How India's ban on rape film backfired

Composite of Delhi Police hand out photos of Vinay Sharma , Pawan Gupta, Mukesh Singh, Akshay Thakur convicted for the notorious December 2012 gang rape and murder of a female student on a bus in the Indian capital, Delhi. Image copyright delhi police
Image caption Mukesh Singh (second from right) and his fellow rapists are appealing against their sentences

Why did the Indian government ban the BBC rape documentary?

That's a question India's leaders must be asking themselves a week on from the ban.

If the idea was to stop people talking about the film, it has backfired in a big way.

India's Daughter has been front page news here in India every day since the ban was imposed late on Tuesday last week.

It has been trending on social media and has been the subject of characteristically vigorous debate on India's array of current affairs chat shows, with pundits jabbing angry fingers at each other into the night.

So why did the government do it?

There is certainly a political component to the ban. Permission for the interview was granted under the previous Congress-led government. The ruling BJP will have wanted to distance itself from that decision.


It also wanted to be seen to be acting swiftly as controversy around the film blew up.

Home Minister Rajnath Singh said last Wednesday that the entire nation was "ashamed" by Mukesh Singh's words.

And the decision to ban the film was widely supported initially.

In the first couple of days after the ban even some leading Indian feminists supported it, arguing that the rapist should not be given a platform to express his repellent views.

Since then support has weakened and the consensus now, certainly in India's newspapers, seems to be that the ban is misguided.

That's because many of the arguments put forward to justify the ban have been called into question.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Leslee Udwin says there was no deception or breach of agreement on her part

The initial grounds for the ban were that broadcast of the film - or more precisely the interview with one of the men convicted of the savage rape and murder of a young Indian woman on a Delhi bus - could threaten public order.

The comments the rapist makes are certainly incendiary. Mukesh Singh appears to show no remorse for his crime and seems to be suggesting that, by fighting back, his victim was responsible for her own murder.

Some commentators have suggested that there is a link between elevated tensions around the issue of rape and the lynching of a rape suspect in the state of Nagaland in the north east of India.

It is a controversial claim. Vigilante justice is not uncommon in India, particularly over emotive crimes like rape.

And Nagaland notwithstanding, there hasn't been any significant disorder, despite the huge controversy around the film. Certainly nothing like the huge protest movement that grew up in the days after the original attack back in December 2012.

'Perverted views'

Another big area of debate has been whether the filmmakers got proper permission to film in Tihar, the prison where Singh is being held.

The director, Leslee Udwin, released her correspondence with the prison authorities to the media over the weekend. She says it supports her claim that there was no deception or breach of agreement on her part.

Then there was the claim that broadcasting the interview could prejudice future legal action, in particular the rapist's appeal against his death sentence in the Supreme Court.

That's been roundly rejected by the Editors Guild of India. It said that it was "an insult" to the highest court in India to suggest that airing the convict's "perverted views" would interfere with the course of justice.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Some activists say the rapists should have fast-track executions

So the Indian government is now in the uncomfortable position of having to defend an increasingly unpopular ban.

A senior government minister, M Venkaiah Naidu, described the documentary as "a conspiracy to defame India".

On that basis the ban was designed to protect the good name of India in the world.

But as party chiefs survey the headlines around the globe they would be hard pressed not to conclude that banning India's Daughter has been far more damaging to India's reputation abroad than an open discussion of the issues raised by the film would ever have been.

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