Intro: By making an ill-informed documentary British film-maker Leslee Udwin has tried showing the world a tinted perspective of India’s problems without offering real solutions.
British film-maker Leslee Udwin’s recent documentary, ‘India’s Daughter, that focuses on the brutal gang rape of a young woman in Delhi in December, 2012, and the widespread protests that followed, has been banned in India. The imposition of ban has invited mixed reactions- many people around the world including here in India hold the view that it should not have been banned.
As a law student, currently based in London, I have lived in this country for nearly two years. Having studied history and political science at St. Stephen’s College, Delhi, when I came to London to study law; it was natural for me to take a liking to Public and Constitutional Law. The debate around the controversial documentary takes me back to a debate I had about democracy with fellow students in London. Arguing her case for democracy, I remember a classmate saying that Britain is the mother of democracy because it had given the world the Parliamentary system of government and so on and so forth. For the sake of argument, I asked her how she could call this country an operational democracy when it was still a monarchy, where until as recently as 2013, a woman could not succeed to the throne if she had brothers; marrying a Roman Catholic barred an individual from the rights of succession; an unelected upper chamber of legislature existed where some still enjoyed hereditary rights of membership and a number of hereditary vassals owned vast tracts of land.
My class fellow became irritated and instead of responding to my question remarked that I should look to how India had imitated the British system of government and not tell the British how to run their country because I was a guest here. With the benefit of hindsight, it can be said that she was right to reprimand me in that way because it was indeed not my place to tell the British how their country should be run. How you may wonder is this preface relevant to a discussion about ‘India’s Daughter’. Well the reason is precisely the same; the film is trying to tell us in India what my classmate in London claimed I was trying to tell the British; how to run our country and solve our problems.
This white saviour mentality is precisely what we in India must stand up to and fight against as also the slanderous lies and total ignorance of our culture and problems that are rampant in the west. This ignorance is best illustrated by the recent case of a German professor who refused an internship to an Indian student citing the “rape problem in India” as the reason for doing so. When the student protested that this was a generalisation, the professor argued, “This is a generalisation and may not apply to individuals. However, it is also unbelievable that the Indian society is not able to solve this problem for many years now.”
The documentary, which I had the occasion to see, allows those appearing in it to make two erroneous and downright slanderous claims. The victim’s mother claims, in a fit of rage that if the constitution of India allows 12-13 year old girls to get married then why does it not allow juveniles to be hanged or given life imprisonment? In another slanderous and unsubstantiated remark, AP Singh, one of the defense lawyers in the Nirbhaya case advances the claim that murder, robbery and rape charges are pending against 250 sitting MP’s. These claims are entirely incorrect. In reality, child marriage was first restricted in India during British rule by the Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929 and the law against it was further strengthened with the passing of the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006. Furthermore, whilst it is also true that a number of individuals with criminal charges against them hold elected office in India, the nature of India’s polity is such that on many occasions such cases are politically motivated. The number of MP’s with serious criminal charges against them is nowhere near 250 and the Supreme Court has taken a harsh stand against corruption in this regard by declaring section 8(4) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 ultra vires and ensuring that those elected representatives who are convicted of a criminal offence lose their seats immediately upon conviction. The fact that the film-maker allowed the impression to be created that these claims were correct and did not state the correct factual position anywhere reeks of bias and is prima facie defamatory.
It is also of importance to note here that India has a higher conviction rate for rape than many developed countries. A recent article in Time Magazine noted that The Guardian, one of Britain’s most widely read newspapers, reported that just 7 per cent of rape cases in the UK resulted in convictions and the figures were only about 10 per cent in Sweden compared to 24.2 per cent in India in 2012. Furthermore, Britain’s office for National Statistics noted that about 85,000 women are raped in England and Wales each year, and countless more fall prey to sexual assault, that is almost one woman every seven minutes. The figure in India, according to the British film-maker’s documentary is one woman in every 20 minutes.
Britain has also seen a recent reopening of historical cases of sexual assault on minors. One of the most famous cases has been the case that led to the conviction of Rolf Harris, an acclaimed entertainer, who was sentenced to five years and nine months’ jail for indecently assaulting four girls in Britain between 1968 and 1986. Similarly, in the United States, actor Stephen Collins recently admitted to similar crimes.
Leslee Udwin claimed that she made the film because she was moved by the show of support from ordinary Indians to the victim of the December 16, gang rape. This makes me wonder why the conscience of certain elements in the west is particularly moved by events in India, which invoke them to embark on the misadventure of trying to highlight and also provide solutions to, without comprehending the context in which they arise. Would it be taken kindly if a filmmaker from India showed up and began to make a film about the Rolf Harris case without the understanding it? I would think not.
The problem of rape in India is indeed acute, but solutions to it lie in educating people about it, where we must welcome any assistance. The courts should comedown harshly on perpetrators of such crimes and the activist media should highlight the problem; what actually does not form a part of the solution nevertheless is making ill-informed documentaries that seek to show the world a tinted perspective of our problems without offering any real solutions.
Saurabh Chaudhary (The writer is Londan based Law practitioner)