There is a shadow of half a second’s flinch on Mukesh Singh’s otherwise impassive face as the list of the injuries inflicted on Jyoti (Nirbhaya) Singh, are read out to him.
This, after all, is not the now famous rapist’s shame alone. It is India’s shame, which the Government is now so desperate to hide, ban and bury.
Too late. BBC 4 documentary, ”India’s Daughter” on the 2012 Delhi gang rape incident and it’s aftermath, has been seen, thanks to the Internet, by lakhs of people.
If it wasn’t for the ban, the documentary might have been recognized as a very average piece of journalism and filmmaking as it does not go beyond already known specifics.
It starts by revealing the rape victim’s name. Her brave parents are shown not objecting to it either. The mother, Ashadevi, is seen shedding tears of helplessness and the father, Badrinath Singh, valiantly articulate.
Their daughter is recalled as a feisty feminist studying to be a doctor. Her upbringing and a last few hours watching “Life of Pi” before the fateful nightmare on the bus, is juxtaposed against the poverty ridden backdrop of the group of rapists and their drunken evening.
In between a few sound bytes from Leila Seth, Kavita Krishnan, Sheela Dixit, a juvenile rapist’s wife, another rapist’s mother, a couple of investigating officers; the focus stays on Jyoti’s parents, Mukesh Singh’s interview and two defence lawyers: M.L.Sharma and A.P.Singh. Their brazen misogynist blame-the-woman views are as condemnable as the crime itself.
“"A woman is like a diamond. If you leave her on the street, the dogs will come and take her," says Sharma.
"We have the best culture. In our culture, there is no place for a woman. “He adds.
"The death penalty will make things even more dangerous for girls. Now when they rape, they won't leave the girl like we did. They will kill her." Threatens the rapist, Mukesh Singh.
These kinds of regressive views, which reflect the mindset of Indian society at large, are nothing new. If the idea of the documentary was to get into the mind of a criminal, all it does is repel and admittedly reaffirm how scary and unsafe this country is becoming for the Indian woman.
Does it propel some kind of a momentum for change and rebellion? No. Instead, the film ends with visuals of Ashadevi’s teary face and a burning pyre and Jyoti’s father philosophizing the value of the word “jyoti”.
The documentary could easily have highlighted the huge protest wave in Delhi; something it recapsules quickly in the beginning. A wider perspective that also reflects the political and social milieu, gender inequality and the rise of new wave feminist voice in India, would have given a more rounded version to the story of Jyoti Singh.
What the documentary has achieved instead, is the following:
-The maker, Leslee Udwin, has fled the country post the ban and parliament furore.
_BBC has garnered great eyeballs.
_The film will premier in the U.S and will be attended by Meryl Streep and Frieda Pinto, global ambassadors of “Because I am a girl” campaign.
-Bollywood personalities like Kirron Kher and Jaya Bachchan got a chance to display their histrionics.
-The Government has chosen to be an Ostrich by banning the film in India. This is the most dangerous stance, as it will only harm both the country’s rape situation and its worldwide image.
-TV channels like Times Now and NDTV have a field day with opposing views and debate dramatics.
-Unnecessary controversy regarding the rapist getting fame, and prison rules have taken centre stage.The more important matter of violence against women and the Government stand and action, have got sidelined.
Meanwhile, Jyoti Singh’s parents will slowly fade away in their tragedy.
People like A.P.Singh and there are many, will continue to blame a pair of jeans and the woman within.
Everything except the rapist. And that is India’s shame.