BBC film raises many questions

BBC film raises many questions

By Pankaj Vohra | 7 March, 2015
Leslee Udwin
How did the filmmaker get the permission to interview an accused who is in judicial custody?

The Centre has banned the controversial BBC documentary, which has created a huge uproar all over the country leading to protests both inside and outside Parliament. The documentary maker Leslee Udwin has since left the country fearing arrest by Indian authorities even as the BBC aired the short film, India's Daughter in the United Kingdom, a move being seen as a snub to the government's efforts to prevent it from being telecast. The film was available for viewing on the YouTube on Thursday itself. It was subsequently taken off. The said documentary shows Mukesh Singh — one of the rapists of "Nirbhaya", the 16 December 2012 rape victim — who is in judicial custody, making an obnoxious statement that women should not offer resistance while being molested.

A large number of women rights activists and Members of Parliament have slammed the BBC for commissioning such a documentary. However, the question that arises is that none of the persons who were criticising it had seen the documentary and were still offering their views on the subject. The documentary seeks to project the mindset of a rapist and if Mukesh Singh has made the outrageous statement, it depicts his mindset and that of many others like him. It is because of this mindset that he is in jail today.

There is no way anyone can ever defend the action of Nirbhaya's rapists or of any rapist anywhere in the world. But rapes are acts of diseased minds and this has to be understood in the proper context. By adopting an ostrich like attitude and not seeing the reality as it exists, we shall be failing in our duty as citizens. There are serious issues pertaining to stalking and harassment of women and they have to be addressed by the government as well as the people of the country. Rapes continue to take place and those who commit them perhaps believe that they can get away with the heinous crime. A strong message would be sent to them if the court disposes of the Nirbhaya case, as also similar cases, giving exemplary punishment to those found guilty of the offence.

The filmmaker, while making such a documentary, is within her rights to claim that she was doing so to highlight a social menace. And by denying her the right to show it was the infringement of her creative freedom and expression of free speech. Government of India in its wisdom has decided to stop its airing in the country and may have ruffled some feathers. But fearing more criticism, Home Minister Rajnath Singh tried to do damage control.

The question that arises is that how did the filmmaker get the permission to interview an accused who is in judicial custody? The permission could have only been granted by a court and in this instance, some functionary of the Home Ministry accorded the sanction. This is very serious and needs to be thoroughly probed. There have been similar instances even in the past and one such violation involved a former inspector general of prisons of the Tihar Central Jail, who allowed some foreign officials to meet the Hurriyat leaders inside the premises of the prison without any permission. This led to the IG's transfer after the intelligence agencies sent a report to the government. The concerned IG was subsequently given a plum posting.

In the early 1980s, Billa and Ranga, the two Bombay criminals convicted for killing the Chopra children — Geeta and Sanjay — were interviewed inside the jail by four journalists, a day before they were to be executed. However, the interview was conducted after late Prabha Dutt, former chief reporter of the Hindustan Times moved a petition before the Apex Court seeking permission. Justice Chandrachud made the landmark judgement giving media access to the accused. Three other journalists — Usha Rai of Times of India, Vinod Sharma, then of the UNI and the late Lalit Kumar Joshi of the PTI — too moved applications when they found out that the court was inclined towards giving Prabha Dutt the permission. A separate application for witnessing the hanging through official channels (Delhi government and Home Ministry) was made by Prakash Patra, then with the National Herald, but did not materialise. Billa confessed to several killings but denied that he had murdered the Chopra children. Ranga had turned totally religious and refused to say anything.

The short point is that the Home Ministry perhaps acted beyond its brief to allow the filmmaker. There have been also instances when journalists have interviewed accused persons inside the jail or while they were in the court premises. The grand escape of Charles Sobhraj from the Tihar in the mid 1980s was also captured on camera by his associate David Hall. Two journalists, both associated with the Times of India group at that time, were questioned by the police.

The ban on the BBC documentary is not the answer to curbing rape. Changing mindsets is. Between us.


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