Wednesday, July 15, 2015

[Film Review] India's Daughter - The Story Of Jyoti Singh

Photo Credit: India's Daughter

"Her name is Jyoti Singh. By revealing her name, we hope that it will give courage to other women who have survived these attacks."

India's Daughter is a documentary directed by British filmmaker Leslee Udwin and is part of the BBC's ongoing Storyville series. The film is based on the infamous 2012 Delhi gang rape and murder of a 23 year-old young woman. who was a physiotherapy student. The victim, Jyoti Singh, widely known as Nirbhaya (which means fearless in Hindi), boarded a privately run bus with a male friend home after watching a movie. That was where she was assaulted, brutally raped and violated with a metal rod by six men before throwing both of them out on the streets.

Both of them were taken to the hospital where Jyoti received emergency treatment including multiple surgeries in India and Singapore. Despite her horrific injuries, she somehow still managed to survive 13 days even when she was expected not to live through a few hours. However, no matter how much she wanted to live on, she still died 13 days later from her injuries.

The Ban

The documentary was originally planned to be broadcasted on International Women 's Day, 8 March in India on NDTV 24x7 and in UK BBC Four. However, the India government block the broadcast of the documentary in India with a court order obtained.  BBC complied and the documentary was not air in the country.

BBC, on the other hand, brought forward its broadcast and air the documentary on the 8th March in UK. After the broadcast, the film was also uploaded on Youtube and has been circulated around the various social media and sharing websites.

Indian government agencies has ordered Youtube to remove access to the film after BBC made it available on the Storyville website. Unfortunately, Youtube has complied with the order and taken steps to block access to the film in India upon the government's request.

A more severe global ban was launched shortly after that as the BBC proceeded to ask Google to remove all copies of the documentary that are viewable on Youtube, anywhere in the world. However, I have managed to obtain a copy of the documentary before it was completely removed from the internet.

However, India's efforts to suppress the film has backfired as it will be viewed by more people than if the Indian government has allowed it to be screened. India's efforts to ban the film has inadvertently spur greater interest online and helps to generate more publicity for it, which in fact, contributed greatly to its international success.

Why did I say so? Well, when a film is banned, it immediately makes people interested and curious to know why they have being stopped from watching it. I am sure that most of the people will attempt to find a copy of the film to see and find out the reason why it was banned from screening.

With great angst, helplessness and tears in my tears, I watched the whole documentary. Filled with emotions, I sat down and started typing my thoughts on the computer. This is not my effort to review the documentary. Rather, I am just sharing my thoughts on various issues raised throughout the film. By doing this, I am hoping to raise awareness about the rape culture in India.

The film began with a few dramatized scene shot in the dark with voice-over narration that provide a brief overview of the incident before it shifted to Jyoti's home, focusing on her grieving and heartbroken parents.

"Jyoti means "light". We were given a gift of light and happiness when she was born."

Unlike many other homes in India, Jyoti's parents were equally happy even when a girl was born. According to her mum, Jyoti means light and they were given a gift of light and happiness when she was born. 

"The first thing they said was "why are you selling it for a girl."

Jyoti's family is traditional but their thinking is modern. Her parents gave us sweets and celebrated the birth of a girl like a boy. Since young, Jyoti aspired to be a doctor. She wanted to help to poor. So, against the wishes of their extended family, her parents used the money they saved for her wedding and sold their ancestral land to fund her daughter's ambitious medical education.

Even so, Jyoti has to work night shift at an international call centre to pay her hostel fees, and would only sleep 3 to 4 hours a night. It was her final year in college as a physiotheraphy student and she had went home looking for an internship.

She had a bright future and her parents have high hopes for their daughter and are proud of her achievements. But the sudden death of Jyoti left her parents utterly devastated and heartbroken. It pains me to watch Jyoti's parents grieving for her.

"What I pulled out of her body, I threw it away. I wrapped it in cloth and threw it out."

The film contains an interview with one of the rapists, Mukesh Singh, who narrates in excruciating details what has actually happened on the horrendous night of December 16 in a calm and composed voice. Perched on a stool in the prison cell, he recounted in explicit details how they mercilessly raped, tortured and disemboweled her. 

In one scene, he casually described how one of them put his hand inside Jyoti and pulled out something long. It was her intestines. Thinking that she was dead, they dragged her to the front door and threw her out of the bus. They took their belongings, threw whatever that was pulled out of her out and went home. There was no fear in them.

" A decent girl won't roam around at 9 o'clock at night. A girl is far more responsible than a boy."

On the camera, Mukesh has shown no slightest remorse and claimed that "a girl is far more responsible for a rape than a boy." He aggressively blamed that it was Jyoti's fault for being out on the streets late at night. If she was a "good" woman, she would not be roaming the streets at 9 o'clock at night.

"When being raped, she shouldn't fight back. She should just be silent and allow the rape. Then they'd dropped her off after 'doing' her and only hit the boy."

So, if the women are not "good", men have the right to ''teach them a lesson'' by raping them. He also said that "when women are being raped, they should just be silent and allow the rape. Those who resisted rape, as Jyoti did, might be killed by "accident".

"The death penalty will make things even dangerous for girls. Now when they rape, they won't leave the girl like we did. They will kill her."

Apart from that, he also argued that the death penalty imposed on them will actually cause more girls to be killed.

As I quietly listen to what the rapist murderer has to say, I feel powerless, angry and utterly disgusted. I wonder why this monster was given the chance to justify and defend himself. Why should we listen to what a rapist has to say?

I could not imagine how much pain Jyoti has went through. That will be indescribable.

" They had no fear in their eyes, no shame"

There was no guilt or fear in his eyes. He does not even flinch when the list of gruesome injuries which Jyoti has sustained was read out to him. From bite marks, to kicks, to the fatal pulling out of Jyoti's intestines. He appeared to be a little annoyed and simply do not understand why people are making such a big fuss about such small thing like rape.

It was not a surprise that Mukesh's comments in the documentary has grabbed international headlines and sparked instant outrage on the internet. Many people have actually questioned whether it is right to give the convict a platform to express his views.

But no, the interview does not make him a celebrity. On the other hand, it actually helped us to see and understand the real roots of India's rape culture. That is the deep-rooted gender inequality in the society.

One of the most disturbing interview was with the wife of convicted rapist, Akshay Thakur, who completely denies that her husband would do such a thing. She even asked why her husband was punished when there are other criminals at large,

"If a husband is not there to protect his wife, then for who does she live? I will have to strangle my son. What else can I do?"

She even explained how she no longer wanted to live and will have to strangle her son if her husband is hanged. But who cares whether she or her son live or not. That does not matter very much to me. But there is one thing I can be sure of, that is as long as women in India continue to hold similar views as Akshay's wife, who think they are useless without a man in their life, the battle for gender equality will not end.

I wish I could slap her hard in her face. Even so, I believe she would never wake up or understand the pains which Jyoti went through. She was expecting the viewers to sympathize her. I am not sure how many of you would feel sorry for her. But at least I know, I would not.

Personally, I feel that death penalty might not be harsh enough to punish the rapists and definitely, will not be the ultimate solution to rape. Rather, I believe life imprisonment without possibility of parole with caning would cause much more suffering for the offender than a quick and painless death after a short imprisonment.

Perhaps, some would argue that chemical or physical castration would be the better way to punish the offender. But it does not prevent them from committing the same crime again. A person can be castrated and still have an intact penis. Although castrated men will experience a much-diminished sex drive, they are still capable of sexual activity.

Furthermore, rape is not always motivated by sexual desires. Sometimes, it is purely about control, power and violence.

Thus, the thought of having to spend the rest of your life in solitary confinement in a small prison cell actually makes it worst than death itself. Life imprisonment without possibility of parole with caning might be a better way to punish those who committed a rape and murder.

In patriarchal India, it was not surprising to learn that Mukesh Singh is not the only one with a sick mentality. The documentary also included some of the most disturbing interviews with the rapists' defence lawyers, M.L Sharma and AP Singh, both of whom hold similar views on women.

" That girl was with some unknown boy who took her on a date. In our society, we never allow our girls to come out from the house after 6.30, 7.30 or 8.30 in the evening with any unknown person.  You are talking about man and woman as friends. Sorry, that doesn't have any place in our society. A woman means I immediately put the sex in his eyes. We have the best culture. In our culture, there is no place for a woman." 

It was difficult to watch as Sharma tries to justify the brutality of  the sexual assault and blames the woman for the rape. Just like Mukesh, he insisted that it was Jyoti's fault for being out on the streets with an unknown person late at night. If she had stayed at home, the tragedy would not have happened.

"If my daughter or sister engaged in pre-marital activities or disgraced herself or allowed herself to lose face and character by doing such things, I would most certainly take this sort or sister or daughter to my farmhouse, and in front of my whole family, I will put petrol on her and set her alight."

AP Singh, the other lawyer who defended the rapists also made similar sexist comments about women in India's society. When asked whether he still stand by his views today. he said yes.

Certainly, the sexist and inhumane comments made by both the lawyers have caused a huge public outrage. How can a person with such mindset still be a lawyer, whose job is to deliver justice and truth. I wish that they will be punished and have their licenses revoked. They should be deemed unfit to practice law as they clearly lack of ethics, morality and respect for human life. Can you imagine having such lawyers to represent you in court should you ever need one? I could not and I definitely would not want any one of them to defend me.

The rape and murder of Jyoti has sparked national protests and riots, with hundreds of thousands of Indians - both male and female - marching onto the streets across the country holding candlelight vigils and rallies demanding for strict laws and reforms. Even so, any changes are expected to come slow in a patriarchal society.

In the documentary, there are other voices - police, judiciary, historian and varied experts, but their comments were not significant enough for me to mention.

It was a difficult documentary to watch. I have to pause the film several time to digest whatever I have seen and heard. But for sure, India's daughter is not a conspiracy to tarnish the reputation of India. There was nothing fabricated in the film. The government decision to ban the broadcast of India's Daughter was in fact, more damaging on India's reputation than the film itself.

Even though the documentary was banned and removed from Youtube, I believe there are still numerous copies of it on the internet. So, if you managed to get a copy of of the documentary, I would really recommend you to watch it.

However, the film title might be inappropriate. It actually feels like an insult to the victim, Jyoti. India's daughter? No, She was not India's daughter. Jyoti was a strong and determined girl with a big dream. She wanted to help the poor and dreamed of building a hospital in her hometown. But what did India give her? Nothing. The country gave her nothing but pain and suffering. Her achievements were given by her parents. She was her parents' daughter.

How many of us have such a big dream like her? I felt infuriated that she was robbed of a promising future that she had worked so hard for. She was just a step away from success. I wish I have the ability to help her build a hospital in her hometown.

Jyoti represents hope for the future. I hope that she will be the inspiration for the next generation of women to demand for freedom, equality and respect in modern India.  Her life has been sacrificed to tell the world that rapes and violence towards women will no longer to be tolerated. The society has to stop devaluing women.

"A girl can do anything."

Jyoti used to believe that a girl can do anything. What a boy can do, a girl can do it too. The biggest problem in India is mentality. If majority of the population are taught from birth to devalue girls, then they will grow up not knowing how to respect girls.

Imposing strict laws and death penalty are not the solutions to rape. I hope this incident is enough to shame and wake India up. Perhaps, it is time for the government to confront the deep-rooted issue that men in India do not respect women.

It is great that the film has helped to explore the issue of gender violence and reflect the collective mindset of the people of India. Without the interviews, would you see a highly successful and educated lawyers making such sexist remarks as M.L Sharma or AP Singh did. I believe you would not.

So, until and unless the mentality of the population changes, this rape epidemic will not end. However, the question is "How? How can we change the mindset of the population?"

Be sure to follow me on Facebook or Twitter  for any latest updates on my blog. So stay tuned!

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