The call to ban Leslee Udwin’s documentary India’s Daughter is misplaced not only because it muzzles freedom of expression (of the film-maker as much as Mukesh Singh) but, more crucially, because it is a refusal to face the realities of how men think of women in this country.
An equally problematic response is that of the parents of the rape victim who see these views as evidence of the need for capital punishment for Mukesh Singh and indeed all rapists.
The stupid contradictory accounts of the film-maker do not help. On the one hand, she says she felt great pity for the rapists; on the other, she asserts that they (specifically Mukesh Singh) showed no remorse.
Why do we want remorse from Singh? Would it make us feel better? Would it undo anything? Would it make the victim’s parents feel better? This is the problem with the reformist discourse of criminal law. Death penalty-mongers never cease to make fun of it and will pounce on Singh’s statements to show how it does not work at all.
It does indeed not work at all because there is no sound theorisation or application of it. How many hours of counselling or psychotherapy did Singh have till now in Tihar? Who, if anyone, was appointed to speak to him, work with him? How much have his stupid and dangerous ideas been worked with, worked against, turned around?
But, more importantly, how many men in India really echo his views from outside jail? I would wager that the number is in millions. It is so convenient to displace all these views onto a gang-rapist and feel better about ourselves.
Yet even in the recent past so many politicians have echoed these views, so many film heroes (whether Hindi or Tamil, Bhojpuri or Assamese) articulate these views about heroines and women in general , how many news anchors and their cretinous guests have not aired the same views across TV channels?
It is time to re-think the radical feminist idea that ’All men are rapists’ echoed in the jurisprudential thought of a popular and influential figure like Catherine Mackinnon and read it as the structural idea that patriarchal culture sees women as objects to be raped. This is not a rape culture that feminists dream will go away once we have stricter laws (here is a man on death row espousing these views in the secure knowledge that the country feels the same way) or we can wish away or displace on to the public figure of the rapist. This is the culture we live in.
Rape culture is our culture; it is the only culture we have. Whether or not many of do not actually rape anyone, we live in a rape culture, ours is a rape culture.
Our only hope out of it is working from the bottom up, from children to adults, though a long process of re-education which starts in the family. The other day in a cinema hall in Delhi while watching Badlapur, many families came in with children. This is despite the film having an A certificate.
The family behind me was the most obnoxious of them all. Their five year old son repeated a dialogue the hero in the film mouths to a woman in a potential rape sequence ‘ Kapde utaar.’
The child repeated this line loudly to a silent hall that has just finished laughing at the dialogue and the situation. They erupted into laughter again on hearing the child. The parents said nothing.
At an earlier point in the film, a prostitute was brutally raped. The audience clapped, whistled and cheered. I was sitting in a hall full of rapists and half of them were women who said nothing and children who joined the merriment.
Badlapur is being hailed as a classic and a bold, amazing film. Why blame Mukesh Singh?What we need to do is ask ourselves honestly how many of us love rape, love watching rape, love reading about rape in grisly detail, have rape fantasies and enact our rape fantasies on unwilling subjects who may be friends, girlfriends or girls going home from the cinema. Or on transgender folk, or on gay men, on hijras.
That might be the first step towards breaking our culture, our rape culture. Not banning a film that shows us the mirror in which we see ourselves quite clearly.More from the author:Your sex is a terrible woundDestroying teachers and celebrating Teachers’ DayThe problem with popular feminism in India
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Ashley Tellis is a freelance writer, editor and gay activist