A week ago I read about the documentary India’s Daughter and decided I would email my Indian friend in Delhi so we could both watch it today, International Women’s Day, and discuss it. But on the 10 o’clock news last Wednesday, I saw that Prime Minister Modi had banned the film in India because it showed his country in a bad light, and demanded it should be banned in every country. In a rapid change of programme, BBC4 was putting it out at that very moment. I switched channel immediately.
I’m saddened by being unable to discuss it with my Delhi friend. Like Jyoti Singh, the raped and murdered 23 year-old, my friend is a doctor; like Jyoti she delighted her parents when she graduated; unlike Jyoti, my friend’s parents are professionals while Jyoti’s are labourers from Uttar Pradesh, a poor part of in India who sold all they possessed to move to Delhi and educate their two sons and daughter. ‘Why bother to educate your daughter?’ asked other members of their family. But Jyoti had made it clear that any money they were keeping for her dowry should be spent on her education. Her dream was to return to her village and build a hospital there which she could run herself.
Her dream ended just when she had successfully completed her degree and was returning home after having gone to see a film with a male friend on Sunday 16 December 2012. On the bus five men, including the driver, raped her. When her friend tried to protect her, they attacked him. Raped and disembowelled, she died 13 days later in hospital.
In what I saw of the film, one of the rapists’ defence lawyers said that, ‘if my daughter or sister engaged in pre-marital activities… in front of the entire family I would pour petrol over her and set fire to her’. Another defence lawyer said that no decent woman would be out at 9 in the evening. The film director, Leslee Udwin, interviewed one of the rapists who showed no remorse and said that it was Jyoti’s fault that she was raped because a woman shouldn’t be out late. The mother of one of the rapists was distraught. Her other son had hung himself while in police custody, and now she would have no son to light her funeral pyre.
So many families distraught with grief.
In the documentary two women, one young, one old, both said that this horrendous crime was a symptom of lack of education. There were male voices of horror at the crime and the attitudes of the rapists. All came from poor backgrounds; some had work; all had a disturbing and freely expressed contempt for women – one said that only 20% of women were respectable.
I wept for Jyoti’s parents. Her mother was with her in hospital. Jyoti’s last words were that she was so sorry to have caused them this distress. Her father tapped his chest and spoke of his joy, holding his little daughter close to his heart when she was a baby. Of how he was determined to give her the education she so wanted – and his grief at having to light her funeral pyre.
These are Indians we all profoundly admire, and Prime Minister Modi should be proud of them and not ban the film, for it has a lot to teach us all. In India, with its huge population, there is a rape every 20 minutes, and in England and Wales there were 85,000 rapes last year. The story is similar in every country in the world, and today, on Women’s International Day, the message must go out that males must not get preferential treatment, that we are all, first and foremost, equal human beings, then sons and daughters, fathers and mothers. I think that deep down, men fear women. Women gave birth to them, are their mothers, honoured as mothers but not as individuals with feelings, emotions and intelligence.
My dear Delhi friend has two sons, and so do I. Let’s remember too that in the month-long protests all over India in December 2012 after Jyoti’s rape and murder, there were many young men with the women on the streets. They are the ones who must inspire us in the future, and that is what the film is all about.
Change your mind, Prime Minister Modi, and let the film be seen in India to send out a message to us all.