I cried when I watched this documentary.
I did not cry because I was shocked by what the rapists or their lawyers said or from shame, based on their views about women (they did not say anything India and the world does not already know), but because of the dignity and grace of Nirbhaya’s parents and because of the glimpse we get of a truly amazing young woman, who would have made us all proud. The BBC was wrong to market it in the way they did; they decided, like most media institutions today, to pursue a path of cheap publicity to gain views through sensationalism and controversy by focusing on the rapists. This film is not about the rapists.
I cannot even begin to fathom the enormity of her parents’ loss or the depth of their suffering. Yet they have presented themselves with an élan and dignity rarely shown by world leaders or royalty. Their wisdom, stoic demeanour and perspective prove once more that being rich or poor has nothing to do with human dignity and grace. I know a lot of wealthy and well-educated people who have far more medieval and regressive attitudes toward girls. Nirbhaya’s father and mother not only celebrated the birth of their daughter with the same fanfare reserved for boys, but also gave her everything they would have given a boy.
Unlike most of us in India, they realised that their child’s happiness had little to do with what they might want for her or what our society’s minimal and ambitionless expectations are. They decided that the greatest gift they could give her was to nurture the independent spirit with which she was born, and do everything in their power and limited means to help her realise her dreams; not their dreams. So when she asked them to invest the money her father was saving for her marriage into her education, they not only obliged but also sold their ancestral property to help.
Instead of forcing their child down a path of marriage and throttling her ambitions, they lauded and supported her choices. It seems like they gave her a strong value system, taught her to differentiate right from wrong, instilled principles and then let her fly. They allowed her to make her own choices and mistakes, but were there to help and support when she asked for it. I think many parents today feel that they need to protect their children from the world, when they really need to give them the values and skills that will help them take on and face the world.
I was also moved by a story about a boy who tried to steal Nirbhaya’s purse. A policeman caught the boy and started to beat him until she intervened and asked the cop to stop. She told him that beating the child would not help him learn his mistake. She took the boy aside and asked him why he tried to steal her purse. He told her that, like her, he too wanted nice clothes, shoes and to be able to eat hamburgers. She bought the boy everything he asked for but also made him promise never to steal again. Wow. Her actions are again a testament to how her parents brought her up. And it makes me think about how we are busy building statues for Mayawati and temples for Modi – boy, do we have our priorities all wrong.
Yes, the film also interviews one of the rapists and the defence lawyers. But it neither glorifies rape nor gives these men a platform for self-aggrandisement; in fact, it left me feeling the opposite. I felt sorry for these sad and lost men who are clearly trapped by their small minds and their medieval misogyny. But the thing that struck me most about what the rapists and their lawyers said was that it sounded like the same things our politicians and leaders have been saying for years (See: Why India’s Daughter Holds Mirror to our Society”); their attitudes about women’s place in our society and their indifference towards women was no different. This, I believe is the reason, our leaders have had such a violent, vicious and fearful reaction to this film. They cannot bear to look into this mirror…
The reason I believe that every Indian MUST watch this film is two-fold. One, rape is a global problem, not just an Indian one, and monsters exist in every society. Let’s use this as an opportunity to begin an honest and public debate about our demons. This way we can start to change the attitudes of the next generation of men, empower women with self-worth and give them equal rights from birth. If we refuse to confront the ugly truths behind its underlying causes, we will only ever treat the symptoms; much like our government does with hastily passing new laws banning lingerie on shop mannequins or by banning Uber.
The second reason is to honour the memory of Nirbhaya. She wanted to live; even after everything that happened. Nirbhaya wanted to be a doctor, she called it the most honourable profession – being able to heal people and save lives. Let’s use this as an opportunity to make India a place where a “girl can do anything,” as she used to say.
If we do this together, not only can we create a stronger and more powerful India, but we will honour Nirbhaya’s memory and ensure that she lives forever.