interviewed’s own and do not necessarily reflect EPOS WorldView’s

Last modified on Saturday, 14 March 2015 13:09
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