When the news of the ‘India’s Daughter’ gang-rape hit our TV screens around the world in December 2012, I was as shocked and upset as we all are when faced with such brazen abandon of the norms of ‘civilised’ society. But what moved and compelled me to commit to the harrowing and difficult journey of making this film was not so much the horror of this rape (I knew that violent and brutal rapes happen all the over the world with horrifying and relentless frequency), but the optimism occasioned by the events that followed it. It was the ordinary men and women of India, in unprecedented numbers, who poured out onto the streets, and withstood the onslaught of teargas shells, lathi charges and water canons, to make their cry of ‘enough is enough’ heard with extraordinary forbearance, commitment and passion. This was an “Arab spring for Gender Equality”, and it occurred to me that in my lifetime I had never witnessed any other country make such a stand for my rights as a woman. I felt inspired, and compelled to bend my skills, my energies and whatever talents I may have as a filmmaker to amplify those determined and hopeful voices
When we look at the worldwide statistics of rape and violence against women in general, needless to say India comes off pretty badly. But I think it is important to bear in mind that this is by no means an India-centric problem. Far from it. Patriarchy, discrimination against, and devaluation of women is rife the world over. The statistics which roll at the end of the film bear witness to that. In my own country, the UK, 33% – that’s 1 in 3 – young girls aged between 13 and 17 have experienced sexual violence. One woman in 5, globally, will be raped or be a victim of attempted rape, and 1 in 3, globally, is beaten, forced into sex, or abused. I have been raped.
One of the more startling aspects of “INDIA’s DAUGHTER” is an unprecedented confession in custody from one of the rapists in this case. We filmed him in Tihar Jail, Delhi, after his conviction. This interview has afforded crucial insight into the mindset of the men who committed the rape, and presents a wider in-depth exploration of the patriarchal society and culture which seeds and encourages violence against women. With understanding comes the possibility of change.
What chilled and depressed me most of all through the time I spent making the film, was the realisation when I met the rapists in prison, that these were ordinary, apparently normal men. The horrifying details of the rape – the pulling out of Jyoti’s intestines with bare hands – had led me to expect deranged monsters. It would have been easier to process this heinous crime, if they had been monsters, ‘rotten apples in the barrel’, aberrant in nature. Perhaps then, those of us who believe that capital punishment serves a purpose, and I am not amongst them, could wring their hands in relief when they are hanged. For me the truth couldn’t be further from this – and perhaps their hanging will even mask the real problem, which is that it is society itself and our shared culture when it comes to attitudes to women, that is responsible for these men and for their actions. It is the barrel that is rotten. And the barrel rots the apples.
An equally chilling and shocking aspect of the film lies in the contribution to it by the defense lawyers, so called ‘educated’ men. It is this, even more than the horrifying lack of remorse and self-justification of the rapists that confounds viewers and makes them utterly furious.
If anything positive can be said to have come out of the horror of this event, it is the awakening amongst women and men alike in India and the world to the issue of violence against women. This particular gang rape has been a huge turning point. The case has been a catalyst for change, and the protesters forced government to at least introduce some immediate measures in response to their call. Not enough, but a start. Ultimately, the film is optimistic – as Leila Seth says towards the end of the film: “These things will change. It’s only a question of how hard we push”. The massive public response to the incident bears witness to an attitudinal change on the horizon, a resetting of the moral compass.
All of us who care about those who bear us and who are (or should be) half our world, should stand up now with courage and commitment and demand this long overdue change. I know with all my heart that this film is that effective, transformative, powerful tool for change I meant it to be. And to continue this change, we need you. Please join hands with our campaign and lend your energies, ideas, and voice to support this push for change.