Film: India’s Daughter (2014)

April 9, 2015 | By


IndiasDaughter_titleFilm: Excellent

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Genre:  Documentary / BBC

Synopsis: Powerful documentary on the life and brutal gang rape and murder in 2012 of medical student Jyoti Singh which created an uproar in India.

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In the evening of December of 2012, 23 year-old New Delhi medical student Jyoti Singh Pandey went out with a friend to see a movie, but rather than settle for an action flick, she chose Life of Pi (2012), a life-affirming tale about trust, respect, and a healthy fear of that prevents a tiger from devouring a boy in a boat after a ship’s sinking. Within the next roughly 48 hours after boarding a bus to take her and her male friend home, Jyoti would die of injuries from a monstrously sadistic gang rape that were never fully detailed in most western media reports, although one suspects the ugliest facts were kept quiet due to their horrific nature.

When Leslee Udwin’s 2014 documentary was completed, it was soon banned by the Indian government, and the release of transcripts and later interview clips of bus driver Mukesh Singh berating the dead girl as being the cause of the rape seemed to appall the government not for the wretched attitude of the convicted rapist that were headed for the hangman’s noose, but for being filmed by a BBC camera crew – putting on film a record of views that are also shared by other interviewed men from several social and economic strata.

Udwin didn’t need to add any narration or express her own views on the case because she integrates consistently contrasting assessments made by Jyoti’s parents, her best friend, one of the six convicted rapists, various defense and prosecution lawyers, former judges, protesters, police, and families of the rapists.

Throughout the doc, Jyoti is described and assessed in sharply contrasting views and terminology: she was a loving, intelligent child; a western-corrupted girl who should’ve known better than going out after 9pm with a man other than immediate family; an imminent graduate juggling insane work, class, and study schedules to better the life of her family and reward their sacrifices for her education; a kind heart who scolded a policeman for beating a pickpocket, and later buying the boy what he needed in exchange for promising he’d change his life; and as one of the defense lawyers describes, a “diamond” that if allowed to tread close to the “gutter”, deserved to be assaulted by thugs.

On that horrible night, after getting onto the bus, Jyoti’s male friend reportedly spoke up for the pair when the thugs started to berate her for being out so late, and finding the couple too uppity, the friend was beaten down at the front while Jyoti was dragged to the rear while the driver kept encircling the area as his brother, a steroid-marinated thug, and the rest took turns beating, biting, and assaulting her with a pipe until one of the rapists reached inside of Jyoti and pulled out her intestines. Both the medical student and her friend were dumped on the side of a highway, and with the exception of one man, no one called for help. She managed to do the impossible and survive for two days before succumbing to her wounds, leaving her mother with an apology for letting her down.

India’s Daughter is an intimate investigation of how such an evil act upon a young woman came to be, and although the reasons offered by various social and legal experts may articulate the complexities of poverty, conservatism, women’s rights, and disgusting misogynistic beliefs that seemed to collide into a perfect storm of grotesque male rage, there’s a sense little will change unless Jyoti’s case is addressed beyond the conviction of the sadists.

The Government of India’s outrage towards Udwin’s film may stem from shock and embarrassment in allowing the bus driver to articulate with absolute smugness his warped beliefs and lack of any regret for the loss of a human life, but there’s also the extensive interviews with the rapists’ families, all trapped in a caste system and coming to grips with their own respective losses, shame, and living in a massive slum that may be part of the impetus for suppression, since India’s Daughter presents contradictions to the preferred governmental image of an ancient culture swiftly progressing into the modern age.

As one of the interviewed sociologists explains, Jyoti represents a more ‘western’ minded woman – educated, intellectual, and increasingly affluent – which conservatives will find impossible to lock up like a ‘diamond’. There’s no justification for the brutality that made a young woman suffer and die, and banning Udwin’s film and hobbling a needed discourse on brutal sexual assault and seeking tangible solutions is a grievous error in judgment.

India’s Daughter, Udwin’s directorial debut after a lengthy career as an actress (Eldorado) and later producer (East is East and West is West),  hasn’t yet made its debut on DVD, but it’s available on YouTube and for formal distribution from  Women Make Movies in America.



© 2015 Mark R. Hasan



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