No crime, no ban surely?

IN Media Practice | 07/03/2015
The ban on 'India's Daughter' is unjustified. It breaks no law and is a criticism of India rather than a defamation,
says M. SRIDHAR ACHARYULU. Pix: India TV
If the BBC had  just published the long interview with criminal Mukesh Singh and two criminal lawyers, it would certainly have been repulsive but that impression cannot be sustained after watching ‘India’s Daughter’ which exposes the remorseless killer-rapists and their lawyers. 
 
Director Leslee Udwin deals with the criminological reasons and the social conditions prevalent in the families and the slums where they lived, besides elaborately presenting the views of the victim’s parents and the expert views of Leila Seth and Gopal Subramaniam, members of the committee headed by Justice J.S. Verma who recommended changes in the rape law.
 
The terrible and uncivilized views of the criminals and their lawyers were immediately contrasted with claims such as that of a top policeman that Delhi is the safest city and his pride in the fact that the police investigated the case and filed the charges within 17 days even though the law gave them 90 days. 
 
The documentary also featured the views of women’s rights activists and showed how young Indians came out in anger all over the country to protest against the brutal crime and face water cannons and tear gas shells.
 
There is not an iota of untruth or misrepresentation in the entire narration about India’s daughter. It did not draw any unreasonable conclusions like an irresponsible 24-hour news channel or a sensational tabloid might have. It simply mirrored the ills as they appeared. 
 
It cannot even attract the crime of revealing the name of the victim, as that was done with the permission of the victim’s parents. It does not reveal anything sensational that can influence the minds of the judges of the Supreme Court where Mukesh Singh’s appeal is pending. There is nothing new that can prejudice for or against the convicts.  
 
If there is any community that should worry over this documentary, it is the legal profession. The two lawyers who are interviewed can justify defending the criminal as their professional duty but there was no need to defend them in front of a BBC camera. In any case, they did not talk of points of law, rather their belief that criminals get the right to rape women who roam on the roads beyond 9 pm and that a brother has the authority to burn his sister alive if she has a premarital affair because this is Indian culture! 
 
Any reasonable lawyer would have been ashamed of sharing Bar Council membership with these two persons. Their repulsive views synchronized with those of Mukhesh Singh. The director left these clips without any comment amid the views of the victim’s parents, the police, doctors, and the Good Samaritan who first saw the victims dumped on the road.  
 
As to the speedy conviction, this is indeed an achievement of the police and prosecution but the strong upsurge of civil society against sexual violence and the media’s support were equally responsible.  
 
The Government of India imposed the ban perhaps without watching the documentary and thinking that it was only an interview with Mukhesh Singh. Had this been the case, the ban could have been justified. Among the reasons stated for the ban are the claim of a breach of an undertaking given by Udwin that the film would be used only for social purposes and not for commerce. But selling exhibition rights alone cannot be tantamount to commercial use. 
 
It is nobody’s case surely that Udwin made a commercial movie on the gang rape of India’s daughter with distortions or sensational comments. Nor is it obscene. There is nothing in the documentary that is vulgar, unethical or repulsive.  
 
Does the documentary affect the reputation of our nation? In so far as it is an unstated commentary on the failure of decades of governance in removing crime-generating poverty in the national capital and the lack of governance practices that could have stopped a moving vehicle from being the platform of ghastly crime, perhaps yes.   
 
The correct way to look at it is to see the documentary as a critical review of India rather than deliberate defamation. But even if Udwin been an Indian citizen, no Indian court could have convicted her on any charge, which is all the more reason why the documentary cannot be called anti-Indian. Had Parliament watched this documentary, MPs would have recommended that every citizen watch it. 
 
(Professor M. Sridhar Acharyulu is Central Information Commissioner in New Delhi and formerly Professor of Law and Coordinator at the Centre for Media Law & Public Policy, NALSAR University of Law, Hyderaba. He can be contacted on: professorsridhar@gmail.com.)
 
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