Why Is India Censoring This Rape Documentary?

Last week the Indian government blocked the broadcast of a BBC documentary entitled India’s Daughter from airing in the country, fearing public outcry and social unrest.

The film — directed by Ireali-born British filmmaker Leslee Udwin — recounts the brutal December 2012 gang rape of 23-year-old medical student Jyoti Singh. Six men on a bus (including the bus driver) beat and raped Singh with an iron rod and later threw her and her beaten, unconscious male companion from the moving vehicle. Nearly two weeks later, Singh died from her injuries.

The youngest rapist got three years in a juvenile detention facility, one died in police custody. The others have all been sentenced to death by hanging, but have appealed to India’s Supreme Court.

The case itself generated nationwide and international condemnation of the country’s governmental and police handling of rape cases. It inspired protests in Mumbai, Dehli, Bangalore, Kolkata and several other cities across India, and in response, India created six “fast-track” courts to quickly handle rape cases. As a result, many more women have reportedly come forward to openly discuss rape, rape culture and its role in Indian life.

Nonetheless, other rape advocates claim that nothing has changed in India since it and other high-profile rape cases. In this political climate, Udwin hoped to air her film via BBC television in India.

However, the Indian government blocked its broadcast last week, even going so far as to get YouTube to block it on the Indian web. India’s Minister of Home Affairs, Rajnath Singh said, “[We] will not allow any attempt by any individual, group or organisation to leverage such unfortunate incidents for commercial benefit.” The country’s Minister of Parliamentary Affairs, M. Venkaiah Naidu called the film part of “a conspiracy to defame India.”

The director has appealed the decision, saying “India should be embracing this film – not blocking it with a kneejerk hysteria without even seeing it. This was an opportunity for India to continue to show the world how much has changed since this heinous crime. Sadly… the banning of the film will see India isolated in the eyes of the world. It’s a counterproductive move.”

One of the anti-rape advocates shown in the documentary has said she prefer it not be shown because of its adolescent depiction of Singh and its exclusion of male anti-rape advocates. Nevertheless, the government’s move may have backfired seeing as the film’s censorship has dominated national headlines since it occurred.