Rape incidents are not new to India but the heinous crime that took place on a moving bus in Delhi on the accursed night of December 16, 2012 changed the way Indians perceive the crime. Not just in India, the incident horrified and unnerved people across the world. At the time when the victim of the gang-rape was fighting for her life, countless prayers by millions across the world were made. She is no more today, but her memories live on.
Braving the cold, millions of students, activists and people from all walks of life filled the streets of Delhi in protest against the incident that had sent chills down their spines. It was unprecedented for a country to witness protests of such magnitude for a rape victim’s plight. People were angry and the government was nervous.
The crime kicked off a debate about women's treatment in the Indian society and led to the introduction of tougher punishments for sexual abuse.
Barred by law from revealing the identity of the victim, the media famously named the victim `Nirbhaya` (fearless).
Two years after the incident, a documentary by a foreign journalist on the incident has stirred up a hornets’ nest when it showed one of the rape accused blaming the victim for the incident. The BBC4 film by Leslee Udwin has been banned in India but premiered in the UK.
In an exclusive interview with Kamna Arora of Zee Media Corp, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader and Member of Parliament Meenakshi Lekhi says the documentary mocks at India’s judicial and police system.
Kamna: Why does the government think that the Nirbhaya documentary should not be telecast in India?
Meenakshi Lekhi: It is not about telecast of documentary or anything. It is about the Indian laws which had been completely dissipated. A particular undertaking was given to the government that it is for social purpose. However, commercial capital is sought to be recovered from this. The name of the victim cannot be disclosed as per Indian laws, but the identity has been revealed in the documentary. Voyeurism is an offence under the IPC. The complete detailing of what the culprit did with the victim’s body falls under voyeurism. And above everything, an unedited version of this particular documentary was required to be handed over to the Government of India, which was not done. The matter is before a court. A restrain order was given by the court. If there is any other side to the story, that should have been brought before the court. Without obeying that, somebody chooses to go ahead and do it shows a contempt towards my society, calls it a sick society, calls my legal system and everything else as incorrect. I don’t think I have any business to stand by such a person or protect that person.
Secondly, when such things are discussed, they forget the truth and reality of their own system and realities which confront women all across the world. A few hundred kids had been raped in Rotherham; there was a man called Jimmy Savile, a former BBC employee, who was found to have had sex with carcass. You did not find any of these stories worth reporting and you flew all the way from London to Delhi to do a story and did not comply with the provisions and sensitivities of that particular country.
That is the stand of the government but, personally I feel, on Women’s Day, the focus has got shifted. The focus should be the plight of women across the world as rape victims; number of rapes is on rise, teenage boys are getting involved in such crimes. How kids are shooting people in the US, their involvement in heinous crimes - this is what the world needs to be worried about. But unfortunately, that is not the frame. The frame has to be the plight of women across the world.
Kamna: Some opine that government officials have not seen the film and they banned it in the aftermath of initial expression of outrage and that they have failed to understand the message behind the documentary.
Meenakshi Lekhi: Absolutely incorrect. The film was banned by the court earlier because there was a violation of undertaking. As per the undertaking, the lady concerned (I don’t have to say much about her journalistic credentials) refused to part with the coverage, which was in violation of the terms under which permission was given. Because she violated the terms, the court restrained her. Because there was a restrain, people in Parliament took up the subject. And most importantly, inside Parliament, people from the Congress party objected as they were the ones who demanded the ban. And they were the ones who are speaking the contrary language outside. And if not directly, then through their supporters.
Kamna: Have you seen the documentary?
Meenakshi Lekhi: No, I cannot. I hold the journalistic acumen and morality of this person in contempt…I mean I am reciprocating the contempt they have shown towards my legal system, my polity. So I hold them in equal contempt. It is not worth watching because it is a biased kind of reporting where a person travels from across seven seas to shoot and forgets the incidents that take place 50 metres away from her own house. So, I reciprocate same feelings and it will be like watching a plagiarised video or a CD or a film because if you talk about morals and ethics, law of the land should be followed. You cannot violate the terms on which permission was given to you.
Kamna: As per the information available in public domain, the documentary shows one of the rape accused blaming the victim for the incident. Amidst this uproar over the ban, there are voices in the society which want the documentary to be shown to the public as most of the Indian males think like the rape accused.
Meenakshi Lekhi: No. I don’t think that people who say 80 percent of Indian males think like the accused are right. Had 80 percent males been thinking like this, 30-40 percent of females would have been raped in India. Look at the figure in the UK. One-third of men in the UK think that women are responsible for rape incidents. So, is this very BBC going to say that the British society is a sick society? Do all British men consider women as commodity? That is not so. Rapists, whether in India or in London or in New York or in Bogota, think alike. They are no different. Had he (rape accused) said something else, it would have been surprising for me. And then I feel, this media would have run a story that look, he is remorseful, why are they giving him death penalty.
They have a quest and the quest is to find fault with my system. And this is my problem. In this entire quest, their own women in their own countries are suffering. At the end of the day, rape is violence towards a gender and that violence needs to be fought by the society. Now the focus deviates from that to somewhere else, which is incorrect and should not happen.
Kamna: People have high hopes from the Narendra Modi government. The PM proudly talks about women empowerment too. However, recent reports said the Modi government has downsized its first large-scale initiative for women by trimming the plan to set up a rape crisis centre in each district. Union Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi had suggested 660 'Nirbhaya Centres' but now, there will be just 36.
Meenakshi Lekhi: It should not be worrisome. The government should begin working by starting rape crisis centres in a year. Only announcement will not ensure justice to women. Justice will be done by working on the ground. I want to tell people of this country and the world that the Indian society, which they harm incessantly, to understand its strength. When the gang-rape took place, millions of people across the country not only gathered at the India Gate but also in small cities and villages. That is because our society wants to root out this problem and does not stand by it. At that time, we were in the Opposition and pushed the ruling government to amend the law. I was a BJP member at that time too and worked for drafting the letter at that time after which the Parliament unitedly amended the law pertaining to rape. We all wanted to better the condition of women and this is the strength of my society. We all united and fought against ill practices in the society. Tell me one case in the whole world after which people in such large numbers came out, demonstrated for issues related to women's security and brought changes in the society.
One has to trust the Indian laws, Constitution, organisations, police. Police nabbed the right accused, they were then rightly sentenced in court, and Parliament rightly amended the law. In the past also, we brought a provision that only a statement by the rape victim, without any additional witness, is enough to put a man behind the bars. Can you tell me any other country in the world which has similar provisions?
Kamna: Is that not dangerous? I mean women can misuse it.
Meenakshi Lekhi: It is not dangerous. Here, women are given that respect. It is considered that women would not breach trust. Women are more credulous than men in this country. If her statement stands the scrutiny of cross-examination, then her statement is enough without medical evidence in case she reports the incident after three weeks or three months. But she has to stand by what led to the delay in her reporting the incident.
Kamna: Do you think the documentary telecast by the BBC aims at denting India’s image?
Meenakshi Lekhi: I just have one small point to make. Are such incidents not taking place in other countries? In fact, more incidents of such types take place elsewhere too. Do they know what is happening even in their neighbourhood? Girls as young as eight, ten or 12-year-old are getting raped; young students are involved in shooting incidents in schools, and there is no reporting of such incidents. But same is not in case in India. I can term it as globalistaion of our miseries. India has a population of 1.25 billion people and there will be some with ill mindset. And those “some” become international news and the news of same nature in other countries fails to hog national limelight and remains a local news. This is a matter of concern. I admit that wrong incidents take place in my country. But when that happened, I had shown my strength to change it. Can they give an example when their countrymen gathered to protest against the miseries and helped bring change? You are not ensuring justice to women in your neighbourhood but you are coming to India to impart justice to women here by calling every Indian male a rapist. This is not justice. My society is an enlightened one. Not every male is a predator here.
Kamna: Why do you think they are targeting India?
Meenakshi Lekhi: I really don’t know, I think it is the mindset. I won’t say they are doing it deliberately. That’s precisely my question, my outlook to the whole thing is that they just don’t understand any other way. I don’t think they have read the figures. It’s like wearing Che Guevara T-shirts. They don’t know what the guy stood for, what was his philosophy, who he is - neither the buyer, nor the seller, not the producer. It is something like that. It is fashionable to pelt stones, as in their eyes, India is still a third world country. Had they not thought this, they would not have done it. Because if somebody is an academic, and is seriously researching on issue of rape and victimhood of women would understand that in their western world itself, the plight of women is far worse. Here at least, neighbours and others will gather at the India Gate and protest. There you won’t find even 50 people to support you. You may be 90 years old, may be robbed and standing alone, nobody will be there to support you. This is about attitude and this is what a person like me is trying to change.
Kamna: What about lowering age of juveniles?
Meenakshi Lekhi: I am in favour. If a juvenile is fit enough to commit a crime of this nature, he should be punished accordingly. Thank God, the accused in the documentary is not showing any remorse. Had he been remorseful, these very people would have said that don't give him death penalty because he is guilty of what he has done. For juvenile, these very groups would stand with the boy and say that don't amend the law. And say that India is a horrible country where they punish juveniles. First, they profile the juvenile but then they don't study that juveniles across the world are indulging in such kind of crimes. The reason could be over-exposure to the media, and responsible people need to curb the kind of exposure young minds are getting. They would not work on the subject and use every opportunity to badger India.