MUMBAI — Here in India, a BBC documentary has brought renewed focus on rapists and the lawyers who defend them. For “India’s Daughter,” Leslee Udwin and her team interviewed Mukesh Singh, one of the men who raped and murdered a young woman in a Delhi bus in December 2012, and is now on death row. They also interviewed two lawyers who represented Mukesh.
What these men believe and say is vile and, indeed, nauseating. Essentially, they claim that the woman brought her gruesome fate on her head by presuming to go out late with a boyfriend, and then compounded it by actually resisting and fighting her rapists. She should have stayed “silent” and let herself be raped, Mukesh says, and “they would have dropped her off” without … well, without what? What possible injury to this young woman could these scum have held back?
Never mind. The point these men are making: when a woman is raped, she has only herself to blame.
Almost predictably, the documentary has raised hackles across this country, for airing these horrible views. The Indian government wants the film banned, and for BBC not to show it anywhere in the world.
Too late. It was broadcast in the U.K. on Wednesday night, March 4. It popped up on YouTube soon after, prompting the government to ask YouTube to remove that link, which it did, but it has—as of this writing—already popped up elsewhere on YouTube. More telling still, in this age of the web, is the comment a friend made: “It’s already on torrents. Tough luck Government of India.”
Tough luck indeed. This is a lesson you’d think governments would have learned by now, in this second decade of the 21st century: there’s no way any more to “ban” this or any film.
That apart, I believe the reaction from the government was really intended to obscure something profoundly discomfiting about those men’s views about women and rape—meaning, something even more discomfiting than the views themselves.
I mean the reality that it’s not just jailed rapists and their lawyers who spout this stuff, but plenty of other Indians do so, too. We’ve heard from many of them over the last few years. Like the “spiritual leader” Asaram Bapu. Reacting to the Delhi rape, he observed that “mistakes” are “not committed only from one side”, and the murdered woman “is as guilty as her rapists.”
This perversity comes from a man revered by tens of thousands of Indians, a man who was himself arrested soon after, on rape charges. A man who—charges and jail time be damned—is still revered.
Why don’t views like these wither and disappear, as you’d imagine they should? That’s because age-old platitudes about cherishing, respecting, protecting, venerating women as precious things, and I used that word advisedly, allows these attitudes to flourish.
In 2001, for a random example, I happened on a column by one Pramod Navalkar, ex-Minister for Cultural Affairs in my state of Maharashtra. While he was minister, he explained, he put in place various “curbs on obscenity.” This was necessary, he explained further, because “not only do we [Indians] respect women, we also worship them.”
(I have a friend who nearly threw up on reading those words. “Someone tell him,” she wrote to me, “that women don’t want to be worshipped. We just want to be treated like human beings.”)
Like Navalkar, plenty of us like to make that claim, because it gives us a nice warm feeling of moral superiority. Others exploit, we worship. But the more I hear it, the surer I am: it really serves as a smokescreen, a device that blinds us to the oppression too many Indian women feel daily in all kinds of ways. Because after all, how can they feel oppressed when actually, we worship them?
How are so many women getting raped when, actually, we worship them?
Easy: it’s all really their fault. It’s the clothes they wear. It’s their after-dark excursions with men. It’s their low-caste ways. It’s how they fight back instead of submitting quietly to the rape. It’s every conceivable way, in short, that we can find to blame them—not the rapist!—for getting raped.
No really, of course we worship them! But then they go do all these things that bring trouble on their own heads. See, some of us worshippers can’t help ourselves. And that’s when “mistakes”—Asaram Bapu’s excellent formulation—happen.
Mistakes, like the gang rape in Delhi.