‘India’s Daughter’ as seen by America’s Daughter

April 22, 2015, 8:22 p.m.

“India’s Daughter” is a BBC documentary about a rape in India that the Indian government does not want anyone to see. So I took time out from my hectic junior year of high school to locate the film online and watch it.

I was born in Red Bank, New Jersey, and attend school in Saratoga, California, a Silicon Valley town. But my perspective on India is shaped by my dad, who is from New Delhi, and my mom, who is from Bombay.

“India’s Daughter” documents a particularly gruesome gang rape in India. In December 2012, a young woman in her mid-20s was savagely raped and mutilated while a male friend of hers was severely beaten, all in an otherwise vacant bus being driven around New Delhi. Then, the two were dumped roadside. The woman subsequently died. Of the six perpetrators, one committed suicide while awaiting trial, a 17-year old juvenile received a three-year sentence in a correctional facility, the maximum punishment for a juvenile in India, and the remaining four are awaiting appeals of their death sentences — which in India are awarded only “in the rarest of rare cases,” and even then almost always commuted.

This crime sparked outrage across India and led to violent street protests in New Delhi, prompting the Indian government to make prosecution of rapes easier and their punishments more severe.

Whereas media coverage of this and other rapes in India has created the perception that rape is more prevalent in India than elsewhere, according to a UN study, the per capita rate of lifetime sexual violence against women in the U.S. is about twice that in India. Neither is the gruesomeness of the crime uniquely Indian. For instance, in the Mahmudiyah killings and rape of 2006, five U.S. Army soldiers raped a 14-year-old Iraqi girl and murdered her and her family; and although this crime was premeditated, and the death penalty is far more common in the U.S. than in India, none of the U.S. soldiers received the death sentence. While the Iraqi girl’s mother had realized the threat posed by the U.S. soldiers to her daughter — not unlike when Toni Morrison’s grandmother had realized it was time to pack up her girls and leave when white boys began “circling” her yard in Alabama — the Iraqi mother had not appreciated the immediacy of the threat.

Monstrosity knows neither bounds nor boundaries. As in William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, a novel prompted by “unfathomable” German monstrosity toward Jews and others in WWII, even ordinary “children” can turn into savages in the absence of supervision. In Golding’s novel, the “children” kill a sow in the fashion of a gang rape.

Many in India are upset by the film because in it a perpetrator blames the death of his rape victim on the victim for resisting her rape. But victim blaming is common everywhere. For instance, when 15-year-old Audrie Pott from my high school committed suicide after her sexual assault by three teenagers at a party in September 2012, many at my school blamed Pott for going to a party that served alcohol.

But what appears to have upset the Indian government more than anything else about “India’s Daughter” is that in it, both the defense attorneys of the rapists espouse the view that women should dress conservatively, not go out late or with non-family members and focus on motherhood and on raising a family. But such views are common in India, especially in small towns and the countryside. Unsurprisingly, then, whereas there was universal outrage over the crime in India, protests against the film appear limited to activists and politicians.

Given that no one is challenging the accuracy of the film, I am baffled by the Indian government’s attempt to suppress it. The film is a commentary on man as much as on India. Is the Indian government ashamed of the values held by many of its citizens on the role of women in Indian society?

While I do not subscribe to these values, everyone is entitled to express his or her opinion — and that is all values are, opinions — as long as this opinion is not sought to be imposed on others, especially when such expression is not gratuitously offensive, as were the Charlie Hebdo cartoons.

Freedom of expression allows for the public challenge of otherwise private premises. But outside the United States, countries routinely suppress the views of their citizens, especially when these views are widely held and threaten either the ruling establishment or the narrative that this establishment wants to promote. So it is in India, with the role of women. So it is in swaths of Europe, with its anti-Semitism. So it is in much of the rest of the world, with its political and religious dogma.

Censorship then seems to serve but one primary purpose worldwide: to perpetuate views that cannot withstand the scrutiny of reason.

Gitika Nalwa, Saratoga High School, ‘16

Contact Gitika Nalwa at gitikanalwa ‘at’ gmail.com.

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