India’s Daughter: The Martyr and the Myth

April 1, 2015 • Asia • Views: 771

Words by: Lewis Waller


Mukesh Singh looks like a victim. If you had just turned on the television you’d be forgiven for thinking that, looking into the depths of his pitifully sad eyes, he had been wrongly accused of a merciless crime.

Until he tells us that ‘it takes two hands to clap’. Incredibly, he’s talking about rape.

“A good girl won’t roam the streets at 9 o’clock at night” he says without a hint of malice, apology or regret on his face, “A girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy. If a girl is getting raped she should lie down and take it.”

In the next scene we see Jyoti’s mother’s cascading tears; despair on her face that’s hard to watch. It makes for powerfully difficult viewing.

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Whilst blisteringly heart wrenching, India’s Daughter perhaps could have benefited from a small amount of perspective. Although the BBC documentary highlights an issue hugely important to Indians, it does give the country a perhaps undeservedly bad name. India – contrary to popular belief –does not have one of the highest instances of rape in the world.

And while the Indian government’s fear of uproar from broadcasting the film is almost understandable it’s clear that like most societal issues education is needed more than anything; more than sentencing, hanging and tears.

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And allowing the film to be shown in the country that it’s about could have been an important part of that.

Of course the mass riots that swept the country in the wake of the murder were encouraging, but this isn’t entirely about rape; for India in particular it’s about an allegiance to traditionalism that the country holds so dear; a patriarchal traditionalism that sees women as inferior and a wider caste system that still holds massive influence on society. The story of India’s ‘missing women’ is particularly striking.

The demographic ratio of men to women in the country tells a shocking tale of abortion based on the foetus’s sex.

There are 10% more males than females in the country – one of the highest ratios in the world. All of these things are important to millions of Indians, but it’s also problematic to simply focus on India. I concede that yes, that was the film’s focus, and to be myopic occasionally highlights a particular issue emotively.

The concern is that this was a BBC production, made for the U.K. which still hasn’t been shown in India.

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It makes India look bad, in a country where tourism is of paramount importance. Again, some modicum of perspective may have been appropriate. I have no doubt that the British makers of India’s Daughter had any intention of being hypocritical, but many commentators – like this German professor who declined an Indian students application because of the country’s ‘rape problem’ – are giving India a bad name when they actually have a more than impressive record when it comes to conviction (24% compared to the U.K’s appalling 7%) and a reported incident rate of 2.0 per 100,000 of the population compared to U.S’s 26.6 in 2012.

Of course it’s certain that these figures aren’t representative of the entire picture.

And it’s important to see that a higher amount of reported incidents are almost definitely a positive indicator. It may just be that U.S. society has absolutely no tolerance on the issue – marital or otherwise – compared to India’s highly localised rural society, whose patriarchal figures make some terrible concessions when it comes to crime, like this women’s ‘punishment’ for being seen with a married man from another village.

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It’s also almost certain that an increase in figures in India does not mean an increase in incidents; simply that society is improving when it comes to standing up to the problem.

In the three months after Jyoti’s death the amount of reported rapes in Delhi doubled.

This is almost certainly good news. All that said it’s hard to fault the film. While emotively highlighting the larger issue it is powerfully telling the story of one case, in the hope to prevent many others. It’s just troubling to see India given such a bad name outside of the country, when the film should be put on a pedestal where it belongs.

Jyoti’s last words were “Sorry, Mummy. I gave you so much trouble. I am sorry.”

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