India’s Daughter and the importance of context

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India’s Daughter, Leslie Udwin’s recent and controversial documentary, honed in on the infamous Delhi gang rape of 2012, which has become a highly provocative and sensitive issue in India. Spurring protests across the country, this gang rape brought visceral responses from people across India. It seemed natural, then, to focus on this as a case study for analysing rape in India. Within the domestic context, such a provocative approach was beneficial to the extent that it initiated important conversations in the media and among the general population.

However, for a global audience, the documentary painted a simplistic black and white picture of a highly complex issue. The victim was an educated middle class girl with high ambitions. The perpetrators were uneducated and trapped in a cycle of poverty, with little hope for the future. The class divide could not have been shown in a more obvious way – but this is a narrow portrayal of rape cases. Furthermore, a focus on the graphic details of one particular act (which had already been repeatedly stressed by the Indian press), rather than the wider manifestation of rape across the country and the reasons behind it narrowed the vision of the film even more.

Such narrow portrayals often fail to bring forth into public discourse the more hidden forms of rape that exist in societies, such as domestic rape, child molestation by family members, date rapes and even rape of the socially marginalised by police and the armed forces. Any discussions of rape should consider these other crimes, often less explicit and therefore all the more in need of public discussion and discourse.

The film was screened recently at one of the Gates Cambridge Reel Interventions sessions, preceded by a highly thought-provoking and detailed introduction by Dr Priyamvada Gopal, a professor at the Faculty of English, Cambridge.

In the discussion that followed the screening it was not simply the film itself that was debated, but also the very context of the film screening. There seemed to be two key elements to this context: the international audience viewing the film and the fact that it was in a university setting. These helped articulate two widespread misconceptions about rape. The first is that rape doesn’t just exist in a separate, nebulous space in the outside – developing – world. An international audience has to be careful to avoid assuming that rape is something which happens ‘elsewhere’, when in fact it is a global issue. Rape is very much a reality all around the world.

Secondly, one of the arguments stressed in the documentary and in discussions, was that rape is chiefly the result of a lack of education. This generates the notion that it is only ‘uneducated’ people who are rapists while the educated are merely their victims. This argument was contradicted by research showing the very high occurrence of rape in educational institutions committed by people who often have degrees from top universities. It became evident that it was crucial that we, as students, should not dismiss the issue of rape as a problem only in the developing world, but that we should look at it in the context of the institutions that we are a part of. Rape is something that needs to be addressed in every community.

The screening and talk were highly relevant to the student community not only because they followed the widespread discussions that the documentary has raised in the media, but they provided a platform for students to discuss these issues in the context of a university setting.

*Neha Kinariwalla [2014 – MPhil in Modern Society and Global Transformations], Cillian Ó Fathaigh [2014 – MPhil European Literature and Culture] and Ananya Mishra [204 – MPhil in Modern South Asian Studies]. Photo credit: Nilroy and Wiki Commons.

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