A documentary about the gang rape and killing of medical student Jyoti Singh has won a prize at the National film awards in India – but not the controversial film India’s Daughter, made by British film-maker Leslee Udwin.
Instead it was Daughters of Mother India, directed by Vibha Bakshi, that was recognised at the ceremony in the best film on social issues category. She said she was “overwhelmed and thrilled at this highest level of appreciation” from the judging panel, headed by director Kamal Swaroop and approved by India’s ministry of information and broadcasting. They described the 45-minute film as “explicitly and determinedly turning the spotlight on the burning issue of rape in the country and the brutal mentality that drives it.”
Like India’s Daughter, her film looks at the horrific incident and its aftermath, but Bakshi criticised Udwin’s film: “My idea was to sensitise audiences towards crimes against women as opposed to Udwin’s film that sensationalised the issue by giving one of the rapists a chance to express his views.”
Daughters of Mother India doesn’t feature interviews with Singh’s family or the attackers, but instead focuses on the national conversation generated by the case, and on reform in the police and court systems. Bakshi said: “Like millions of others, I too felt outraged by the gruesome incident that triggered massive protests and put India in the spotlight worldwide. So I thought of exploring the Indian psyche from various angles and how it was impacted by the horrific crime.” It was executive produced by Maryann De Leo, who won an Oscar in 2004 for her short documentary Chernobyl Heart.
India’s Daughter meanwhile includes an interview with the driver of the bus on which the assault happened, who claimed that Singh herself was to blame for the attack for being out at night and that she should not have resisted. The inclusion of the interview caused controversy, with even some women’s rights activists opposed to it, saying, like Bakshi, that he should never have been given a platform for his views.
The film was banned in India, with a parliamentary minister describing it as “an international conspiracy to defame India”; Udwin appealed to prime minister Narendra Modi, arguing that “India should be embracing this film – not blocking it with a kneejerk hysteria without even seeing it.”
The film is based on what happened the night of December 16, 2012, when an Indian medical student was taking the bus home in South Delhi and was tortured and gang raped by six men before being abandoned on the side of the road. On December 29, she died. Her name was Jyoti Singh Pandey, she was 23 and she is now known across India as Nirbhaya — one without fear.
Though the attack on December 16 was neither the first nor the last brutal case of violence against women we will hear about, what sets it apart is what unfolded afterward: Indians decided they had had enough. And they took to the streets.
Bakshi was in those crowds, a part of those protests. She went on to create her documentary, which chronicles the movement sparked by Pandey’s attack and seeks to keep it alive. “Daughters of Mother India” is comprised entirely of interviews Bakshi conducted with Indians. The people featured in the film ranged from Supreme Court justices to educators to sociologists to — perhaps most significantly — the Delhi police force.
Bakshi explained, “I was a part of the protests happening on the street. It was the winter, it was cold — but everyone was out... Men, children, women. It was a proud moment, and I clung onto it. This issue was so urgent that I knew the police had to play an integral role [in the film].”
Her cameras were the first to be allowed inside the Delhi Police command and control room. But on her initial efforts to gain access to the police, Bakshi said, “It was impossible. We tried everything — three weeks of pursuing the [Delhi] police commissioner [Neeraj Kumar]. When we finally got to him, I said, ‘Give me 10 minutes of your time and then you can throw me out. I am a stakeholder in this society, and if this momentum stops, I have everything to lose.’ He looked me in the eyes and said, ‘I have two daughters.’ The next day, we had access.”
When Bakshi initially begun interviewing Delhi police officers, “all their answers seemed to be the right ones — very rehearsed.” Her crew proceeded to leave their cameras at home and continue showing up to the command and control room — simply to hang around. Eventually, Bakshi remarked that it was as though the police had forgotten her crew was there.
“And that’s when [the police] began opening up, began feeling. I saw anger, disgust [of the December 16 attack]. I realized for the first time that they are human beings... They are reflective of us. It’s a mirror image. It’s not us versus them, it’s we. They wanted change as much as we did.”
It was in this spirit that “Daughters of Mother India” offers a humanized portrayal of the Delhi police force. Bakshi agreed this portrayal influenced what came next: following the film’s 2014 premiere in Mumbai — which was attended by more than 400 of the most senior-level police officers — it was screened at the National Police Academy. The director of the Academy then issued a memo asking for mandatory screenings of the film to be integrated into police officers’ gender-sensitization trainings.
During the film, Mr. Palden, the Head of Delhi Police Control and Command Room, remarked that women calling the police help line reporting domestic violence prefer to hear a woman’s voice on the other end of the phone, rather than a man’s. Later in the documentary, Ms. Suman Naiwa, Head of Delhi Police Unit for Women and Children, is filmed during a training in which she stressed that women should feel comfortable enough to come to male police officers and report assault. Naiwa iterated,
“We are not male cops or female cops, we are people in uniform.”
After Mumbai Police Commissioner Rakesh Maria requested she curate a campaign with the aim of bridging the civilian-police divide, Bakshi opened the crime profiles of high-profile rape cases and devised a three-part short video series that features police officers giving emotional accounts of their experiences working on these cases.
Following their launch in May 2015, these awareness videos — which are still being shown — were taken on by “every single movie theatre” to be run prior to feature films. Bakshi estimates they have reached some 22 million people, reflecting: “Change won’t happen overnight, but something has. Four years ago, would any theatre owner do this?”
In “Daughters of Mother India,” sociologist and professor Dr. Dipankar Gupta states, “The roots of patriarchy are so deep, that you cannot uproot them. So what do you have to do? Cut off its every branch.”
This is what “Daughters of Mother India” seeks to do.
Daughters of Mother India wins at CAM International Film Festival Oct 29, 2016 SHILPIKA SRIVASTAVA
PORN INDIA 8 Ottobre 2015