Showing “India’s Daughter” documentary risks doing more harm than good to the society

You can almost always be sure that Arnab Goswami will reduce a topic to binaries and dumb down a discussion, but you can also be sure that on many occasions Arnab touches the right notes.

In the latest incident, Arnab has rightly termed the documentary India’s Daughter as “voyeurism” by TV news channels like NDTV and BBC, for it appears to serve no purpose other than that.

The Face of Evil
We will love to hate him. Some even may love to hear him. But will it serve any purpose?

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The defenders of the documentary are primarily of two types – first type saying that this should be allowed for the sake of free speech, and the second type saying that it’s important to know how a rapist thinks so that the society can tackle them.

Both appear fair arguments and you can’t reject them summarily. However, here is where nuances come into play, which unfortunately are not allowed by Arnab Goswami when he rejects these arguments.

The first argument is totally fair. Yes, one may argue that the documentary can be disallowed as the constitution puts curbs on the free speech subjected to “decency and morality” (Article 19.2.IV) and “incitement to an offence” (Article 19.2.VII).

A rapist’s views are surely against “decency and morality” and also can cause “incitement to an offence” when criminally minded hear his justifications, but these should not be used to ban the documentary.

OpIndia.com believes that there is no pressing need to use the constitutional provisions to block the documentary – and there, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and Arnab Goswami are wrong and overreacting.

Possibly some other technicalities are also being used to block the documentary, such as lack of clearances from authorities and objections of Tihar jail; still, a demand to block or ban the documentary is not right.

However, the second argument, that the documentary will help the society by analyzing a rapist’s mind is deeply flawed and reflects a lack of nuanced and detailed analysis.

Nikhil Mehra, a lawyer practicing in Supreme Court, explained in a series of tweets last night, why this exercise on a public forum was not only “tasteless” but “dangerous”.

He agreed that analyzing a rapist’s mind was an integral and necessary part of the entire process of combating the problem of rape. However, he cautioned that this was best done by experts like the law enforcement agencies and trained sociologists and psychiatrists.

Mr. Mehra argues that when a rapist’s deeply misogynist, regressive, and violent views are aired on a public platform, people who are similarly inclined in views find a support and validation for their criminal thought process.

Thus airing of the documentary could embolden potential rapists rather than equipping the society with ways on combating this menace i.e. it will give voyeuristic pleasures to many rather than sensitizing the general public.

Not only this, since a particular incident (the 16 December Delhi gangrape) is being highlighted, some have pointed out that this risks incorrect or partially correct portrayal of a rapist.

The documentary paints one of the rapists as “the face of evil”. But as twitter user @NishSwish points out, why look for one villain whom we can conveniently paint as evil? The other rapists are as much evil as him. In fact, the juvenile rapist was reported to be the most brutal and inhuman of them all.

And what about cops who don’t file FIRs in rape cases, or other authorities who suppress a rape victim from seeking justice. Are they not faces of evil, she rightly asks. She further cautions that this approach may reinforce class bias and incorrect perception in the society about rape incidents.

After all, most rapists are not random strangers like bus drivers who turn out to be cruel and brutal. The Delhi gangrape incident was a ‘sensational exception’. Perhaps the society needs to be sensitized more about ‘faces of evil’ that are living next door, or even are part of the family, than focussing on one incident to find a villain.

What about likes of Tarun Tejpal or Asaram Bapu? They are as much ‘the face of evil’ as this rapist interviewed for the documentary. By focussing only on this rapist, the society could as much think that only poor bus drivers hailing from north India are ‘faces of evil’.

Similarly, blogger and writer Purba Ray argues in her column that this documentary risks painting every Indian man as a rapist rather than sensitizing the society about rape issues. To many, like journalist Shekhar Gupta, who are claiming that Indian men are uncomfortable as the documentary shows “mirror” to them, Ms. Ray has a very valid argument to offer:

Approaching a convicted rapist for his views on women, using it to mirror Indian men’s attitude towards women, ends up stereotyping our men as the libidinous things who have nothing better to do than rape and subjugate women. It’s like approaching a hooligan English soccer fan for his views on Britain’s sporting culture or asking Bill Cosby or Rolf Harris for their views on sexual harassment.

To sum up, the documentary risks doing more harm than good to the society. And it will not be wrong to call it “voyeuristic”. We deserve better.


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