Sumpolites | Starring Equality

The fight for gender equality in India has moved beyond issue based protests to changing policies and laws that perpetuate discrimination. See the documentary, but understand that the documentary is not a reflection of the movement for greater equality

India’s Daughter, by Leslee Udwin is a documentary on rape and gender equality in India, centered around the Delhi rape case of December 2012. Intended for worldwide release on March 8th, the publicity comments from the documentary have become controversial. The material consisted of interviews with one of the men involved in the Delhi rape case, his lawyers and another man convicted for the rape of a 5 year old. The documentary has become embroiled in legal issues over the interviews, and has also resulted in a few commentators taking the film maker to task for the racial undertones in the narrative. Kavita Krishnan and Nilanjana Roy in their response to the previews have made some excellent points on the content of the documentary, and the way the subject has been framed. I have, like most other people who have commented on the issue not seen the documentary. My knowledge of this comes mainly from sites like BBC and Guardian which have interviews and articles about the film maker and the documentary.

From what I saw and read, I have two problems with the documentary and what it claims is a revealing look at gender inequality in the world. One, is that the views expressed by the convicts and the defense lawyers of the Delhi rape case, are not atypical in India or outside India. The interviews with the rapists show men who have no remorse or regret about their actions and believe in the inherent inequalities of gender. The interviews don’t show men who are “normal and unremarkable” but at the same time, it doesn’t shed any new light on how certain sections of men see women. So what purpose does the interview serve other than to sensationalize a painful moment in India’s fight against sexual violence? It creates caricatures of men who commit crimes against women, and imparts a false sense of security when justice is doled out to these people. If the motivation behind the interview was to show a deeply embedded patriarchal society, then the film maker has failed in her mission. It would be extremely disingenuous for us to say that the rapist in airing his views about women and how they should behave, has said something so extraordinarily alien to our way of life. Men and women from all walks of life, both in India and abroad have expressed their strong feelings when it comes to how a certain gender should behave. Not everyone who has a view like those of the rapist need to be violent, but they are all discriminatory and take advantage of a system that lacks the will to correct that inequality. The documentary risks defining gender inequality and the people who perpetuate it in very narrow and shallow terms. People who have been at the receiving end of unequal treatment need not have similar experiences or share the same view of equality. Framing gender inequality within a single frame will only alienate people who have suffered for being a different gender or for refusing to be stereotyped into just one gender.

Two, Gender equality is much bigger, and a much longer battle. Movements in India towards greater equality have highlighted issues beyond that of harassment and violence and have brought greater awareness to other spheres impacted by discrimination. The problem is that the nature of the released clips and the narratives surrounding the premiere of India’s Daughter have resulted in louder calls for justice for this case specifically, and have put the spotlight back on the one case that seems to define crimes against women in India, when in reality it does not. Groups working towards greater equality in both public and private sphere have been seeing small degrees of success in their work. The spotlight also needs to move beyond cases and  “regular, unremarkable” men who commit crimes. The conversation has to veer towards changing a system that has so far bordered on incompetent as far as tackling inequality in concerned, correcting outdated laws, creating policies that reflect the modern, networked citizen and equipping the police force and lawmakers to understand and implement laws that fight discrimination actively.

The issue of equal rights was starting to move away from single issue protests to addressing inequality as a whole. Unfortunately, Leslee Udwin’s documentary has brought the spotlight back on these men. There are people who genuinely believe there are only a particular breed of men who rape, and only physical violence against women is deplorable. I don’t support the ban on the documentary. There is a need to see the piece and figure out what Udwin really wanted to convey, but it is also important to see beyond such sensationalist documentaries and support the people who are genuinely interested in fighting for gender equality.