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Society created Delhi gang rape convicts: Interview with Leslee Udwin

March06/ 2015

British filmmaker Leslee Udwin, whose documentary on the Delhi gang rape of 2012 received huge media coverage over a convict’s remarks blaming the victim, said society created the rapists by teaching them “what to think”.

Udwin’s “India’s Daughter” has been banned by the government. The filmmaker said the argument that airing the convict’s interview would amount to giving him a platform to promote his views was “stupid” and “uneducated”.

Udwin also said she believes the convicts in the Nirbhaya case used to go on raping sprees and one of them told her that the December 2012 rape took place because the alleged ringleader wanted to teach the victim and her male friend a lesson for staying out late together.

In an interview with India Insight, Udwin described why making “India’s Daughter” was the biggest challenge she had ever faced, and why she compares Bollywood to pornography.

Below are excerpts from the interview. Quotes are lightly edited for clarity.

Q. Why did you decide to make a documentary on the 2012 Delhi gang rape?

A: It wasn’t the rape that got me thinking “I must do something about this”. It was the protests. I was utterly inspired by those people who went and stood in those circumstances. It’s not like they were out on a sunny day chanting. It must have been the hardest thing for them to keep that momentum up. And I was so awed by their courage, commitment and passion. And I said If I don’t go out there with my filmmaking skills, which is all I can do, and do something to amplify that voice, what sort of a human being am I?

Q. There are people who feel you are promoting the rape convict’s views by broadcasting his interview, in which he blames the victim.

A: It’s an illogical, stupid and uneducated opinion. In order to progress, we have to understand. We must not be scared about looking at this, nor must we say we know it already, which is what they are effectively saying. Excuse me, you don’t know what they think. You have never sat with a rapist. I have sat with several rapists for 31 hours. I have bothered to find out, and it’s important to find out. It’s important to know what the specifics are.

You can’t just make some general assumption: “Oh they are negative about women”. You need the detail, you need to understand. Where does it come from? Who taught them that only 20 percent of women are good? So I’m afraid that those who think this is simply a platform are simply being ignorant.

Q. When Mukesh Singh says that some women deserve to be punished, do you think it makes people uncomfortable because it reflects in some measure their own way of thinking?

A: What Nirbhaya’s mother says in the beginning of this film is: “When our daughter was born, we had a gift of Ujala (light), and we distributed sweets at her birth. Everyone asked us why we were celebrating as though we had a boy.” You get an insight from that.

Her father said when he sold his ancestral piece of land to pay for her entrance to medical school, his own brother said to him: “Are you crazy? Why are you selling it to educate a girl?”

It’s not just the rapist, it’s the whole society. The society teaches these rapists what to think. The rapists then act in a certain way, and then the society rejects them as though they have nothing to do with them. They created them, and encouraged them. Society is responsible.

Q: What was the experience of making “India’s Daughter” like?

A: Awful. The worst, most difficult, most depressing, biggest challenge I have ever faced.

The jails were easy and straightforward. They gave us permissions, signed permission and we adhered to those permissions and we did everything we were meant to do. The hospitals were very difficult. It took us three months to get permission to go into the hospitals.

Q: What other problems did you face in making the documentary?

A: Her best friends refused to come on camera, which was my biggest heartbreak. One of them in particular, who I sat with for hours hearing the most heartbreaking words. She brought Nirbhaya to life for me as a human being. She made me understand what we have lost in that young life being taken away in this brutal act. And that was a very important thing to bring into my documentary, but I couldn’t because her brother and her father forbade her to come on camera.

Q: What was your assessment of Mukesh Singh, whose remarks have been quoted extensively in the media?

A: He is a very uneducated man. He’s not a stupid man. He’s a programmed man. He’s a man who has learned that there are certain stereotypes – a girl does housework and a boy doesn’t, that a girl is selfish, that only 20 percent of girls are good. He has learnt these stereotypes about women and he looks at them that way and therefore, he treats them that way.

In fact he says in the film that the brother (Ram Singh, who hanged himself in his jail cell in 2013) was the main guy in all of this, and that his brother only wanted to teach them a lesson. That’s why he raped her and beat the boy. He wanted to teach them a lesson that they shouldn’t go out at that time of night. And that they should not sit together at night. It was his bus and there they were, an affront to his morality. This is what he told me. This is not in the film.

He said to the guy: “What are you doing out with the girl at this hour of the night?” And that’s how the fight started, which then turned into rape.

Now, Mukesh tells us his brother has raped before, and I believe they used to go out on these raping sprees. Do you know in South Africa, men go out in gangs on a Friday night and their entertainment is finding a girl and raping her? It’s a social activity.

Q: How do you deal with information like this?

A: You do something about it. It’s the only thing to do, to speak about it. If you have been raped, talk about it to say: “I have my dignity. The uncivilized, undignified criminal is the man who rapes me, not me.”

Q. Are men like Mukesh Singh an exception?

A: I don’t think men like Mukesh Singh are an exception. I think most men in this country are programmed a certain way.

But I have to say that I think there is a huge band of forward-looking people in this country. That’s the hope. And that’s why you had the uprising. There was an uprising for gender equality in this country. There’s not another country in the world that has done that in my lifetime, and I am very old.

Q. You said Mukesh did not understand what the ‘fuss was all about’?

A: Correct. He said it several times: “Why are they pointing at us? Everybody is doing it. I mean did you see the Barabanki case? They tore her eyes out after the rape. Is that less bad than what we did?” What kind of a mentality is this? He doesn’t understand. He lives in a society where this is pretty normal.

Q: What do you think about the portrayal of women in Bollywood?

A: I think Bollywood movies are pornography. I think that women are objectified. It’s all part of this disease, this culture.

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