Monday, March 9, 2015

On Nirbhaya: No 'Honour' between my legs - Similarities between Pakistani & Indian Apologists


My grandparents were Indian once upon a time...

Even when they were in Pakistan, post-partition, it seemed like they never really fit in. A part of them had been left in India... a part of my identity was left in India... even though I hadn't been born yet. I have never been there, yet, I am connected by blood, by history, by ancestry...

It is a land that I have a great love and respect for.... I have searched for my identity as an angsty teen in Indianness to get away from the Pakistaniness I felt I had no choice in. In my younger days, I wore a bindi with my goth gear as a nod to my heritage. Much to the disappointment of my Pakistani relatives. Some of them possibly more offended by the bindi than the dog collars I wore as a symbol of my rebellion.

There is always this rivalry and sometimes outright hatred for each other, amongst Pakistanis and Indians. Each on their own nonsensical high horse...claiming higher moral ground than the other. But if only they could see how similar they are; bound in an everlasting embrace by the threads of misogyny, paranoia and insecurity that are woven into the soil of the entire region.

The parallels are glaringly obvious.

A few nights ago I watched the horrific, but necessary BBC documentary, India's Daughter, about the 2012 Delhi gang rape case of Jyoti Singh. It was an incredibly hard movie to sit through. It filled me with rage, sadness, hopelessness, despair....

It was particularly painful to see the mentality of the rapist echoed in the rapists' lawyers ...supposedly educated men.

One of the Convicted Rapists: Mukesh Singh
One of the Convicted Rapists: Mukesh Singh
One of the Convicted Rapists: Mukesh Singh
M.L. Sharma Defence Lawyer for the Rapists

The fact that the lawyers in this case also genuinely seem to think like the criminals they are defending, reminds me of my motherland, Pakistan. It is particularly reminiscent of a case where lawyers celebrated the death of an innocent man and showered rose petals on a murderer. The victim was Salman Taseer (Governer of Punjab), and he was shot 27 times simply because he dared to speak up for the oppressed, he dared to question the blasphemy law. One of the lawyers defending this murderer also called the Charlie Hebdo attackers 'heroes'.

M.L. Sharma Defence Lawyer for the Rapists

When I heard ML Sharma spewing the same vile horseshit from his mouth that I come across in our culture repeatedly, I was again reminded of Pakistan. It is a mirror that neither nation wants to look into...but both India and Pakistan need only to glance at each other to see how unjust, awful and similar their treatment of women is.

This misogyny cloaked in a 'protection' narrative is transparent and fools no one. Women are seen as objects, no matter how nicely you try to dress it up. They are seen as mere possessions. Be they flowers, pearls, candy, food, gems...they are up for grabs by men, and it is men who decide when they should be put on display or when they should be hidden away.

M.L. Sharma Defence Lawyer for the Rapists
Sound familiar?
Diamonds, Candy, and whatever else ...Women are clearly nothing more than objects, property.
image from mahavalous.com

Do you see how this is just a diluted version of a rapists mentality? How offensive that women should be told to cover, hide or not go out late, rather than men be told to *not rape*. This is why I oppose concepts of modesty and honour vehemently. This is why I despise the idea of scriptures promoting 'pure' virginal women as ideal.... Our bodies are ours... and they are not shameful, honour does not lie between our legs, behind our veils...

These are the realities and attitudes that the Government of India did not want you to see. So they did exactly what their neighbour (Pakistan) would do and banned the film from Indian TV. They also made it unavailable for local YouTube viewers. But in this digital age, that doesn't stop anyone. In fact, a ban probably has the opposite effect - where it increases people's curiosity.

Smart move GOI. Now you've got the whole world interested in what you didn't want anyone to see. Btw, your bff Pakistan also likes bans. We've one-upped you on this one because we banned YouTube entirely. :D

Once upon a time, our Pakistani government also did not want a gang-rape victim tarnishing our wonderful image by flying to the West and speaking about her experience, especially to outsiders. It would make us look bad and was quite inconsiderate of her - to get gang raped and then also to want to speak about it in London? Selfish. But our loveable dictator Musharraf took care of that by putting her on the Exit Control List, so she couldn't leave the country at all! Easy Peasy. Looks like India took a page from our book when they got all huffy about the documentary making the country look bad.


AP Singh Defence Lawyer for the Rapists
AP Singh Defence Lawyer for the Rapists

The state's stance on this particular banning is clearly rooted in honour. National honour. Which to me is just an extension of this second lawyers "I'd burn my child alive if she dared to disgrace me" crap. This is the rhetoric you're echoing dear governments, when your national honour is more important than drawing attention to what is a very alarming issue.

The truth hurts, I get it, and sometimes it is hard to be introspective when you're caught up in the middle of it. So it's helpful when someone on the outside calls us out and snaps us into action. We all have problems, there isn't a country without issues. Pakistan has a misogyny problem for sure, but it is often drowned out by its extremism and terrorism problem. Indians have no issues pointing that out, and also seem to find it silly that Pakistanis can't handle critique in that regard.

But when the spotlight focuses on them, they exhibit the same blame-shifting, excuse-making attitudes they are so quick to call out in Islam apologists. Sorry, but that comes off as a blatant double standard, and just a touch hypocritical. If you are urging Pakistan to admit the issues it faces, then you should at least be able to face issues of your own.

Acknowledging our problems is the only way we will ever fix them. We can never begin to solve things that we don't admit exist.

Speak out against hypocrisy, terrorism, misogyny, outdated texts and scriptures, barbaric practices within our cultures, problematic behaviour, call it ALL out. Don't spare Pakistan and don't spare India. Now before you point a finger at me telling me I should call out the West too, I'll say definitely. And I will also ask you to look at how many documentaries, investigative reports, TV shows focus on exposing the sick shit in Western society. Admitting its existence only makes you better, stronger. Why would you oppose that?

Some people do oppose it, and here is a list of just a few of the reasons people are finding the film problematic. I will try to address them with my own personal take and how I've been feeling whilst hearing all this whatthefuckery floating about. Here goes:

1) Don't give rapists a platform to speak - Oh yes, because thats what this is about. Giving the rapist some space to express himself. I'm sure every interview with serial killers and criminals is about giving them a chance to speak, and not at all about the rest of us getting some answers, some insight into a mentality we cannot even begin to wrap our heads around. It's not at all about how hearing from the rapist himself might give the rest of humanity some form of closure. It's not about highlighting exactly how deep this misogyny runs, its not about showcasing that, so we can be jolted into action...yes, I am sure you take issue with the fact that this guy was allowed to speak, and not because you think it reflects badly on the rest of the country. Well guess what, it will reflect badly, because there is a problem. And you separate yourself from that by being on the right side of this, by standing up for freedom of speech, by showing solidarity with victims of such crimes and by asking for their stories to be told...by demanding answers from the perpetrators, by making them look us in the eye, by shaming them. 

2) Other rapists will get ideas - This comes up in reference to the rapist saying that hanging him will only encourage future rapists to kill their victims to avoid being caught. Really now? By this logic we should not show anything bad or disturbing on the media, because it could give bad people 'ideas'. We should never report news about the atrocities that ISIS commits, because maybe some homophobe will try to throw a guy off a building? So lets just cancel the news? Or maybe even thrillers, serial killer movies, because other potential killers can get ideas. 

3) It will upset the masses - It will, and it should. Because something has got to change. But we should expect enough from humanity to know that masses can't be turned into deranged lynch mobs by simply watching a film. This is the same 'Oh lets blame the school shootings on music or video games' bs. People don't just 'turn' from watching a movie or playing a game. They may be desensitized over the long term, but that is a separate blogpost in itself, and desensitization is not the same as mob violence. There was a recent lynch mob incident in the Indian Nagaland state, that some are using to make their point about the documentary being 'upsetting'. But there are details surfacing that connect the incident with underlying ethnic tensions. The lynched man was a rape suspect, yes. Was the documentary to blame for this? I don't think so. 

Mohammed cartoons also upset people, some of which are 'upset' enough to go on mass killing sprees...but does that mean we stop free speech? Should we stop expression or should we expect people to be responsible for their actions?

My children's book, My Chacha is Gay, which promotes love and equality for everyone also upset people enough for them to gather on a radio show and rant about it. Should I not have written it? Should we not move ahead as a people, because some *might* be offended? 

4) This is colonialist mentality, how can a white British woman say this about us - Lighten up. Some problems are visible from space. She did not attempt to portray Indians as savages, she had a range of socio-economic representations of 'Indian' (could have been better of course, always can). Again - this reminds me of the Islam apologist reasoning that 'white men' should not critique Islam. Being of a certain background does not invalidate the critique. It stands, regardless of pigmentation. It may give her certain privileges, sure. But that would only translate to Jyoti's story getting more attention. 


Eye-roll at the platform excuse. But yes she could have been more sensitive in her choice of words, especially given the history of the British and Indians. Still doesn't invalidate content of the film and the important discussions it has started globally. Every society has its issues and when those issues are highlighted, its not hard to see it as a 'sick' society. Outsider critiques are harder to swallow, thats what this is about. Image from indiatvnews.com

5) She hasn't shown the positive side - Oh yes she has. You might have missed it whilst being upset at the 'negative portrayal'. But it was the same documentary that also showed the raw anger of the Indian people, the protests and the large crowds of people pouring into the streets, demanding change. One side of India I saw in this documentary, was the compassionate, powerful, emotional side. The feminist side, demanding rights and better treatment. And really, a documentary can't take up a topic and just speak about it? Why does she *need* to show the positive side of India in the same breath as the misogynistic side? She is not claiming or framing the film so people assume ALL Indians are rapists. If they do so, the fault lies with them, not the film. 



When VICE made a documentary about ISIS, I don't recall many people screaming about how they didn't show the positive side of Islam. Because it was a documentary about ISIS specifically. Not the whole of Islam. Similarly, this was a documentary about *one* specific case, and rape culture in India, not a documentary about India in general. 


6) But there is rape culture in the West too - Yes, yes there is. And do you know how many talk shows, documentaries, radio shows, podcasts are created to point that shit out? There is all sorts of awful stuff happening in the West. The CIA torture report came from here too, and most rational people joined the rest of the world in being appalled and disgusted. They shared it and talked about how awful it was. Not many were defensively pointing the finger at others, saying, "But mistreatment of people happens elsewhere too." 

Rise above this stuff by owning it. If there is a problem in (y)our culture, religion, country, own it. Don't deflect. How petty do you think it makes Indians look when they instinctively point the finger elsewhere. Or try to show higher rape stats from another country....do you think that absolves India of the problem? Another thing to keep in mind here is how inaccurate rape statistics in India might be because of shame and stigma, because of marital rape not fully being acknowledged. 

7) Patriarchal Title - The film was about a particular case and involved speaking with the victims parents. The title could be alluding to that parent-daughter relationship. I understand the issues some have surrounding it, but the important conversations it has started on a global scale certainly outweigh any slight 'problematicness' with the title. Keep your eye on the bigger picture SJWs. Sometimes feminism goes off into the nitpicky deep-end. And I have no issues saying that that's when I have to disassociate. That is not my brand of feminism. 

8) White saviour doesn't get to tell us how bad we are - Ok so who's stopping South Asians from making such movies? Everyone knows how many movies are made in India all the fucking time, why haven't more brown folk done this type of film yet? This case was pivotal. If we don't do it ourselves and we don't want anyone else to do it, thats just a bunch of inaction. Does no one any good. I'd rather have someone come in with all their privilege and major TV network backing, celebrity endorsement to help me tell a story I think needs to get out there. I don't care what colour their skin is. See number 4. I would definitely have an issue if no one bothered to speak to Indians regarding this story, but it was mostly Indians doing the talking. 

9) This filmmaker paid the rapist - If this is indeed true, it's messed up. I would never want to do anything to benefit a rapist, let alone provide him with financial gain. The payment allegation should be investigated, and the filmmakers should be dealt with by their employers, regarding the unethical behaviour. The documentary may rightfully lose credibility in this case. 

10) Paints all Indians with a broad brush, increases bigotry - Like I said in 4. there is a range of different kinds of Indians spoken to throughout the documentary. Not sure why people fail to see the positives. Also the people shouting the loudest about this are those who often don't shy away from painting Muslims with a broad brush. Can't have it both ways, sorry. 

Today I am constantly being pointed to a case where an Indian student was denied an internship by a professor in Germany, because of 'the rape problem in India'  as some sort of proof that this documentary is to blame - Its an awful situation, no doubt, but the problem lies with the professor, not the documentary. People have ripped hijabs off of innocent Muslim women on buses, my heart breaks to hear of such bigotry. But bigots should not scare us into silence. There are problems in Islam, there are problems in Pakistan, and there are problems in India. Just because some assholes will use these issues to generalize all Pakistanis, Muslims or Indians, doesn't mean we remain silent on injustices. This kind of defensiveness only perpetuates the same cycle.

11) Portrays all Indian men as rapists - I don't even know what to say here. Sigh. Do you also complain that speaking about terrorism on the news portrays all Muslims as terrorists? I mean just because some people will inevitably use valid critique to fuel their bigotry, doesn't mean we stop critiquing. All Indian men are not rapists and all Pakistanis are not terrorists. Only an idiot would think so. 

12) Why only this case? why not show a variety of cases? - See 5. - Also, subjects of art, films, songs are dependent on the creator, and by creating things, people do not automatically take on the responsibility of showcasing all humanity in one space. Not only is that an unfair ask, but sometimes impossible, depending on time limits, resources, etc. I am writing this article about one film, but there are so many other films in India - why not showcase some more? This film was about one case, and why not? 

This reasoning in particular is similar to the Pakistani 'Why should Malala be the one to get the spotlight, what about the other girls? Why did Malala win the nobel, why not so and so. Well, because it just happened to be Malala's case that turned the tide. Deal with it. 

13) Her Father is against the film and the name being released - In the documentary itself I heard him say he is happy to release her name to the public because they are proud of her life, to show that she has not brought 'dishonour' to her family. But I am hearing reports of him saying otherwise in the news. Not sure whats going on there, but I will lean towards what I heard him say on camera myself. If it is later proven that he was coerced to release the name or it was done so without his permission, then of course the entire documentary needs to be re-evaluated because it was created on exploiting the victim's family. But I see no real evidence of that, they seem comfortable on camera and proclaim that they are proud of their daughter, have no reason to hide her name. 

14) Sensationalization - Remember we are watching something created for mainstream TV. It will be packaged in a certain way, maybe some responses will be rehearsed or scripted. Before anyone goes on camera, I could see why they'd want to rehearse what they'd say. And that's not to say that it 'sensationalizes' anything. I saw no unnecessary exaggeration of the rape problem that India has. If you think its sensationalistic to showcase the issue, then you are in fact part of the problem. There is a real problem, it is widespread. If you deny that and call it an 'exaggeration' you are doing a great injustice to all those women who suffer every single day under patriarchal South Asian culture. Do not minimize it, by writing it off as sensationalism. Is there room for more 'nuance' - yes, there always is. But think back to your critique of Pakistan, dear defensive Indians, are you also worried about nuance then? 

---

Maybe it's because I myself push boundaries in my work, which undoubtedly results in people being offended, that I take people's objection to expression pretty seriously. You can absolutely dislike the film, and not watch it. But if you are supportive of the ban...you too are the issue. Just now, as I write this I am informed that people are being arrested for having large scale private showings of the documentary. This kind of attempt at silencing will certainly not achieve what it is looking to achieve. 

For a couple of days now I have just been absorbing as much information on this subject as possible. Trying to look at it from every angle. Reading a variety of views, speaking to several people with varied opinions. Here are some quotes from some wonderful Indians (and one Pakistani) that have been kind enough to share their thoughts with me:


B

Please come to India and you will see patriarchy in it's worst form. 
-An Indian woman.

***


Sahil

The same type of resentment was seen when slumdog millionaire was made and people said it was in a bad light. It is hard to change people's mentality in India. Yes this case has opened up discussions in India but how much will change time will tell. Women are killed in fetus here mostly in North India. The sex ratio in punjab and haryana is the lowest and people see daughter as a baggage to be married. The rich and poor think like same and even ultra intelligent people want dowry. There is no point to have a optimism bias for India coz things are pretty bad.

***

Akshay

Before I begin, I’d like to categorically state that I’m vehemently against the ban of this documentary. It had the right intentions and I strongly encourage everybody to watch it.

That said, I am slightly annoyed with some aspects of the documentary, primary of which, is the sensationalism with which the rapist’s opinion was portrayed. I feel they should have played up the opinion of social workers and government officials who deal with issues like sexism and misogyny on a daily basis, rather than give airtime to the rapists and their defense lawyers who obviously have vested interest in portraying the the rapist’s ‘innocence’.


The reason is that, when the filmmaker’s intention is to shed light on the deep rooted misogyny and sexism (which certainly exists!) in the Indian society, the opinion of the people that work to fix it has a greater merit than the opinion of a sex-offender and if they wanted to understand the mindset of the rapist, they’d be better-of analysing the social circumstances from which he came from. 

To be fair to the filmmaker, she did do the latter, but my point being, she could have done away with the rapist’s monologue, like the part at the end where he has the audacity to claim that hanging him will be detrimental to the cause and that we had ‘unnecessarily’ made a ‘big deal’ out of this issue. I don’t want him or anybody that thinks like him to get an inkling of an idea that what they say matters.   

***

Ken

I am glad that this documentary got banned. I am upset that a rape victim paid a monster Rs. 40,000 to be interviewed. I am upset that foreigners will use this documentary to paint India with a new brush. This documentary will add to the stereotype about India, as if snake charmers and yoga wasn't bad enough. This documentary didn't feel like it was about the rape problem in India as much as it was about sensationalizing a horrible incident. 

That being said, the reason I am glad this documentary is banned is because banning it only brought it out further into the spotlight. The documentary brought out many truths. A good percentage of men in India are backward thinking and treat women like they are below them. A good percentage feel like they are entitled to a woman's body. It also shows how the system tried a young man only a few months away from turning 18, as a minor, even though he was just as involved as the others. It shows that there are problems in the system that need to be addressed. All our women are India's daughters and I think other rape cases should have been put into the focus as well. Women who have to live with the scar of being raped and a society that wont stop reminding them as if it is their fault, should have gotten the spotlight as well.

My biggest fear however, is that the documentary will incite people into taking justice into their own hands. Law needs to address rape cases faster and the mindset of the people need to change. The fact that this rape problem is being discussed and tackled shows that Indians are democratic and progressive and I hope that women are treated better in the Indian society in the near future.

***

Aindrila

The documentary according to me, was quiet poorly made. I feel the panel of 'experts' could have been a lot better. They missed out a lot of nuances and there was this icky feeling when I was watching it. Kind of reminded me of 'Slumdog Millionaire'.

The biggest issue I had with the documentary was the name 'India's daughter'. This idea of conditional respectability that is attached to women's relationships with men- in the form of mother, daughter, wife , sister etc is problematic. This divides women into two sections- the respectable women who deserve protection (which in itself is problematic as it feeds into a paternalistic attitude in society) and the 'other' women-the ones who can be violated. (The Mother-Whore dichotomy u see)

I still do not condone the banning of the documentary. That is problematic too.

***


Nirmalya 

(writer at India.com, an excerpt taken from his piece on the film)


Why are we offended? Are we scared of seeing exactly how similar the rapist’s views are to those of politicians and a lot of regular people in our society?
Or is it because we don’t want the Western world to realise just how deeply patriarchal and parochial some Indian citizens can be? Lest we forget, we live in a land where marital rape is still legal and child marriage is fine (if the bride’s Muslim). There was a huge outcry when Slumdog Millionaire came out and the outrage was led by Amitabh Bachchan who took offense to Danny Boyle’s portrayal of slums in India. That is indeed the general Indian way of dealing with things – stay away from confrontation, pretend it doesn’t exist and that’s very, very harmful.

***
Saima
(blogger at Pakistan's The Nation, an excerpt taken from her piece on the film)

India and Pakistan are very similar to each other in one glaring way (among others): misogyny is entrenched in the mindsets of the population of both countries. This is obvious not only in the number of violent acts against women but also in the way efforts are made to keep these acts under the rug.

***

These are tough issues to wade through and untangle, between the rape apologists, the excuse makers, the generally defensive nationalists, the people with double standards, the Social Justice Warriors, those who fail to see the larger picture and the conversation this film has started on a global scale - I can completely understand why some would have conflicted views on this.

The opinions I have posted above are a range of what I have encountered (minus the crazies trying to tell me that Patriarchy is actually a good thing). They come from people I respect, and perhaps don't fully agree with regarding this. And thats ok. If only all of us could learn that we can disagree and still respect one another. I don't think any of the above people support the ban, thankfully.

Is that to say there is no room for improvement in this film? Of course not. Anything can improve, and there may be small issues here and there.

I am weary from trying to sort through my complex feelings about this and arranging them in a semi coherent  manner, and I'm sure you're weary from reading this ultra lengthy blogpost. Thank you so much for taking the time to read.

The one thing I hope most people take away from this is that because the film has the whole world talking about rape culture, it has undoubtedly done more good than harm.

I spend a lot of time and effort highlighting issues in my own culture, I do expect others who are happy to hear my critiques about Pakistan/Islam to extend the same honesty and critical eye when examining their own culture.

----

A huge thanks to my patrons: Mb Cunny, Lisa Fontaine, Ali Sajid Imami, Humanist Agressor, Jesus&Mo, Pastafarian Woman, Alexander, Alberto, Know the Question and Yasmien - your support means a lot and will help me allocate more time towards writing and drawing!

You too can support my work here ! 

No comments:

Post a Comment