Banning news items is not something democracies do – India’s wrong move

Democracies allow a great deal of freedom. It is the freedom to report on society — warts and all — that makes democratic societies better and stronger. Unfortunately, there are too many who think democratic countries cannot survive exposure of some of the worst warts.

So the BBC put together a documentary on the brutal 2012 gang rape of 23-year-old physiotherapy student Jyoti Singh. And the resulting screams from India showed that the Indian government was more concerned with perceived attacks on the image of India than in doing anything to protect women.

The rape shocked the world. It even got through to many in India who had been willing to turn a blind eye. Thousands turned out to call for new laws to protect women and to change the way society looks at rape. (India gang rape: six men charged with murder)

Not that anything really happened in the ensuing years.

The BBC documentary — India’s Daughter — included interviews with the one member of the gang who raped Singh. His comments further outraged the world:

  • A decent girl won’t roam around at nine o’clock at night.
  • A girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy.
  • When being raped, she shouldn’t fight back. She should just be silent and allow the rape

Rather than embrace the documentary and step up work to make life safer for women, the government decided that the film makes India look bad and banned it from the country. And then, to make sure no one outside India can see it, the government went to the British courts to get the ban extended to the entire BBC system.

In that latter effort, the government failed. The BBC aired the documentary earlier than announced. And that set the Indian government into a fit of complaints and actually launched an investigation into how the film maker was given access to the rapist in jail.

Fortunately for the future of India, some are upset with the banning action:

“[T]he reality is what the man spoke reflects the view of many men in India and why are we shying away from that? In glorifying India and (saying) we are perfect we are not confronting the issues that need to be confronted,” said businesswoman Anu Aga, a member of the chamber.

In the meantime, the film maker left India out of fear for her well being.

Documentary-maker Leslee Udwin, meanwhile, was reported by India’s NDTV channel to have decided to fly out of India due to fears she could be arrested.

The television channel also broadcast what it said was Udwin’s last interview before she left India. “I’m very frightened what’s going to happen next — I predict the whole world will point fingers at India now,” Udwin said. “It’s a tragedy — you’re shooting yourself in the foot.”

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Filed under Freedom of Information, India, International News Coverage

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