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Creator of Banned Rape Film Wants Debate in India to Shift from Censorship to Sexual Violence

We spoke to the filmmaker behind a controversial documentary about a 2012 gang rape in India that catalyzed public revulsion and drew attention to abuses against women.

by Suranjana Tewari
Mar 6 2015, 3:25pm

Photo by Anindito Mukherjee/Reuters

The filmmaker behind a controversial BBC documentary about a 2012 gang rape in India that catalyzed public revulsion and drew attention to sexual violence within the country says that she refuses to be gagged by the Indian government, which has banned its broadcast.

Speaking from London, Leslee Udwin told VICE News that she is willing to cooperate fully with any inquiry into India's Daughter, which aired in the UK on Wednesday night.

"The film is 100 percent balanced. It is in the public interest," she said. "It details the statistics of violence against women not just from India, but from countries around the world. The message is that it is a global problem."

Related: Women Feel Unsafe as Threat of Sexual Violence Pervades Everyday Life in India

The documentary features a detailed account of the fatal rape and murder of a 23-year old woman on a private bus in New Delhi through the eyes of the victim's parents, the assailants' defense lawyers, and activists.

But it is the film's inclusion of testimony from Mukesh Singh, who is on death row for his role in the crime, that has sparked fierce debate in India.

"You can't clap with one hand. It takes two hands to clap," said Singh, who was sentenced to death by hanging for rape, unnatural sex, and murder. "A girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy."

The victim's father accepts that for the truth to be known, the filth must come out with it.

Singh drove the bus on which the crime took place. His comments blaming the victim for fighting back and his lack of remorse in the film have created a media storm that has overwhelmed coverage of the subject in recent days.

"The death penalty will make things even more dangerous for girls," Singh told Udwin. "Now when they rape, they won't leave the girl like we did. They will kill her."

Related: Indian Police Open Fire on Mob After Rape Suspect Is Pulled from Jail and Lynched

Leslee Udwin. (Photo by Altaf Qadri/AP)

New Delhi banned the film's broadcast in India and ordered Google to take down a version that appeared on its video sharing website, YouTube, shortly after it aired in the UK.

"This is an international conspiracy to defame India," Parliamentary Affairs Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu told parliament on Wednesday, while another member of parliament fretted about the film's potentially negative impact on tourism.

Home Minister Rajnath Singh is now considering legal options against the BBC, on the grounds that the broadcaster aired the documentary despite his insistence that it not. He has argued that conditions for the film were breached, alleging that Udwin did not have appropriate permission to shoot or interview the convicted rapist inside New Delhi's Tihar Jail.

"We had asked to not release the documentary, but BBC still released it," Singh said on Thursday. "We will investigate and the [Ministry of Home Affairs] will take action accordingly."

'This film will help the world join arms on this issue. Let's stop looking in different directions. It's an issue that needs to be addressed the world over.'

Udwin denies the allegations and says that she received written permission from the Ministry of Home Affairs. She says that she gave the prison her entire 16 hours of footage to review, but the officials did not watch it all.

Despite advice from Indian lawyers for her to hastily "get on a plane and get out" earlier this week, she left India as scheduled on Wednesday night and is now back in London.

"I've done nothing wrong," said Udwin. "India is a civilized country, it's a democracy. There's no way they're going to come for me in the middle of the night."

The 2012 rape sparked widespread protests and prompted a much-needed discussion about women's safety in India, compelling the government to create a commission to investigate gender-based violence and introduce tougher laws against sex crimes. But more than two years on, many Indian women say that they still feel unsafe on the streets of India.

Some social media users applauded Udwin's efforts to expose the mindset of a rapist.

But others expressed anger, saying India's image had been hurt and that the government was right to ban the film. A number of debates online asked why rapes in Western nations didn't receive such scrutiny, and whether the film was the product of a "white savior" complex.

"I'm a filmmaker, and this is what I do," Udwin told VICE News in response to some of the criticisms of her documentary. "I haven't put my voice in this documentary anywhere. There were only the people involved, and it is a compilation of what they think, what they feel."

Comments made by two defense lawyers in the documentary also sparked outrage. AP Singh and ML Sharma are representing Mukesh Singh and three other men convicted in the case.

"If my daughter or sister engaged in pre-marital activities and disgraced herself... I would most certainly take this sort of sister or daughter to my farmhouse, and in front of my entire family, I would put petrol on her and set her alight," said AP Singh.

His partner also appeared to blame the victim for the crime. 

"If you put your diamond on the street, certainly the dog will take it out," ML Sharma said.

Sharma told VICE News that he stands by his comments in the film.

The documentary was made with the full support of the parents of Nirbhaya — a name that the media has given the victim, who is otherwise anonymous, meaning "fearless."

Nirbhaya's mother has since asked why the government cannot take action against the lawyers for their comments.

The appeals of the four men against their death sentences are still awaiting verdict in India's Supreme Court, raising questions as to the legality of one of the convicts being interviewed. But ML Sharma said the documentary is not likely to affect the outcome.

Udwin said that while the discussion surrounding her film has primarily centered on censorship, she expects that the debate will soon focus on India's treatment of women.

"If Prime Minister Modi sees this film, he will weep," she said. "He is a man who has the right values, and this film will help the world join arms on this issue. Let's stop looking in different directions. It's an issue that needs to be addressed the world over."

The victim's father has said that the ban is counter-productive, and has called for everyone to watch the film. In the film, the impact of the crime on him and his wife is plain to see, but he accepts that for the truth to be known, the filth must come out with it.

"To call them human is to give humanity a bad name," he remarked. "If we call them monsters, even monsters have some limits. They are totally the devil. They went beyond all limits of evil. Even the devil himself couldn't commit such a terrible crime."

Follow Suranjana Tewari on Twitter: @suranjanasays