June Wilson, RN, PhD
Media Health Connections
A Review of India’s Daughter
Director: Leslee Udwin
On December 16, 2012, in New Delhi, India, 23-year old Jyoti Singh, a medical student, had just finished her final exams. She had only 6 months of internship left. “Happiness was just a few steps away,” her father, Badri Singh, stated. She celebrated by going to a film, The Life of Pi, with her male friend Awindra. After the film, at approximately 8:30 PM she boarded a private bus; the driver claimed to be going her way. He wasn’t. Rather the bus was occupied by six young men, including the driver, who beat Awindra, and dragged Jyoti to the back of the bus where she was beaten, gang raped, and eviscerated by an iron rod. Jyoti and Awindra were then thrown to the side of the road and left to die. Thirteen days later Jyoti died on December 29, 2012.
India’s Daughter documents this case and addresses the outcry for gender equality that resonated throughout the country. While the atrocities of this case are at the forefront, so too is the patriarchal culture in which this heinous crime occurred.
Leslee Udwin, a British filmmaker and human rights activist spent 2 years making this film. She interviewed Jyoti’s parents, the rapist’s mother, the bus driver, physicians, defense attorneys and others. Through actual footage, she captured the intense reactions of women and men as they protested for gender equality.
Women are raped every 20 minutes in India and they are often the ones blamed. The women as second-class citizens theme was captured through interviews with one of the perpetrators and with defense attorneys. The bus driver Mukesh Singh, an active participant in the rape, sits on death row and not surprisingly blames Jyoti for her death. He stated: “A girl is far more responsible for a rape than a boy; A decent girl won’t roam around at 9 o’clock at night.” He also stated that Jyoti should have accepted her fate: “When being raped, she shouldn’t fight back. She should just be silent and allow the rape. Then they’d have dropped her off after doing her and only hit the boy.”
Shockingly, interviewed educated men often shared these same feelings. M. L. Sharma, a defense attorney, stated with conviction: “We have the best culture. In our culture there is no place for a woman.” Another attorney stated if his sister or daughter disgraced herself he would take her to the barn and “put petrol on her and set her alight.” Fortunately, not everyone in India shares these barbaric beliefs.
Jyoti came from a family of progressive ideas. Her forward-thinking parents sold their ancestral land to educate their only daughter, a move that was not supported by the extended family who believed boys should be revered not girls. Her family was described as poor; however, it is clear that her parents felt intense pride for their daughter. Jyoti wanted to help society and had goals to help the poor. Her hopes were to build and run a hospital in her family village. “A girl can do anything,” she often said. To meet these goals, she worked nights in an international call center, slept for 3 hours, and then attended medical school.
The unprecedented reactions to the rape in the country depicted in the film are most enlightening. Men and women took to the streets in the cold and protested gender inequality while enduring water bombs, tear gas and police batons. It was these reactions that Udwin captured. She stated in the BBC (2015) interview that she made the film because both men and women protested in aversive conditions for over a month. “There was nationwide outcry, cries of ‘enough is enough’ reverberated across the world.”
India’s Daughter is a life-altering film. There is the desire of some to keep women silent; for example, the defense attorney stated:
A girl is just like a flower. It gives a good looking, very softness performance, pleasant. On the other hand a man is just like a thorn. Strong, tough enough. That flower always needs protection. If you put that flower in a gutter it is spoilt. If you put it in the temple, it is worshipped.
There are however many who are demanding change and are willing to fight for gender equality. Reporting of rape has increased by 35% in India since this rape occurred. Through her desire to help others, Jyoti has become a symbol for women’s rights.
Entertainment media, as an educational tool, have been shown to be effective in changing attitudes and beliefs (Moyer-Gusé, 2008). India’s Daughter can be used openly to examine rape and gender inequality. Post film conversations from New York to Los Angeles have been well received. Tragically, however, controversy surrounds this film. It has been banned in India, the very country where it needs to be openly viewed and discussed. Prime Minister Narendra Modi stated the ban does not curb freedom of expression, yet how can it not? Fortunately, it is almost impossible to ban a film in our technological age. The film has been uploaded to YouTube and thus far India’s communication, information and technology director has been unsuccessful in his appeal to have it removed.
India’s Daughter was screened at the American Psychological Association’s Film Festival in Toronto. It has been broadcast throughout Europe, the United Kingdom, Canada, with limited theatrical release in the United States. Many Hollywood celebrities have praised this film from Rosie O’Donnell and Sean Penn to Meryl Steep who noted she is on a campaign to have this film nominated for best documentary (Reuters, 2015).
While this is a difficult topic, this insightful film must be seen across the globe. According to Udwin (BBC, 2015),
What the film documents is shocking—and we underestimate shock in filmmaking a lot. When something is so shocking precisely because it holds a mirror up to truth, people sit up and take notice because it moves them—it gets into the heart and the soul. The film was always designed as a campaign, so it’s doing its work.
Moyer-Gusé, E. (2008). Toward a theory of entertainment persuasion: Explaining the persuasive effects of entertainment-education messages. Communication Theory, 18, 407–425. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-2885.2008.00328.x
Uldwin, L. (2015). India’s daughter: The story of Jyoti Singh. United Kingdom: Women Make Movies.