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Why did India ban a documentary on a deadly gang rape?

The 2012 deadly gang rape of a 23-year-old medical student in Delhi sparked outrage around the world and led to unprecedented protests. A new documentary, “India’s Daughter,” sheds light on the violence, shame and injustice that Indian women often face. Jeffrey Brown interviews Leslee Udwin, the film’s director, about why the case galvanized so much support and why India has banned the film.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Now to India and a documentary about a horrific event in the country's recent past. The government there doesn't want citizens to watch the film, and has banned its airing.

    Jeffrey Brown reports.

  • PROTESTERS:

    We want justice! We want justice!

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    It's a now infamous incident that generated mass protests and stained India's international image. A 23-year-old medical student, Jyoti Singh, was gang-raped on this bus in South Delhi in 2012. She died days later, and now her story is the subject of a BBC documentary, "India's Daughter."

  • NARRATOR:

    According to the latest government figures, a woman is raped in India every 20 minutes. But most rapes are unreported. This rape led to unprecedented protests erupting across India. The silence has been broken.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    The documentary had its U.S. premiere in New York last night, and is already airing in Britain, but not in India.

    The Indian government has banned the film, saying the producers never got permission to interview one of the suspects in prison, and that his statements are — quote — "an affront to the dignity of women."

    The suspect, Mukesh Singh, was driving the bus, and is one of four men currently on death row for the crime. In the documentary, he appears unrepentant and unaffected.

    MUKESH SINGH, Convicted Rapist (through interpreter): A decent girl won't roam around at 9:00 at night. A girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    The defendants' defense lawyers voice similar opinions.

    M.L. SHARMA, Defense attorney for rapists: In our society, we never allow our girls to come out from the house after 6:30 or 7:30 or 8:30 in the evening with any unknown person.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    But Jyoti Singh's mother is indignant at such talk, and says it symbolizes the injustice that so many Indian women face.

    ASHA DEVI, Mother of Jyoti Singh (through interpreter): Whenever there's a crime, the girl is blamed: She shouldn't go out, she shouldn't roam around so late or wear such clothes.

    It's the boys who should be accused and asked why they do this. They shouldn't do this.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    That kind of anger and frustration sparked mass protests after the Singh rape aimed at the government's perceived tolerance of violence against women.

    Three years later, occasional protests continue, and the documentary's debut has put the Singh case and the larger problem back in the spotlight.

    And joining me now to discuss her documentary is filmmaker Leslee Udwin.

    Thanks for joining us.

    Given the high rates of rape in India, I wonder, why do you think this was the incident that so galvanized people?

    LESLEE UDWIN, Director, "India's Daughter": Well, I think that a dam will — will burst at a certain point.

    And many in India do ask that question even today. Why that particular gang rape? There have been so many violent ones. There was one only four weeks ago in Rohtak which was arguably as violent, if not more violent.

    I think that, literally, the anger in people at knowing how much the issue is suppressed in India, how much girls are made to bear a sense of shame when they're raped, to the degree that they don't even report the rapes, a sense of complete frustration at the length of time it seems to be taking, not just in India, but around the world really, to deal with the issue of gender inequality.

    And the frustration just boiled over. And people came out on to the streets to start expressing their anger. And it built momentum and went on for over a month.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    You know, we just heard in — short clips from the film. Were you surprised when you heard the words coming from the defendant and from the lawyers, their attitudes?

  • LESLEE UDWIN:

    I'm rather sad to say I wasn't surprised.

    And it's rather a surprise to me that, you know, the government seems to be so concerned about the incendiary nature of the things that the rapist says in this documentary, because politicians in India have been saying things equally as inflammatory, equally as derisory of women and misogynistic.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    In announcing this ban, the…

  • LESLEE UDWIN:

    It's a real reflection…

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Yes.

  • LESLEE UDWIN:

    It's a real reflection of what society thinks.

    And, you know, in a sense, there's nothing surprising about those comments. This is a society that treats girls as unequal from the day they are born. It treats them as unwelcome when they are born.

    Sweets are distributed in celebration at the birth of a boy only, and a girl is a disappointment. And from that moment in her life onward, she continues to be discriminated against. Her value is far, far less than that of a boy. And, of course, you will end up with a society in which men think they can do what they like with women because they have no worth.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Well, let me is ask you about the ban, though.

    India's home minister told parliament that the government — quote — "wouldn't allow any organization to leverage such an incident and use it for commercial purposes."

    And there's also been some pushback in India even from some women's group about the notion of an outsider, a foreigner, telling the story that they say they already know.

    What do you think is behind the ban?

  • LESLEE UDWIN:

    First of all, as far as commercial use, this is an absolute nonsense. I made this film as a work of passion, a labor of love, because I care greatly about this issue and I want to move the debate and the conversation forward.

    I want to help civil society demand, at long last, that we deal with this, I believe the greatest unfinished business of our time, the inequality of women. So this is not a commercial enterprise. I am still today carrying a massive personal debt in making this film.

    The other thing you asked was why women's groups seem to be coming out and saying that a foreigner should be — shouldn't be making this film. I would say it's very, very hard, the frustration that women's groups feel, when they have been working for generations, for decades trying to move this issue forward. It's kind of tough to suddenly see a documentary come and be massively in the public eye, in the spotlight.

    It's hard to embrace that and to say, you know, we may have wished it was an Indian filmmaker making this, but what she's saying is exactly what we have been saying for decades, and we should nonetheless join hands, join forces.

    That's what I would have hoped to have seen. But I can understand that there will be factions, that there will be some people who think, you know, that I ought to have featured them more in the documentary. I think that's what's at the base of this.

    But I have to say, as a filmmaker, I cannot be an ambassador for women's rights groups. I'm not there to actually tell the history of the women's struggle in India.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    All right, the film is "India's Daughter."

    Leslee Udwin, thank you so much for joining us.

  • LESLEE UDWIN:

    Thank you.

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