10 Oct 2015
India’s Daughter. Wow! I sat in the audience at the screening of India’s Daughter at the San Diego Film Festival, trying not to cry, trying not to cringe. I was only somewhat successful. I knew of the incident because I am a diehard fan of Amy Goodman and DemocracyNow.org. Amy Goodman covered the brutal gang rape of Jyoti Singh Pandey, the 23-year-old medical student by 6 men on the moving bus in gut wrenching detail. However, India’s daughter let me know that there was a lot more that I had to learn.
On December 16, 2012 at approximately 9 P.M., Jyoti Singh and a male friend boarded a private bus that claimed to be going their way. Jyoti and her male friend had just come from watching Life of Pi at the theater and were on their way home. After a verbal spat with the six men on the bus about why Jyoti out so late at night, the six men began to pummel Jyoti’s male friend. After he hid between the seats, the men dragged Jyoti to the back of the bus and brutally gang raped her. One of the men pushed his hand inside Jyoti and ripped out her intestines… through her vagina. All this took place while the bus drove round and round the highway. After the beatings and brutal rape, the men threw Jyoti and her male friend out of the blood-soaked bus and continued home.
Unlike the average rape in India, this rape immediately broke the camel’s back! News of what happened to Jyoti sparked unprecedented protest around India. Men and women united in protest to the silence that surrounds violence against women.
Hearing about Jyoti’s life and the incidence that ultimately ended her life 13 days later had a much different sentiment in India’s Daughter. In this documentary Jyoti’s mother and father talk about rejoicing for the birth of their daughter when people around them felt it was a waste to rejoice for a girl. We see the glimmer in her mother and father’s eyes when they talk about their daughter wanting to become what she thought was the greatest thing in the world; a doctor. Their relatives were even angered when they sold their ancestral land to pay for Jyoti’s education. She had only 6 more months as an intern before she became a doctor and could make a better life for her parents for all they had sacrificed for her. My heart ached for these parents.
What makes this documentary undoubtedly cringe-worthy are the interviews with the rapists and the defense attorneys. I couldn’t tell which was worse, the dreadfully memorable words of the Mukesh, the 28 year old rapist who stated:
“You can’t clap with one hand. It takes two hands to clap. A decent girl won’t roam around at 9 o’clock at night. A girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy.”
Or, was the words of M.L Sharma, the defense attorney:
“You are talking about a man and a woman as friends. Sorry, that does not have any place in our society. A woman means I immediately put sex in his eyes. We have got the best culture. And in our culture, there is no place for a woman.”
Perhaps the winner of the race to chauvinistic insanity is the second defense attorney in the film, AP Singh:
“If my daughter or sister engaged in premarital activities and disgraced herself to lose face and character by doing such things, I would certainly take this sort of sister or daughter to my farmhouse and in front of my entire family, I would pour petrol on her and set her alight!”
It’s hard to say that the brutal rape of Jyoti was a result of the lack of education of these 6 rapist when the very educated and well accomplished defense attorneys themselves blamed Jyoti for her own rape.
According to the writer and historian, Dr. Maria Misra:
“Before this event, there was still a very strong culture of shame around rape. To be raped was deeply shaming. To be raped was worse than to be dead in fact. And so you would get politicians saying the most extraordinary things about rape victims. That it was far better if a rape victim died because had she lived, she would just be a walking corpse.”
Leslee Udwin has created a compelling piece of work that demands conversation about the sexual abuse of women on a worldwide scale. The Q& A session after the film was just as enlightening. Audience members wanted to know what we as a society could do to mitigate and eradicate crimes against women around the world. “Education is the key!”, is what Udwin instructed. Udwin is presently developing educational programs to be implemented in schools around the world. Though the film has been banned in India, there are young people all over the country that are finding ways to circumvent the ban in order to watch the film. The stricter the government , the wiser the people.
I weep for and with Jyoti’s parents. Jyoti’s mother and father have exuded ultimate courage in coming forth with Jyoti’s story, in this film. It is their story. As a woman, Jyoti’s story is my story. As a mother of a teenage daughter, I acknowledge that Jyoti’s story is my daughter’s story. Jyoti is not just India’s daughter. Jyoti is my daughter and for everyone that will speak up against injustice towards women, Jyoti is our daughter.