Was BBC right in telecasting interview with rapist

S.Nagesh Kumar

HYDERABAD:  A storm is raging over the BBC telecasting India’s Daughter  which has an interview with Mukesh Singh, one of the six men who brutally-gang raped and killed a 23-year-old paramedic in a moving bus in New Delhi in December 2012.

Viewing this as brazen defiance of a court order prohibiting the telecast, the Home Ministry is mulling action against the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) for airing the documentary in the UK and other countries and Wednesday night.  The 57-year-old British filmmaker Leslie Udwin is likely to be questioned by police over how she obtained permissions to interview a man on the death row in Tihar jail.

As the documentary has gone viral over the social media, the Home Ministry has sent copies of the court order to all social media sites and asked them to remove links wherever they have been shared. They were warned of being blocked for non-compliance.

Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh said, “we had asked them to not release the documentary, but the BBC still released it. We will investigate and the MHA will take action as conditions have been breached.”

BBC advanced date of telecast by four days

The documentary was to have been telecast on March 8 which is International Women’s Day but the transmission date was brought forward to Wednesday night given the “intense level of interest”, a BBC statement said justifying its action. The telecast has sparked a massive uproar in Parliament and outside over how permission was granted to interview Mukesh Singh in the high security prison.

 Indian media had largely avoided naming the girl and created a pseudonym, Nirbhaya (fearless). BBC had no such qualms and even interviewed Nirbhaya’s parents which Ms. Udwin cited as justification for telecasting her two-year long project. The girl’s mother came on camera to say that there was no reason for banning the documentary.

The interview caused widespread outrage and horror as Mukesh Singh, one of the four men sentenced to death, showed a horrendous lack of remorse and even blamed the woman for the rape.

Mukesh Singh and five others, including a 17-year-old juvenile, raped the paramedic in turns, beat up her male friend and assaulted her viciously with an iron hook before throwing her out of the bus. Singh was driver of the bus and is appealing against the death sentence claiming he was at the wheel throughout. The rape triggered nation-wide protests.

Mukesh Singh’s statement causes outrage

What shook the collective conscience of the nation once again was Singh’s statement that “a decent girl won’t roam around at nine o’ clock at night. A girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy…. about 20 % per cent of the girls are good”. Worse still, he said, “while being raped she shouldn’t have fought back. She should just be silent and allow the rape. Then they would have dropped her off after ‘doing her’ and only hit the boy”.

His grisly account of the December 16 rape did not end here. He said, “the death penalty will make things even more dangerous for girls. Now when they rape, they won’t leave the girl like we did. They will kill her”. Nirbhaya bravely fought the attackers. Her internal injuries were so grievous that she hovered between life and death for 13 days before giving up finally.  Mukesh Singh’s brother, Ram, was found hanging in his cell a few months after the trial while the juvenile is serving three years in jail.

Udwin justifies interview with Mukesh

Leslie Udwin has no regret whatsoever for making the documentary and the BBC4 channel no remorse for telecasting it. The contention of the Israeli-born film maker is that the ban cannot be justified without viewing the documentary first. “India’s image as a democracy will take a knock in other countries if it bans a film against rape”, she said.

Singh’s interview, she says, gives an insight into the minds of many men, a view echoed by hundreds of people opposed to the ban. Such an expose is essential in a society where a girl child is discriminated against. The birth of a boy is celebrated and sweets distributed whereas a girl’s arrival into this world is unwelcome in many homes. “What is wrong in exposing this mindset”, they ask.

Those opposed to the telecast say the interview glorifies a rapist, lends currency to his warped thinking process and amounts to misusing the freedom of expression guaranteed by the Constitution.

As this debate goes on, it cannot be denied that proscribing a film is self-defeating in this digital era. It will only whip up frenzy and lead to competition for uploading it on YouTube and social media sites. Being a democracy, India can impose restrictions either on films or on social media at its own peril.

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