Sunday, December 10, 2017
TV and Media

Student's horrific rape inspires 'India's Daughter' documentary

LOS ANGELES — In December 2012, a 23-year-old medical student on the brink of a new life went to a movie with a friend. Within two weeks, she was dead of horrific injuries she suffered that night in a gang rape.

The tragedy is given careful and wrenching examination in India's Daughter, a potent documentary that airs p.m. Monday on PBS that's unsparing in detailing both Jyoti Singh's assault and the corrosive social and cultural attitudes that, as filmmaker Leslee Udwin sees it, share culpability with her attackers.

"They are not monsters, they are human," she said. "They've been programmed by what they've seen around them, what they've been told a good girl is, what manhood is. … They are not rotten apples in a barrel — the barrel itself is rotten."

It was the Indian public's outburst of anger over the attack, with Singh made an immediate symbol of the nation's too-often unanswered violence against women, that propelled TV and movie producer Udwin to take on her first documentary.

"I saw something utterly unique take place, and that was the response to the rape. As a rape victim, at age 18, I took it personally," said Udwin, who lives in Denmark. "I thought, 'How extraordinary that the world has not yet done this, has not yet shown a mobilization for something that is so prevalent in our world, so iniquitous and so completely abandoned by meaningful focus.' "

Her film, which has aired to acclaim in a number of countries, was banned from Indian TV in the interest of maintaining public order, according to authorities there.

"Making this documentary was my way of joining the protest, my way of holding a megaphone to those beautiful voices that I was so awe-struck by," Udwin said.

India's Daughter"is, as well, a sadly tender record of one life lost, that of a bright, beloved daughter.

On the day of the attack, a Sunday, Jyoti Singh was home from school with her studies just completed and an internship awaiting her. She was upbeat as she assured her parents that better times were ahead for her working-class family that had struggled to pay for her education.

"'Mum, dad, now you don't have to worry any more,'" her mother recounts her saying. "Your little girl is a doctor. Now everything will be fine."

That evening, Singh and a male friend went to see Life of Pi at a New Delhi mall and then boarded a private bus about 8 p.m. to go home, unaware it was filled with joy-riding men. They beat her and her companion, and then took turns raping Singh for hours as the bus moved through the capital city's streets.

Finally, the attackers shoved an iron rod into her body and threw their naked victims on to a road. Doctors operated repeatedly but couldn't repair Singh's massive internal damage and brain and other injuries.

Her last words, as recalled by her mother: "Sorry, Mummy. I gave you so much trouble. I am sorry."

There are no photos or video of Singh in the documentary. Her parents wanted her name to be known, despite India's ban on identifying rape victims, but have kept her image to themselves, with a single portrait hanging in their home, Udwin said.

But the film repeatedly shows viewers the entrenched attitudes that place responsibility for sexual violence squarely on its female victims, including a defense attorney who compares women to a gem that, if put on the street, "certainly the dog" will seize.

In a jailhouse interview, one of Singh's convicted attackers gets his chance to be heard.

"A decent girl won't roam around at 9 o'clock at night. A girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy," Mukesh Singh says. "Housework and housekeeping is for girls, not roaming in discos and bars at night doing wrong things, wearing wrong clothes."

Appeals of the death sentence handed down against him and three others in the case are pending in India's Supreme Court.

Susan Sarandon, among the film's executive producers, says other countries including the United States aren't off the hook.

"What happened in India is so dramatic and such a loss and so horrifying, but it's happening all over," the Oscar-winning actor and activist said, then predicted optimistically that "the next century is going to be all about women and violence, and women in positions of power."

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