India: Friend or Foe to its Daughters?

My fingers tightened over the remote control, clutching it with all my strength, bracing myself to keep watching as the story of Jyoti Singh unfolded before my eyes. The BBC documentary, ‘India’s Daughter’, which addresses the brutal gang rape of a young girl on a bus in Delhi, is a moving, thought provoking and at times truly shocking piece. Despite my hand hovering over the remote, I was gripped. This was my introduction to an India I had never experienced, nor could relate to.

The title ‘India’s Daughter’ struck a chord with me. I picture the sari-clad housekeeper who works 18-hour shifts to make ends meet; she works sincerely and tirelessly, displaying the utmost dedication to her tasks. I think of the female Indian CEO making her mark in a multinational corporation, turning the heads of all her workers, in admiration of her resilience and strength. The documentary truly highlights the diversity of women who will unite in their empathy for Jyoti.

The Indian government remains unmoved in its stance to ban the documentary in India. Reasons cited are that it is defamatory of India and will spark protests. I believe these are archaic and weak reasons for silencing the voice of the BBC. The issues highlighted in the documentary spark exactly the debate we need. This triggering of difficult yet important questions leads us to question the culture of our society and the evolution of laws. Airing the documentary will not only provoke these types of questions, but also help to answer them.

At first glance, a viewer who has little or no connection to India may indeed reach the conclusion that the rights of women are inadequately protected. Look one step further, and the beauty of my country will quickly become evident. Jyoti was an aspiring doctor, a hard-working medical student, whose father worked night shifts to educate his daughter. He strove to treat his daughter exactly like his sons. Jyoti’s family was progressive, liberal and confident that their daughter could achieve anything.

The most striking element of the documentary for me was the difference between my reaction to that of women I spoke to who had grown up in India. They did not share my sentiments of shock and outrage; to them, safety concerns were a routine part of growing up. The calls from politicians to not go out past 9 pm aren’t misogynistic, they told me; they are realistic. This leads to the strongest argument, I believe, for airing the documentary: It will educate and inform. The airing of the documentary may prevent more cases like Jyoti’s, as issues of safety and freedom come to light. This isn’t an imposition of liberalism from the west upon the east: this is a hard-hitting presentation of a brutal reality. Change can only come if we accept and confront Jyoti’s story, and give it the respect it deserves.

For these reasons, India must change its stance. The discussions this will provoke amongst youth and families will help to plant the seed of change in attitudes towards women, inform the masses about Indian sentencing laws and make individuals comprehend the consequences of their actions.