India’s Daughter and Anna

I did not want to write about the documentary ‘India’s daughter’. I could see the merits of most arguments from various camps, and I had not much to add. Yes, we need to know the mindset of a criminal to be able to prevent crime as Kiran Bedi pointed out… I also see how the ‘white saviour’ mentality may be at play… I see how that is not an excuse to hide behind, and that we need to own up to the mess…

I was only curious why it was being banned- surely I was missing something. Surely a government so concerned with its international image would realize how such a ban will look globally. They must have a very good reason: Is it because the matter is sub-judice, or because the content can actually influence people to get even more regressive (who could blame them for not wanting to take THAT risk?)..?

I buzzed my husband randomly during the day, “Do you know why the government is banning this documentary?” He said he wasn’t sure, most probably to do with India’s image globally. I asked nothing further, but he ensured we watched it later that evening. It wrenched my heart much the same way the incident did two years ago. Yet, I had nothing to say which had not been said already.

Except since I watched another movie last night. Since I’m clearly at some kind of pre-mid-life crisis, I insisted on watching my favourite movie from teen years: Anna and the King. I remembered it as a story of courage and love, with the most beautiful song at the end. I had not realized it was also a story about feminism. It happened to be, and I happened to be watching it yesterday- on Women’s day. A coincidence that made me relate it to ‘India’s Daughter’.

Anna and the King, among other things, is a reality-based story of how a single foreign woman, Anna, stands up for her rights and speaks her mind, eventually winning respect and influence in a deeply patriarchal society, and shaping the mind of the future king of Siam.

What it shows about change is that it is the exposure to something different that creates a change in mindset. It is the presence of positive role models that open up doors for similar others to progress. People accept a different reality when they see the value it brings to their lives and communities.

If one were to ask now, what is the trouble with Leslee Udwin’s documentary or for that matter, with the government’s response, I’d say: Where are the solutions? Where is hope? Where are possibilities?

Udwin’s film, assuming her best intentions, falls short of the potential to encourage change, because it doesn’t talk about change at all. It explores the crime in detail, and expresses horror. Every detail had been public knowledge two years back, and we have been horrified and heart-broken. Two years later, we want to turn that heart-break into resolve and change. Change never happened by saying over and over, “You are dysfunctional”. That only creates labels, and labels are self-fulfilling prophesies.

The film does well to identify that people learn to behave from what they see as a norm around them. Isn’t that, then, also a key to change? To expose people, especially young minds, more and more to a new normal- to women in positions of power, to women in science/business/ politics, to women being treated with respect and dignity in their homes and communities, to women as advisers and influencers, to men and communities that support and applaud them, to lives made richer thus.

The government could have used Women’s day to highlight the achievements of India’s women, or to strengthen infrastructure that support their active participation in communities/ businesses (e.g. how about some ladies toilets in schools), rather than trying to ban the documentary. Not just for the outside world, but as a baby-step towards shifting mindsets within the country through increased positive exposure. We need to come out of moping about how regressive we are, and fill our media with images of the desired new normal, till it becomes a reality.


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