The realisation that she had interviewed one of the convicted rapists in the case infuriated several Indian politicians, activists and journalists, leading to a ban on its telecast in the country on International Women’s Day, March 8. But the film was broadcast in the UK and some Western countries over the past week and a large number of Indians watched it on the Internet. As a result, Udwin is being flooded with admiration and outrage in equal measure, including stinging criticism from her former co-producer Anjali Bhushan who was terminated mid-way through the project (Udwin has not commented on Bhushan).
Excerpts from an interview:
Is there truth to the allegation that you did not get your unedited footage cleared by the Tihar Jail authorities as per your agreement with them?
No. Here’s what happened. On December 9 and 10, 2013, we took the entire unedited raw footage before a Tihar committee. The permission letter only allows them to object to footage that could constitute a potential breach of prison security. On Day 1, they viewed every single frame of every single general shot taken at Tihar Jail. The only concern they expressed was that one of the rapists, Vinay Sharma, turned to the camera at one point and spoke to us. He had not signed a consent form so they said we should not use that footage. We have not used it.
The next day, they began viewing the interview with Mukesh [convicted rapist Mukesh Singh]. After watching about one hour out of the almost 16-hour interview, they said, “There’s too much of it. We don’t need to watch all of this. Just send us please a cut-down version.”
In early June 2014, I travelled to Delhi to show Tihar Jail the cut-down footage they had requested, although I had already complied with my permissions by showing them all the unedited raw footage. After emailing the DG, Mrs Mehra, and the law officer, Mr Sunil Kumar, every day for the two weeks I was in Delhi and getting no response, when I had two days left there I mailed them saying, if I do not hear from you by the end of the day with a time fixed for when I can come in, I will have to assume you no longer require to see the footage. Within minutes I got a reply giving me an appointment. When I arrived with my lawyer, two members of the three-member committee had gone missing. Sunil Kumar asked us to return the following day. The next day, they saw the footage and then started saying things like, “What Mukesh says is too negative. It shows India in a bad light.” It was pointed out to them that the permission letter had not granted Tihar editorial control, it only gave them the right to check if any footage breached prison security.
At this point they were basically saying that if we did not hand over the footage we would have breached our permissions. We pointed out that nowhere in the permission letters does it say we have to “hand over” the footage, it says “show”. And that is how it was left. We didn’t hear another word from them.
Did you receive legal notices in this regard at any point as has been reported?
Yes, we had received a legal notice in April 2014 based on this erroneous reading of the permission letters by them. We wrote back. They had sent back a notice in May making a correction to their claim that we are supposed to “hand over” the footage to them. This one said the footage has to be “shown” to them. But they were looking for loopholes to reverse the permissions.
Of the five rapists in this case who are still alive, why did you interview only Mukesh?
The Juvenile Justice Board first gave us permission to interview the juvenile, then withdrew permission. One of the six, as you know, died in prison. Of the remaining four, Akshay Thakur refused to meet me, but his lawyer AP Singh told me that he would interview if I gave him Rs 20 lakh. I said I do not pay for interviews. Pawan and Vinay changed their minds a number of times about whether they would want to interview or not. So we decided that we should just see what Mukesh has to say, because he was happy to sign a consent form.
There are reports that you paid Mukesh for the interview.
My daughter and my son are the most precious things to me in the entire world. I swear upon their lives, I did not pay one rupee to a single interviewee in this film.
Why did you not wait till the appeals process was over before releasing the film? I sought the opinion of five senior High Court and Supreme Court judges and lawyers, and the opinion I was given, two of which are in writing, is that the film cannot prejudice the judicial process in the appeals court, because the appeals judges are only allowed to consider matters on record in the trial. They cannot take into account anything said in the media to date. India’s Supreme Court judges are not children or fools.
Sections of the Western press have been condescending, implying that rape happens more in India than the West.
You saw the statistics at the end of the film about violence against women across countries. Nobody watching this film is let off the hook. Every country tries to hide its sins, but no country has yet achieved gender equality. It is the greatest unfinished business of our time. As a woman I was grateful that India led the world by example.
As someone who came here out of love for India, it’s extraordinary to be told I’ve broken the law. Those who said it initially hadn’t even seen the film. It is exceptional ignorance, arrogance and uncivilised immaturity to campaign against the film as Times Now has done. At the bottom of this I think is professional jealousy. Times Now is furious they didn’t get the interview. C’mon, it’s not about who got the interview. It’s about the issue.
Those statistics appeared in the film when you screened it for the Delhi press, but not during the BBC telecast. Why?
The version of the film that was to be telecast on Indian television before this ban had those statistics. The version shown to the Indian press was an international version that also had those statistics. Every version of the film has those statistics except the BBC version. Unfortunately, that is the version leaked on to YouTube. I’m upset by this. My understanding is that BBC Storyville’s house style is not consistent with putting up statistics or generalising out from a specific story.
Do you know why there have been differing reports about the rape victim’s parents’ reaction to the documentary?
It was important to me to give them the respect of seeing India’s Daughter before the world did. When I showed it to them, Nirbhaya’s father said, “Bahut acchha.” I was relieved. Last week when I met them for an NDTV panel discussion, the father thanked me for all the work I’m doing.
But he is also upset because you used his daughter’s full name in the film...
My understanding with him was that I would not use her full name in the Indian version, but for the international version he was fine with me using her full name. So in the Indian version, we only say “Jyoti” and that’s on the basis of the Jyoti Nirbhaya Trust being in the public domain. The parents have called it that. We did not even use the parents’ full names in the Indian version, because if you combine Jyoti with their surnames, you get her full name. We simply called them “Jyoti’s parents”. That sentence the father says at the end of the film, where he uses her full name and says he wants the world to know it, that sentence is not in the Indian version.
You know, the media forgets that these people are suffering. They’ve had no closure. They are under great pressure, so they do say different things at different times, and they do get confused. He was expecting no name in the film in India, and suddenly there it is on the internet with her name.
It’s unfortunate that the actions of India’s Home Minister in banning the film have led to her name being in the only version that has been leaked on to the Internet. All this trouble would have been avoided if he had not banned the film because the Indian version which was to go out on March 8 does not have her name.
The young woman was accompanied by her friend Avnindra who was also attacked that night. Why is he not in your documentary?
I tried for six months. He refused to interview with us.
One concern expressed by Indian feminists has been how “protection” for “our daughters, our mothers, our sisters” becomes an excuse to restrict women. Why use the language of patriarchy in your title?
India’s Daughter was one of the pseudonyms given to her by the Indian media. The other names, Nirbhaya and Damini, mean nothing to an international audience. I couldn’t use her real name because that would be a crime in India. And you don’t want to call a film different titles in different territories.
We should save our energy to criticise attitudes that keep women subjugated. I think we can get too hung up on theory and pedantry of words. This isn’t about words.
But social attitudes are reflected in these words.
I’m not dismissing your concerns, but there is no inconsistency in calling a film India’s Daughter when it is decrying patriarchy. The film from beginning to end criticises patriarchy, talks about women being seen only as mothers or daughters. So India’s Daughter is spot-on on the subject. See the title in context of what the film says. The film says you should not call people “India’s daughter”.
Were you making that point?
No, because I had not considered until you spoke to me about it, whether the name promulgates patriarchy. But I’m saying I’ve thought about it now and I don’t agree.
The writer is on Twitter as @annavetticad.
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