Watching India’s Daughter—the BBC Storyville documentary currently in the eye of the storm—is not easy. For many of us who were on the streets of the national capital in that eventful winter of 2012 in the aftermath of the brutal gang rape of Jyoti Singh, a young paramedical student, it is a bit like travelling back in time. It is an uncomfortable journey replete with the sadness and rage with which most of us were overcome. Yet, regardless of how difficult it is to watch, this documentary needs to be seen by both its critics and supporters.
India’s Daughter succeeds in illustrating the conflicted narrative of an India that appears to be as stagnant as it is dynamic through its interviews with the victim’s parents, Badri and Asha Singh, and one of her rapists, Mukesh Singh. In many ways, Badri and Asha are the protagonists of this documentary. Their personalities present a powerful counterpoint to the critique made by several feminists and activists that India’s Daughter is one-sided in its projection of men from the lower strata of Indian society as uncultured rapists and misogynists, particularly because the same documentary also focuses on Badri, a labourer at Delhi’s international airport, who ignored his relatives’ disdain to sell the land that belonged to his wife and him in order to fund Jyoti’s admission to a medical college in Dehradun. He and Asha represent subaltern parents who were jubilant when their daughter was born even as those around them wondered why they were distributing sweets at the birth of a girl child. “We said we were equally happy having a boy or a girl,” Asha recounted in the documentary. They christened their daughter Jyoti—meaning light. “While eloquently expressing his love for his daughter, Badri Singh tells Udwin: ‘I wish that whatever darkness there is in the world should be dispelled by this light,’” noted Sonia Faleiro in an article for The Guardian.
Unfortunately, as we now know, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government, aided by the political class of our country, swiftly moved to ban the film even before it was telecast. An inert official system that seldom acts without being repeatedly prodded worked with surprising alacrity. On 3 March 2015, government officials hastily sought and received legal permission to slap an injunction on the film’s release. On 8 March, the television news channel NDTV went off air for the hour in which it was supposed to screen the documentary in protest against the ban.