Dear Leslee Udwin,
The controversial documentary you made has its share of supporters and then there are those that believe that sensationalizing an unfortunate, horrendous incident for viewership is highly insensitive. Yet others who oppose your documentary go even further and think that there’s a larger agenda that is being served through your documentary, namely that of targeting Indian society and painting all Indian men as perverse.
Rape is indeed the most horrendous of crimes and yes sure it, like all other crimes, is based on the mindset of the individual carrying it out. We don’t need an Einstein or a documentary maker to tell us that people with a specific mindset would do something so horrendous and perverse, do we?
If you look at rape statistics across the world like here, you’d see that India doesn’t feature in the top 5 countries of the world for highest rape cases. Instead the countries listed are: Lesotho, Sweden, St Vincent and the Granadines, New Zealand, and Belgium. New Zealand and Belgium must definitely rank pretty much high on the gender sensitivity scale.
Yet another compilation of latest statistics states that:“The countries with highest rape cases are Lesotho (91.6 per 100000), Trinidad & Tobago (58.4 per 100000), Sweden (53.2 per 100000), Korea (33.7 per 100000), New Zealand (30.9 per 100000), United States of America (28.6 per 100000), Belgium (26.3 per 100000), Zimbabwe (25.6 per 100000) and United Kingdom (23.2 per 100000).” (Source: http://www.wonderslist.com/10-shocking-sexual-violence-statistics/) India does not feature on this list at all.
One older compilation like this one does mention India, but apparently the list is based on the assumption that: 1) there is under-reporting, and 2) a rape is reported every 22 minutes. Under-reporting is definitely a likelihood in the Indian context, but given that we are a democracy with free media, such under-reporting would be far lower than in autocratic regimes and in misogynist Islamist nations. Secondly, assuming a rape being reported every 22 minutes is a correct estimate, one must take account of India’s population figure of 1.25 billion before coming up with rankings. Thirdly, do notice that despite this, countries that rank higher than India in this report are Sweden, South Africa, and United States. These 3 countries must definitely rank pretty much high on the gender sensitivity scale. Doesn’t this prove that the “mindset” related to rape doesn’t stem from upbringing and values relating to gender?
The simple truth is that one has perverts and sick minded people in all kinds of societies, cultures, and religions. In our own “intellectual” and so-called liberal circles, we end up finding filthy minded folks like a Tarun Tejpal (an accused in a rape case) and an R.K. Pachauri (who has been named in a case of sexual harassment at work). One can be pretty sure that both these folks were raised in gender sensitive environments by educated parents.
Why does the United States feature high on the list? The answer is because rape is a crime of opportunity. In permissive societies, women are more likely to venture out alone, frequent bars, stay out late. Given the lower population density compared to countries like India, perverts are more likely to find women at secluded spots. These two factors together provide more “opportunities” for sick minded and perverted individuals. That’s why countries like the United States, Sweden, and Belgium feature so high on the list.
So, mindset and opportunity are the 2 key factors to understanding rape. For a comprehensive understanding of mindset, it would have been good if you had also interviewed rapists from developed nations who were raised in countries that rank high on the gender sensitivity index. Having failed to do that and focusing only on India, one can only conclude that perhaps there’s a larger agenda that is being served through your documentary, namely that of targeting Indian society.
There’s one more very important point that I’d like to make. One Rajya Sabha member who vocally supported your documentary is Mr Javed Akhtar. Mr Akhtar spoke eloquently about the perverted mindset of the interviewed rapist, wherein the rapist blamed the rape victim for “inviting it” by the kind of clothes she wore. One can only agree with Mr Javed Akhtar’s view on this. The irony is that the very foundation of Muslim women being made to don the hijab or burkha, is based on this very same mindset. Mr Javed Akhtar, a Muslim himself, has never spoken against the custom of burkha that is rampant amongst Indian Muslims. The reason is obvious. Critiquing Indian (read Hindu) society is safe but pointing out regressive practices within Islam is taboo in our country. The same double-standard reigns supreme when the Censor Board readily agrees to delete scenes from a film when Christians say their sentiments are hurt, but a movie which ridicules Hindu beliefs (PK) is released without any deletions under the name of free speech and creativity.
This brings us to repressed, misogynist, and autocratic societies such as Saudi Arabia. Can you imagine the extent of domestic and sexual violence and abuse that must exist behind closed doors in regimes like these? Wonder whether your research on rape will ever take you to study Islamist societies which are the epitome of gender insensitivity and women’s repression that you allege as true for India.
Having said this, I’d like to add, that you do have an opportunity to prove that you have no agenda of targeting pre-dominantly Hindu India. All you need to do is make your next documentary on violence against women in the context of Islamist regimes such as Saudi Arabia.