New Delhi: Controversy over a documentary film featuring an interview with a rape convict sentenced to death continued to smoulder on Wednesday, with home minister Rajnath Singh summoning the head of Tihar jail and assuring Parliament that the film won’t be shown in the country.
India’s Daughter by British film-maker Leslee Udwin features extensive interviews with Mukesh Singh, one of the four convicts in the December 2012 Delhi gang-rape, as well as family members of the other accused. The documentary was filmed partially in Delhi’s high-security Tihar jail.
Statements made by the convict disrespectful of the rape victim, Nirbhaya, and women, in general, had sparked charges that the documentary will prejudice the case, glorify the convict and show India in a poor light.
The jail’s director general, Alok Kumar Verma, briefed the home minister on how permission was granted to interview the convict, and how it had taken place, PTI reported.
Verma also informed the minister of various aspects of the jail manuals and the procedures of meeting an inmate by an outsider.
Earlier in the day, the home minister said in Rajya Sabha that the centre has obtained a restraining order from the Delhi high court against airing the documentary, which was scheduled to be broadcast on 8 March, International Woman’s Day.
“With exclusive and unprecedented access, the film examines the values and mind-sets of rapists," says a press statement from the film’s makers. However, the convict’s statements, which range from “a decent girl won’t roam around at 9pm" to “when being raped, she (a woman) shouldn’t fight back. She should be silent and allow the rape," shocked society, activists and politicians alike.
The information and broadcasting ministry issued an advisory on Tuesday against broadcasting the film on grounds that it violates the ministry’s programming code, owing to derogatory language towards women.
Minister of state for information and broadcasting Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore said the documentary seems to incite violence against women. “It also creates a sense of fear in the women in our society."
NDTV Ltd, the news broadcasting firm that was scheduled to air the film on its English channel, NDTV 24X7, on 8 March, along with a clutch of international channels, said there was an injunction by the court and it will not telecast it. However, an NDTV executive, who did not want to be named, said the broadcasting firm had agreed to air the film only after checking with parents of the rape victim.
“When we showed it to our editorial staff, nobody felt the rapist had been glorified. Instead, they were revolted by him," said an NDTV executive. “Is the real issue here that of delivering justice to the victim and the attitude that persists in society or banning the film?" he asked, adding that it was becoming a freedom of speech issue. He said for NDTV, the key factor is creating awareness and fighting for justice for rape victims.
Former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah endorses the view in his tweet: “Jeez guys it’s not the documentary that is defaming India it’s the rape & the attitude towards woman. If the ban changes that then well done. He added: “For news channels to take pleasure/satisfaction in the banning of a documentary is worrying ‘cause 1 day the boot could be on the other foot."
However, Arnab Goswami, editor-in-chief of news channel Times NOW which attacked the documentary in his show on Tuesday claiming it insulted the rape victim, said the channel did the story purely from an editorial point of view.
“It is our editorial policy that we do not carry interviews of rapists and we feel strongly about it. Even when we covered the Nirbhaya story, we were very careful not to get into details of the assault. You have to show respect to the victim and not glamorize the convict," he said. He dismissed rumours that his agenda was to take on rival channel NDTV. “We have no agenda against any channel or individual," he said.
Does he think the government—both the ministries of home and information and broadcasting—acted because of the Times NOW story? “We cannot take credit for that. The government chose to respond because of its own reasons," he said.
“I am deeply saddened by this ban. This is not reasoned behaviour," Udwin told news agency Reuters on Wednesday. According to a PTI report, she also has to contend with a first information report filed by Delhi Police under IPC Section 505 (statements conducive to public mischief), 504 (intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of the peace), 505 (1)(b), 509 and section 66A of the IT Act though it does not name her.
Delhi police commissioner B.R. Bassi said he is not aware of any permission granted for the interview, though Udwin says she had all permissions in place to interview Singh right from the Tihar jail administration to the home ministry. According to Udwin and Indian journalist Dibang, who is credited as a co-producer, the makers were required to show Delhi Police the unedited footage of the interview, in order to check for any security leaks. The police claimed they were not shown the footage, but the makers say they took the footage to the prison authorities who asked for a shorter version.
There have been questions over how permission was granted to interview a convicted criminal, but as criminal lawyer Rebecca John says, “there is no rule (against it), as far as I know. It is purely an administrative decision. It was the discretionary power of the jail superintendent in pursuant to the order given by the home ministry".
Interestingly, Mukesh Singh’s lawyer A.P. Singh questions the legality of the interview. “Yeh galat diya gaya hai (this interview is wrong)," he says, referring to the interview. He says he was unaware Mukesh was interviewed. “I fight his case in court. My interaction with him and his family is limited to legal matters and nothing beyond that. If he had asked me for advice, I would have said no. I am not sure if there is a provision in the jail manual for interviews of the convicted."
The film has invited the wrath of activists as well.
“I do want the airing to be restrained till the appeals process is over as the content can impact the appeals process," said Kavita Krishnan, an activist. According to her, the permissions granted, whether by the authorities or the home ministry, are criminally irresponsible, “especially in view of the fact that another accused connected with the case has already died in prison." She is referring to Ram Singh, brother of Mukesh Singh, who was found hanging in Tihar jail on 11 March 2013.
Ranjana Kumari, director, Centre for Social Research, considers the interview an insult to women everywhere and especially those who have been fighting hard for women’s rights. “How can you present the point of view of a person who has raped and murdered someone? You are making people listen to his point of view, what point are you trying to make?"
Udwin, however, denies charges of sensationalism concerning the film or giving a platform to rapists. “What does that mean? A platform? This film highlights serious problems for women in this country and around the world." Singh’s interview, which lasted over 16 hours according to her, was an insight into how he views women. “The mentality, which sees girls as valueless, it’s shocking."
However, according to Kumari, if one does want to understand the workings of a rapist’s mind, then perhaps an academic study would be a better way of going about it. “The interview only highlights the agony of a woman who has not got justice. This is appalling."
But even as debate rages about the documentary and the ethics of interviewing a convicted rapist, the last word perhaps belongs to the mother of the victim as she articulated in a television interview.
“If these people (the accused and the lawyer) did not speak like this, they would not get publicity... It is because of these people no one gets justice... Till the time we do not provide a good environment and improve our judicial system, how will we teach and save our girls?"
Shuchi Bansal of Mint and PTI contributed to this story.