‘India lifts ban on porn but blocks documentary on rape’

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Vidya Venkat
The Delhi High Court last week dismissed the case challenging the ban on India’s Daughter. What are the hurdles before you in ensuring that the documentary is screened in India?
India’s Daughter has already been screened in well over 60 countries. Unfortunately in India, because of the ban, it has not been possible to screen the documentary at all. The documentary is about the global pandemic of violence against women and uses the case of the Delhi gang rape to illustrate the point about the mindsets that are responsible for, and even encourage such human rights violations.
I have read the High Court ruling dismissing the Public Interest litigation pleas to lift the ban, and frankly I find it hard to understand what the judges are thinking of. The High Court has argued that the trial court is still hearing “the matter” based on the judicial orders of March, 2015 (presumably the case against the ban?), so it can’t do anything. I would like to ask the learned judges: “the matter of the ban, where is it being heard?” I do not understand their reasoning. It is the matter of the sentencing and conviction of the rapists that is still being heard (in the Supreme Court, not the trial court) and this has nothing to do with the matter of the ban which was before the High Court last week. What shocks me also is that the judges refused to even consider the matter of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) advisory, arguing that since it was “an advisory” it wasn’t necessary to examine it. But don’t the learned judges know that if the TV channels showed this documentary against the advisory of the MIB, they would lose their licenses? That is why they dare not screen the documentary! I feel this whole business of the ban is like a parallel universe – it is Kafkaesque. But my problem is with the very legitimacy of the ban orders that were issued in the first place.
The only positive outcome of the ban has been that everyone has seen the documentary. But then they are seeing the wrong, leaked version of the documentary.
One of the legal hurdles to screening the documentary has been the fact that you named the rape victim in it… Prime Minister Narendra Modi mentioned that in his interview to the Time magazine in 2015. Another “legal issue” being cited is the trial in the Supreme Court, which is still hearing the appeals of the convicts. Screening the film might prejudice the appeal, some argue. I would like to point out here that before I released the documentary, I had approached seven legal luminaries from the Supreme and High Courts for their advice on the legal implications of the film. All seven of them, including two who gave formal written opinions, said that the screening of the documentary can in no way prejudice the trial, because the Supreme Court Judges cannot admit nor weigh any evidence in their minds which has not already been on the record in the lower courts.. Also, if the fear of swaying the case is so strong what, about the prejudicial articles in the press that were written actually during the original trial? Was that ok?
I have been very responsible in making the documentary. In fact, I had fairly startling new evidence, which I removed from the film, in order to be absolutely certain not to influence the ongoing trial. I even went to the lengths of showing the documentary to the prosecution team in this case, who said there were no issues and the film was very true to the case. It is never my wish to interfere with the judicial process. Some also feel that by featuring one of the accused the documentary is giving a platform to the rapist to air his views…
India is days away from celebrating Independence Day. Do you see the ban on screening the documentary as a clamp down on freedom of speech and expression?
Yes. Since India is going to celebrate Independence Day soon, I would like to remind everyone of what Ambedkar, who framed the Constitution of India, had admirably done by introducing Article 14, which guarantees equality for women in India under the law. Even in America, there has been no equal rights amendment act, which means in the eyes of the law, women are still not equal. The American Constitution says all men are equal, not all men and women are equal. Demands to revise its constitution has been resisted and consistently called out. The reason I’m citing this is, in spite of America not having these progressive laws, they are fine with the media discussing and decrying crimes against women.
The documentary is not about India-shaming. In the end, there is a roll call of statistics, which shows how sexual violence is a disease everywhere, including in countries like the US and UK. But a section of Indians, including many feminists, have supported the call for the ban on the documentary. I am so disappointed in these people. The reason they have turned against the documentary is because I am an outsider. They said I knew nothing about the Indian feminist movement. They wished the documentary should have been about them. What these so-called feminists do not understand is that this is not a movie about them or their movement. I was also shocked to be told by one of the prominent Indian feminists on a panel at Oxford University that the reason they had been so angry as to call for the ban was because I had set the release date of the documentary for March 8, International Women’s Day. I was told “you knew how many events we had planned on that day”, which would get ignored because of the attention the documentary would grab. In the end, let us remember what Ambedkar said: we will measure the progress of Indian society by the progress of its women. When we look at the issue of bans, remember when the Indian government banned 857 pornography sites last year and there was such an outcry by Indian men: “How dare you take away our right to watch porn? We’re supposed to be a democracy!? ” the men cried, and the govt lifted that ban in a matter of a week. But even after a year and a half of the release of India’s Daughter (it has won 28 awards globally, including the Peabody Awards 2016), the government continues to block it. What does it say about their values and their priorities? We need to question that.

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