I was just about to click on the link to the BBC film featuring an interview with one of the gang rapists of an Indian student on a bus in New Delhi in 2012. I have dodged the film for hours now, each time a social media post or an email or a news story about it has leapt out at me from diverse sources — from friends in India to Indian diaspora to Nicholas Kristof in the U.S.
My fingers hovered over the link and my body recoiled in the same instant. I read the headline on the article that said, “Delhi rapist says victim shouldn’t have fought back.” My eyes flew back to the comment posted with the Youtube link. It said, “Here. Watch it before they ban it.”
“No,” I said. “You don’t get it. There are these things I will have to do before I see anything of this film.”
I will first have to avert my eyes, and then peer into the picture of the face of this man, splashed big and loud across the page. I will have to steel myself against the confident set of his jaw and the look in his eyes – Hunter? Hunted? I will then feel another sensation – a primal tug of familiarity. His skin is the color of the men of my country, the men I grew up around. Where once this brown of his skin and the purple of his lips and the black of his eyes were the only colors I knew on humans, I now long to see these as I move in a sea of mostly white faces in my country of domicile and in its media. I will then have to kick and swim against the undertow of connection I feel with this man, even though the color of his eyes are the exact same color of those of my son.
Then I will let myself be awash in revulsion. In his interview, the man is reported as saying that the young woman he gang-raped and murdered had asked for it, because of her clothes, her choices, her fighting back.
Then I will fight back memories of different versions of this same message that rang around my friends and me as we were growing up. Even the most well intentioned of these messages from those who loved me and would have wanted more than anything in the world for me to have a proud life only served to shut me up from protesting against the hands of a neighbor man when I was a nine-year-old schoolgirl, or the lurching assault of my boss, the executive editor of India’s top newspaper, when I was 27. My school uniform, my work clothes, my status as child, my status as married woman, none of these gave me a message louder than Indian patriarchy’s deepest voice — don’t fight back; don’t draw attention; what could you have done to prevent this?
Then I will have to reorient my thoughts and feel sheer gratitude for Indian feminist Kavita Krishnan who has said it better than anyone else in this article, where she points out that naming the film “India’s Daughter” is as loathsomely patriarchal as the idea of demonizing rape as a peculiarly Indian problem requiring of a white savior (the BBC) is racist. “Yes,” I will say to her call to once again recognize rape culture as a global phenomenon. “Yes,” I will say, as I read today about another new documentary, “The Hunting Ground,” about rape on American campuses. In this film, frat boys chant, “No means yes; yes means anal.” I will feel an odd sense of comfort at shifting the glare away from my nation’s men and I will feel revulsion, then, at my own comfort. Did I just get comforted by the fact that rape is a global problem? And what does this mean for my son, who is at college? If I had raised him in India, would he have internalized a bit of the thinking of the men who raped that girl? Or, now, on his American campus, is he internalizing a bit of the thinking of the men who rape these girls? I have raised him well, I will tell myself. I have had these conversations with him. I will fight back the urge to call my son right away to ask him these questions now. And then I will feel the heaviness of knowing that I soon must ask, again. I owe it to that nine-year-old girl who jumped unafraid into an elevator. And I owe it to my son.
Then, the journalism and media professor in me will attempt to be heard over all that noise. I will bristle against the call by men in Indian government for the film to be banned. Some of them are outraged at how a BBC reporter, Leslee Udwin, got access to the rapist in Tihar jail. Others are alarmed that this film will tarnish India’s “honor” and tarnish India’s image across the globe at a time when Prime Minister Narendra Modi is spotlighting its development and progress. I will fight for free speech and I will fight against censorship, no matter how much I want this film to just go away and no matter how much my friends across the world ask me – by posting links to the film on my Facebook timeline or cornering me in conversations – to explain my country to them.
Then I will have to sit down with the sinking feeling that few of my nation’s politicians are troubled by their own rhetoric of offering protections to women only if they are daughters and mothers and wives. What would they say about a woman like me, I wonder next. Would my country want me back? Would the men and women in India’s parliament see me as a success story or as a failed woman? If I were raped in my nation’s streets for my life’s choices, would each of those men and women fight for me? Or would they leave me on the streets for dead? After all, a judge ruled in a recent rape and murder case of a maid in India by her employer that the rape of a woman after a certain age could not be “rape,” because she was not of childbearing age. Then, I will wonder again whether I totally agree with Krishnan that it isn’t as if India is especially hostile to its women.
Then, I will weakly stick my neck out again to oppose the call for capital punishment for these rapists of my land. Some of my closest friends there are calling for a public hanging, for castrations, for vengeance. I will sneak a peek at the print interview with the filmmaker, in which she quotes the rapist as saying that an execution for him and a death sentence for rapists will only lead to more rape victims being murdered after their rapes. Contrary to the popular practice of letting the victim go because they know she won’t say a thing (India has a tortured history of few rapes being reported or, when reported, being recorded by the police), the new laws would only urge rapists to silence the victim by killing her after the deed is done, this rapist says.
Then I will fight back a fantasy of hanging these men with my own hands.
Then I will look at the little image of a hand on my laptop, its finger pointed, urging me to click on the link, which, as I now look, has also been sent out on a group email by the students of my alma mater in Bombay, where my all-female class in 1988 talked headily of feminism, forming a quiet sorority to struggle against patriarchy.
I will move my electronic finger away. “Tomorrow,” I will say to myself. And I will keep that date.
My closest friend here says I have a high tolerance for such stories in all their forms. “How could you go see American Sniper?” she asked me recently. “I think your work as a journalist has given you the stomach to bear witness to human evil.” Yes, I said. My work, amongst other things.
Then I will remind myself that I am not alone in my choice to wait a day or two before I steep myself in repugnance. I will think of my many sisters and friends — I will say their names out loud to myself as I sob – who are also recoiling wherever they are.
So, there are all these things I must do before I watch that video. Do you really need to know what I will do after?
You can watch the full BBC Storyville documentary “India’s Daughter” below.