MAR 8, 2015 6:00 PM EDT
India’s new government has started a war it cannot win over “India’s Daughter,” a documentary by the British filmmaker Leslee Udwin about the horrific gang rape of a student in New Delhi in December 2012.
Last week, the film was banned in India. But it has also created a huge sensation — partly from the very act of being banned, partly because it contains explosive and gut-wrenching testimonies from the case’s major protagonists. Attention has been directed, in particular, to several extended sequences of reminiscence and reflection (though not contrition) from jail by Mukesh Singh, one of the rapists, to whom Udwin was given access by the previous government in 2013.
On March 4, BBC telecast “India’s Daughter” in the U.K., four days ahead of schedule, after the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government made clear its objections to the film. The network chose to ignore charges that Udwin had violated numerous technical requirements (both in getting permission to interview the accused in New Delhi’s Tihar Jail and in making commercial use of the footage) and that the film contained material that glorified violence against women.
Today, on International Women’s Day I am proud to acknowledge the deeply contested terrain that we call feminism in India, in which no claim goes unchallenged, no issue is undisputed (and some might say, no good deed goes unpunished!) In which over the decades, every stand and every understanding on practically every issue, has been painfully rethought and reformulated in the face of intense questioning from newer claims and voices.
In the clamour of feminist responses both to Leslee Udwin’s documentary ‘India’s Daughter’, as well as to the Indian state’s crackdown on it, some themes have emerged that reflect profound fault lines in our (feminist) understanding – not so much of sexual violence itself – but of what to do about it; how to act upon the knowledge of widespread misogyny and pervasive masculinist violence; how to acknowledge that sexual violence cannot be understood except as refracted through prisms of caste, class, Indian state militarism and… a list that will inevitably end in ‘etc’ regardless of how long it is; and in this particular case, above all, what sorts of representations of sex and sexual violence will further our ethical ambitions, and what others will undo decades of work.
In what follows, I will try to uncover some of these themes, on the explicit understanding that I do not claim to have resolved any of the debates, nor even to have highlighted all of them. This is a partial, personal attempt to make sense of the recurring ideas in a tumult of intelligent, concerned and strongly articulated opinions, in the course of which I will of course, make my own views explicit too.
Speaking in Indore on International Women’s Day, BJP MLA Usha Thakur not only justified the horrific lynching of Syed Sarifuddin Khan by a mob in Dimapur, but advocated “a stern law” that would allow rapists to be hanged “in full public view.” An editorial in the Shiv Sena’s Saamna also attempted to justify the lynching, suggesting that what happened in Nagaland merely reflected people’s anger over sexual crimes against women and that the perpetrators of the December 2012 gangrape in Delhi deserved a similar fate. – See more at: http://www.thethumbprintmag.com/lynching-on-my-mind-dimapur-nagaland-ammu-joseph-rape/#sthash.4NDYpbmD.dpuf
The lynching of Syed Sarifuddin Khan, a 35-year-old Assamese man accused of rape and remanded to police custody, in Dimapur, Nagaland, on March 5, 2015, is one of the most troubling of India’s repeated crises in law and order in recent memory. A 25-year-old Naga woman filed rape charges against him on February 24, and he was arrested the next day. He had been in jail for 10 days, when a mob of several thousand people (figures vary), including large numbers of young women, stormed Dimapur Central Jail.
They hunted the man from cell to cell, found him, dragged him outside, beat him and pelted him with stones, stripped him naked, tied him to a motorcycle with a rope around his waist, and dragged him wounded and bleeding for about 7 km. By the time they arrived at the town’s Clock Tower, he had died from his injuries. They then strung his body up on a fence, and displayed it to thousands of jeering onlookers. Explicit and horrific images of this brutal journey were instantly circulated as photographs and videos, which went viral on the Internet. On March 8, his body was buried by his family at his village, Bosla, in Karimganj district of southern Assam.
The facts regarding the circumstances of the rape are still uncertain. The identity of the man was initially misunderstood and misreported, both by the lynch mob and by the media, as that of a Bangladeshi immigrant, and only later determined to be that of a Bengali-speaking Assamese Indian. Khan had a Naga wife and a young daughter, and lived in Dimapur, where he ran a small used car business. His father and brothers had served in the Indian armed forces, and the woman who accused him of raping her was from his wife’s village, possibly her cousin.
Why write about sexual violence? Must any discussion of rape or sexual violence be confined to television news and crime statistics? Or, do we wield our fiction in a way that allows us to wear the wounds of rape and assault? Do we only listen to the lived experience of first-person testimonies? Do our stories have the power to call for justice? Or can we break our silence as we mask ourselves in the voice of a protagonist who has endured sexual violence?
And, how do we write about it? When we put out a call for submissions for this issue, these were some of the questions we had in mind. An email from Kuzhali Manickavel, resonates with our enquiry: ‘I strongly believe that what we desperately need right now, not just in terms of fiction but politically as well, are new ways of talking about this issue.’
With this issue we bring you a multitude of stories, reportage, testimonies, fiction and non-fiction on the theme of sexual and gender violence. We have been stunned by the overwhelming response we received to our submissions call, and, in the end, could not accommodate even all our favourite writers
I will meet you on a bus. I will be thinking of the Pulveli song from Aasai when you will come up from behind and put your hand on my hand. I will not realise what you are doing until your hand is on the side of my breast and you are whispering ‘sexy whore’ into the back of my neck. I will turn suddenly and this will make people think I have dropped something. An old man will shuffle to the side and a boy with a backpack will point to a broken earring on the floor and say ‘there, there’. You will have a scrubbed face, white teeth and clean hands. This will make me think it couldn’t have been you. I will look for men who are dark and dirty with red eyes but I will be too shaken to see anything. It is only when you get off the bus and wave at me that I will realise it was you. At work, I will hear someone say that newspapers only report rape cases because of the sex appeal. Someone else will say that Delhi offers cash incentives for men to rape women. Everyone will laugh at this and I will laugh with them while the Pulveli song runs in a loop inside my head.