Leslee Udwin’s documentary is an overpowering indictment of female repression in India
It told of the gang rape – on a bus by five men and one juvenile in December 2012 – of Jyoti Singh, a Delhi medical student who died in hospital of her wounds.
The unspeakable details of her ritual humiliation belong in another century, and yet they tell of a deeply ingrained culture of female repression in India.
One Indian woman is raped every 20 minutes.
For its eye-watering brutality, and also for its resonant symbolism, this was the case to ignite furious demonstrations, which in turn were violently suppressed by riot police.
Peering behind the headlines and the hysteria, Leslee Udwin’s overpowering documentary featured interviews with a wide range of people connected to the case: not only Singh’s dignified parents, but also one of the rapists, another rapist’s young wife and the parents of two more of the culprits.
All of them were living with the gruelling consequences of poverty, lack of education and a culture which privileges boys and turns a blind eye to the abortion of female foetuses.
Singh’s life was an attempt to break this cycle. Memories of those close to her suggested a shining embodiment of new aspirational India.
But female lawyers, politicians and academics queued up in the film to explain that India doesn’t know how to cope with a young generation of emancipated women, a position hideously corroborated by the defendants’ lawyers.
“In our society,” said one, “we never allow a girl to come out of the house after 6.30 with any unknown person.”
This was much the mildest of his endorsements on the male-oriented status quo.
The interview with Mukesh Singh, who drove the bus and joined in the rape, was the most marrow-chilling of all.
He explained that any woman who resists rape, as his victim did, is begging to be murdered, and even argued that the death penalty for rape could only be bad news for victims.
“Now when they rape they won’t leave the girl like we did. They will kill her. Especially the criminal types.”
He had just enough humanity to flinch as the list of Jyoti Singh’s injuries – from bite marks to the removal of her intestines – was read out to him.