The agitated people of a nation mourn, weep, protest and question the heinous rape and murder of a young woman, Jyoti Singh, whilst life in its many manifestations continues in slums, urban homes, courts of laws, prisons, chaotic streets, local bazaars and up-market shopping centres. Jyoti’s poverty stricken father recalls his infant daughter falling asleep in the comfort of his chest, learning to walk in the security of his hands and years later he uses the same hands to set her corpse alight in a Hindu cremation ceremony. The mother recalls all social rules her daughter broke to seek a valuable education, and concludes now that her daughter is dead, each day she tries to find reasons to live.
Nonviolent civil demonstrations break out in the modern heart of an ancient civilisation; and men and women get arrested under gunpowder shots, water cannons and police beatings. On the other hand, rape defence lawyers become the custodians of an historic culture claiming that women are like flowers, even diamonds, which if left in the open will be snatched by dogs or in other words, men. Meanwhile, a 28 year old young man who awaits the day he will be hung to death expresses that because women are sexually provocative creatures, it is their fault when they let themselves out on the streets because the instinctive nature of the male homo sapien is to attack her.
Two central narratives dominate the documentary film India’s Daughter: the trauma of rape and murder of a bright young woman against a belief embedded in the skeleton of society that it is women after all who invite what is done to them. These two narratives that stand in outrage and death ambitions against each other have been brought together courageously and sensitively by filmmaker Leslee Udwin who deserves our sincere praise.
The film is political at its core and in some parts exposes how violence against women is structurally maintained by the Indian government and its institutions. Another rape defence lawyer proudly claims on record that around 250 members of parliament have criminal cases related to murder, robbery and rape pending against them, therefore the government will not make any progress in this direction. Paradoxcially, this gentleman is stating that which is known but is also handing out one solution: In a system of corruption where the worth of female life is locked like a silver strip in a bank note, what is really needed is for the people themselves to bring about a change in social consciousness.
Given that from time to time the Indian government has charged nonviolent activists for ‘waging a war against the state’, it is no surprise that they have banned this film. But for news articles and outcries to appear in the West that the ban is an ‘international suicide’ is no more than an exaggeration. It must be noted that democracy is not a perfect institution and it is not imperfect only in India. On a comparative note, the most symbolic of Western institutions of peace, nonviolence and nonkilling, the Nobel Peace Prize is being challenged because in the recent years it has failed to fulfil the legal will of Alfred Nobel who desired the prize to be awarded to individuals who have contributed to demilitarised global peace.
At the end of the film, the parents of the murdered girl, Jyoti, offer profound hope by reflecting that their daughter’s name means ‘light’ and that even in death, Jyoti ignited a light in her country that continues to burn because the people have vowed to protest, to press for justice and equality for women. How long would this flame keep burning? Will it relinquish to monsoon’s fury? These are questions that will invoke sentiments and tears for some Indians. But in the final analysis, rape and murder of women are only the manifestations of a deeper chaos in society, which will take decades of dialogue, education and other means to change. My second book of poetry, House Arrest & Disobedience, due for a release this year in London, centres around the domestic violence against women in India.
India is a pluralistic country where hundreds and thousands of beliefs co-exist: some humane, whilst others rooted in violence. Conflicting views are the epitome of diversity, but when violent ambitions breed horizontally and vertically on a land, their power will spread. With this as the premise, it is no one else but ordinary people themselves who will be the instruments for change. India’s Daughter invokes, rather than provokes, the ideas and sentiments for people to change their views of women; it is just another sign-post in India’s quest for true equality and liberty. In the end, there is no revolution that surpasses a revolution in the hearts and minds of individuals themselves.