The Indian government tried a range of measures to suppress an embarrassing documentary broadcast by the BBC last night about the gang-rape and murder of a young girl in Delhi.
British filmmaker Leslee Udwin’s India’s Daughter was due to be shown in the UK, Canada, Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden and India itself to mark International Women’s Day on Sunday.
But after the Indian government obtained a court order banning the screening – and wrote to the BBC calling for the film not to be broadcast or posted online anywhere in the world – the BBC brought it forward to air on Wednesday night. In a letter written by the BBC’s director of TV Danny Cohen and obtained by The Independent, the broadcaster said it “appreciates [the government’s] concern” but said that the film represents “an important account of an event that galvanised Indian opinion to ensure such tragedies are not repeated”.
In the film Mukesh Singh, who was among four men convicted and sentenced to death for the 2012 rape and murder, said “a girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy”.
He added: “A decent girl won't roam around at 9 o'clock at night. ... Housework and housekeeping is for girls, not roaming in discos and bars at night doing wrong things, wearing wrong clothes.”
But the convicted man’s comments are not the only ones to shock in the documentary.
AP Singh, a defence lawyer in the case, is shown saying: “If my daughter or sister engaged in pre-marital activities and disgraced herself and allowed herself to lose face and character by doing such things, I would most certainly take this sort of sister or daughter to my farmhouse, and in front of my entire family, I would put petrol on her and set her alight.”
Asked at a later point in the film if he stands by those comments, he replies that he does.
The Independent understands that the Indian government first tried to block the documentary when it became aware of the incendiary comments that would be aired, initially suggesting that Udwin, the director, had breached the terms of her agreement with prison officials.
When that failed and Udwin published the letters of permission on the website of Indian broadcaster NDTV, the government accused the BBC of showing content that violates the dignity of women and conducting an interview with a convict for commercial use.
Earlier on Thursday, Indian Ministry of Information and Broadcasting officials successfully ordered the removal of a number of versions of the video from YouTube – which is widely accessible in India.
With the four men’s appeals against their death sentences still pending in the Supreme Court, lawyer Indira Jaising told The Times of India broadcasting the documentary “would amount to gross contempt of court”.
But that argument does not apply to the BBC 4 showing which, licensed only for British viewers, cannot be watched on iPlayer by anyone who is geo-tagged as being outside the UK.
On Wednesday, Delhi police said it feared that the film's screening could “create a situation of tension and fear amongst women in the society” and that a ban on the documentary was required “in the interest of justice and maintenance of public order”.
In his letter to minister Rakesh Singh, Cohen said that the BBC was “satisfied with the editorial standards of the film” and adds: “We do not feel the film as currently edited could ever be construed as derogatory to women or an affront to their dignity.”
Mr Singh has not given up, however, saying that the Indian government will pursue action against the BBC and that “all options are open” for it to do so.
“We had asked to not release the documentary, but BBC still released it,” he said. “We will investigate and the Ministry of Home Affairs will take action accordingly.”
Activists and politicians have roundly criticised the ban on the film, saying that Mukesh Singh's comments only reflect a larger disrespect for women in Indian society that the government is trying to distract from.
“The real ‘embarrassment’ India needs to confront is its own horrific reality... and the shame that goes with it. Not a bold documentary,” columnist Shobhaa De wrote in a recent article published on the NDTV news station website.
“I am very shocked at the decision to ban the video. Rapes happen every single day and this has to be exposed. The documentary didn't defend the rape. In fact it showed the mindset of the rapist,” Congress party’s Priya Dutt said.
In a statement, YouTube owner Google told Buzzfeed India: “While we believe that access to information is the foundation of a free society, and that services like YouTube help people express themselves and share different points of view, we continue to remove content that is illegal or violates our community guidelines, once notified.”
Danny Cohen’s full letter on Wednesday to the Indian government is reproduced below:
Dear Sh. Rakesh Singh,
Thank you for your letter of today. We appreciate your concern but we feel India’s Daughter has a strong public interest in raising awareness of a global problem and the BBC is satisfied with the editorial standards of the film. We have also received assurances from the production company that they gained access through the proper channels in order to conduct what was an extensive and considered interview.
The remarks of the perpetrator are set among a number of other views, including those of the parents, ex-or present members of the judiciary, witnesses and personal testimonies. The purpose of including the interview with the perpetrator was to gain an insight into the mind-set of a rapist with a view to understanding the wider problem of rape and not just in India
We do not feel the film as currently edited could ever be construed as derogatory to women or an affront to their dignity. Indeed, it highlights the challenges women in India face today.
It should be noted, although the BBC is happy to take your views into consideration, we are not planning to transmit the film in any territory which lies under Indian legal jurisdiction.
We think the film is an important account of an event that galvanized Indian opinion to ensure such tragedies are not repeated. Accordingly, after lengthy and careful consideration we have decided to show India’s Daughter on BBC FOUR in the UK at 22:00 tonight.
Director, BBC Television
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