Posted by: John Elliott | March 5, 2015

Indian government tries to block revealing BBC rape film

Banned from showing the film on March 8, NDTV broadcast this screen for an hour from 9pm to 10pm with objectors' comments running across the bottom

March 8: Banned from showing the film this evening, NDTV has broadcast this screen in silence for an hour from 9pm to 10pm with objectors’ comments running across the bottom

The Indian government is adept at shooting itself in the foot, especially on social issues. In the past three days, it has done this spectacularly by trying – and failing – to impose an international ban on an hour-long film, India’s Daughter, about an horrific and fatal rape that shocked the world when it took place on a moving bus in Delhi in December 2012.

The driver of the bus is one of four men sentenced to death for the rape of Jyoti Singh, who later died from her internal injuries. He shows no remorse in the film and says that women should be blamed more than men.

The BBC was to have released the film on its BBC4 channel in the UK on Sunday evening, March 8, to mark International Woman’s Day, but brought it forward and showed it last night because of the “intense interest” – a neat euphemism for the row and the government reaction. It said today that it showed the film because it “has a strong public interest in raising awareness about a global problem”.

IMG_3335Delhi’s police chief took out an injunction two nights ago and obtained a court order which prevents NDTV, a leading Indian channel, showing the film – it was also to have shown it on Sunday evening.

The home ministry issued a legal notice to the BBC and asked social media sites, including YouTube, to remove the film by this evening, with warnings that sites might otherwise be blocked for non-compliance. The BBC appears to have complied, at least inside India where the film is this evening no longer accessible on YouTube. There is a message that “This video is no longer available due to a copyright claim by British Broadcasting Corporation”. The film is however still accessible on the BBC’s UK-only  iPlayer recorded service and may well be elsewhere on social media.

IMG_3336 - Version 2

It is not clear whether the Indian furore will affect plans for a launch by actresses Freida Pinto and Meryl Streep in New York on March 9, and for the film also to be shown in Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland, Norway and Canada. [March 10: the New York launch did go ahead – click here]

There have been fiery debates in the Indian parliament and on television discussion programmes. The parliamentary affairs minister, displaying Indian officialdom’s traditional conspiracy-theory reaction to events it does not like, even described the film as “an international conspiracy to defame India”.

I saw the hour-long film at a private preview two evenings ago, just before the Delhi police chief swung into action. It is horrifying because it reveals the crude assertion of male superiority and rejection of guilt by Mukesh Singh, the bus driver who, along with the three other defendants, has appealed against the death sentence to India’s supreme court. It also shows equally crude complacency among the defendants’ lawyers who unashamedly blame the girl victim for being out late in the evening with a male friend,.

Mukesh Singh (above, in tv clips of the film) says that “a girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy”. Suggesting that such a girl would put herself in a position to be assaulted he says “A decent girl would not roam around at nine o’clock”, adding: “When being raped, she shouldn’t fight back. She should just be silent and allow the rape”.

He also says that giving him and the other rapists the death penalty would increase he chance of girls being killed. Before a girl might have just been left as they did with Jyoti Singh, but now she would be killed, “especially by criminal types”

IMG_3337 - Version 2A.P.Singh, one of the defence lawyers, is shown on the film saying in an earlier interview that “if my daughter or my brother engaged in premarital activities and disgraced herself, or allowed herself to lose face as a bad character” he would, in front of his wife and whole family, “put petrol on her and set her alight”. Asked in the film to confirm that was his view, he says “I still stand by that reply”.

This sort of reaction is sometimes seen in traditional communities where couples are killed for marrying out of their own caste or for other similar perceived wrong-doings. Some leaders appear even to see rape as an expression of young manhood. “Boys will be boys… they commit mistakes,” Mulayam Singh Yadav, a veteran politician and leader of the powerful Uttar Pradesh-based Samajwadi Party, declared (in Hindi) during last year’s general election campaign

The interviews appear at various stage through the film. Others who appear included lawyers and other observers along with the parents (above, on television this week) of Jyoti Singh, who was called Nirbhaya or brave heart by the media. The parents have supported the making and showing of the film because they want to increase public awareness.

Although it is well balanced, the film has worried Indian authorities because it shows the reality about life in modern India and about attitudes towards rape and women.

In the public debate that has raged now for three days, those who support the film say it is necessary to air such issues in public so that people face up to reality and deal with the problem instead of pretending either that it does not exist, or that it need not cause concern.

IMG_3333The opposing view is that it has shown India in a bad light and that the statements by the convicted rapist and the lawyer will encourage young men to attack women. There has also been criticism that a convicted criminal should not be interviewed in jail explaining why he had committed his crime.

There has been controversy over the official permissions that Leslee Udwin (right), the independent producer of the film who sold it to the BBC, obtained to interview Mukesh Singh in Delhi’s Tihar Jail. The government claims that she was supposed only to be making a film for a “social cause” and not for commercial purposes, though the permission documents that she has been showing reporters do not state this.

Udwin, herself a rape victim, has said that she made the film over the past three years because she was struck by the strength of public protests after the December 2012 rape and wanted to record the statements of those involved. The copy of the film that I saw included statistics to show that rape is a world-wide problem, not just confined to India, but that short section was cut from the BBC and social media version.

By stopping the film being shown on the NDTV Indian television channel, and by limiting the exposure on social media, the government has at least partially succeeded in its aim of reducing the number of people who see it. But it has raised the profile of the film around the world, and it has shown itself to be out of touch both with its own social problems and with the the ways of modern communications.

Rape is, as the film says, a world-wide problem but the government has this week succeeded in making it seem much worse in India than elsewhere.



  1. In my view, once documentary has been shot and made, a ban would not be proper and does not serve a purpose. It will only advertise it and make it famous. Certainly the documentary has given platform to a criminal for a global audience whom (for these kinds of foreign publications) Gandhi once said they are “garbage collectors for the newspapers” who only see their “intended news” on Indian streets.

    BBC or publications like that (you can include New York Times and others as well) are the mouth-piece of power-equation of their respected country/block as any other publication of any free country. They are being used for diplomatic pressure politics for long and it is not news for anyone who has even slightest interest in knowing how things play in international affairs. Remember, an article of NYT saying PM Modi as “cipher” in his performance in August when his coming to power had just been 3-months back. And what was the hidden agenda? At that time, India was not complying with the norms of WTO food security and FDI opening for retail. So, the Empire strikes through its powerful medium. Again, NYT preached India on minority affairs and secularism ( Pls don’t read it in the context that I am supporting an attack on minority). I will not give a counter logic that even Hindus are attacked and killed in USA. No, it is just a blame game. Now, come to the BBC documentary.

    Also it is not a question of BJP government or Congress government. Had there been a Rahul government, even BBC or like them would telecast it. It is their empirical agenda and they are doing it for decades. No surprise. The point is; for saving your national interest and defending pressure in guise of WTO, trade, security such things are done. It will sometimes appear as environment, or human right and anything which suits them as per the condition. How will you save yourself?

    Here comes the poor training of Indian Police officers and even IAS officers when it comes to dealing with razor-sharp and “often biased with vested interest foreign media (read western media). China has better understood them and put them at safe-distance. It is hight time we learn something. Banning them is not a solution.

  2. You do realise that the docu had a vicious hidden agenda, don’t you? I wouldn’t expect you to acknowledge the issue here or consider, (because most of the Indians are hell bent on biting the bait, leave a foreigner) but it would suffice to say that udwin’s docu was a trojan horse. She said it was a gift for India whereas in actuality it was a dirty trick by parties involved to malign the image of India. Any journalist worth their salt will know the truth and there are numerous sources. However, one of the articles will help.

  3. Having now watched the film last night along with millions of others fortunate enough to be currently out of India, I think your piece is spot on, John, but perhaps does not go far enough. Banning the film was just one more example of the government (and previous governments have been no better) burying the head in the sand and trying to put the blame anywhere but where it is due.

    This is a sober documentary, not a rabble rousing piece of pleading. It is plainly not the fruit of an international conspiracy to defame India but the reflection of what life is like on the ground for the vast majority of its citizens. It showed the force of middle class reaction to an unbelievably barbaric incident and an inspiring determination to move towards mind change in the demonstrations in Delhi and elsewhere – but it also leaves a host of questions about the failure of many powerful groups to engage with the problem of improving the situation of half the population, other than with rhetoric,

    Where are the legislative initiatives, positive statements, promotional campaigns and leadership reagrding the equal value of women from the politicians of either sex and any stripe? were they all waiting for the official report to come out? Justice Seth is right when she says that education is the key – but education has to go beyond schooling and attitudes are formed first and foremost at home. No report is necessary to start a campaign regarding attitudes. What is the Minister for Panchayat doing to address the problem? Where is the charismatic Prime Minister? too busy criticising the BBC?

    Where are the lobbying protests from NRIs whose wives and daughters are equal citizens where they are living? are they pressing for the politicians and parties they fund to grasp the issue?

    For that matter, what are the successful women of corporate India doing? To include a discussion of these issues in a business conference agenda is not out of place: the nature of a society is amongst the factors influencing an investment decision.

    The dignity of the rape victim’s parents and their courage in coming out to testify in public is in harsh comparison with a certain complacency elsewhere. I shall be curious for instance to learn what sanction has been effectively applied by the Bar Council to the lawyer who said publicly (twice) that he was ready to pour kerosene over his daughter and throw a match if she had pre-marital sex or misbehaved. (The key word here is effectively).

    Congratulations to NDTV for taking a principled stand on the censorship ban. Contrary to the comments by Sandeep Balla, I do not believe there was the slightest concern about riots if the film had been shown, more a determination to push yet again the same old failure under the carpet.

    The citizens of the world’s largest democracy should be able to make their own judgment on the matter.

  4. None of the issues raised in article were relevant. The fear of Government was the public protests. The protests were first of its kind but were so massive that it reminded of JP movement in 70’s or freedom movement of the country. It is surprising that this factor was not considered relevant by Elliott. Generally he is more thorough than this. The ban was a symbolic way of saying that this supremist attitude is not acceptable from a convicted rapist. I wonder what were the other options? Free speech is good but bigotry is not. Unlike USA, Constitution of India does not felicitate absolute free speech and restrictions on the ground of maintenance of public order is permissible.

  5. Stupidity to ban, stupidity to supress weaknesses of our system, on the contrary allow broadcast in India with an advisory, what morality are we talking about when we are concealing the real truth and ground realities as to how poorly are we armed to protect our women, aged and infirm at the cost of protecting few VVIPs and easing their movements across. is one life more important than the multitudes getting killed on the roads or raped across the country. let them live like commoners, who have elected them to these exalted positions of power. and not under sanitised conditions of an unreal world.

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