India’s Daughter, Sexual Violence and the Many Indias

2000  Meryl Streep recently opened the U.S. premier of the controversial documentary India’s Daugther about the rape victim who died in December 2012 in India. In the film by Leslee Udwin, the world learns for the first time the motive for the attacks directly from the mouth of one of the accused rapists. Mukesh Singh says that his co-conspirators wanted to teach Jyoti Singh, a medical student, a lesson that she should not be out at night with man that is not her husband. According to him, her death was an accident and that she would not have died if she did not resist. The Indian government has banned the film and asked the BBC not to air it, because the filmmaker failed to follow the guidelines of the prison where the interview of the accused was conducted.

Even before this, feminist lawyers and activists wrote a letter to a TV station in India that was planning to screen the documentary asking that they delay its showing for a host of legal reasons — that it contains hate speech, it incites violence, and interferes with fair trial rights of the defendant whose appeal is currently pending in the Supreme Court. Many Indian women’s movement leaders object to the documentary because it feeds the triumvirate troupe of the Western woman as savior, the Indian woman as oppressed, and the Indian man as rapist.

The real contribution of the documentary and the reactions to it is that exposes the vast divide between the “many Indias.” The discussion around the film neglects the important information we learn about Jyoti, she is like a new generation of Indians who have been raised with Western media, American food, and the values that follow it. She challenged societal norms and insisted that her parents allow her to pursue a medical education and worked at a call center to support herself. Following economic liberalization in 1991, a growing middle class emerged that is increasingly indistinguishable from those in many Western cities — they watch American movies, eat hamburgers, drink their version of Starbucks coffee, and date. These young Indians may work at call centers, Indian-subsidiaries for foreign corporation, banks, and other emerging businesses.

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