AN INTERVIEW WITH DEVIKA PARASHAR AND RIDHI MALIK
RM: What do you think about the ban of the documentary India’s Daughter in India? Is it justified?
DP: The documentary did not tell me anything I didn’t already know. I took issue with a series of problems with the documentary as I will further elaborate below, but it also made some important reiterations about issues that need our immediate attention. I feel very strongly that the ban wasn’t justified. I might have been able to understand a postponement or ‘stay’ on the documentary with required edits, but I definitely don’t think a ban is something we should be indulging in. For me to have an opinion and analysis on the movie requires me to have actually watched the movie—a ban also prevents healthy dialogue.
RM: Is the title of the documentary suitable?
DP: Not at all; the documentary discusses one of the (many) ways patriarchy plays out in the world and at the same time gives the rape victim a patriarchal label as India’s Daughter. To me, the title defeats the entire point of the documentary. This falls into the same patriarchal rhetoric that defines women by their familial relationships to men as wives, brothers, sisters and the like.
RM: Why do you think violence against women, particularly rape, is so pervasive in India?
DP: The idea that this is just an Indian problem is problematic in itself. Violence against women is, unfortunately, a malaise that plagues a large part of this world. Having said that, we cannot deny how pervasive the problem is in our own country. Violence against women, particularly rape, is an act of power that is a result of the system of patriarchy. There are a series of interrelated reasons that allow for violence against women to exist so rampantly: lack of education, problematic mindsets, weak laws, lack of redressal options, and social and cultural stigmas, to name a few. A great thing that I have seen happen recently, at least in India, is the increase in conversation around these issues.
RM: Do you think it is appropriate to interview a convict/his lawyer?
DP: I think that journalists have stories to tell and they tell these stories the way they would like to. Having said that, I believe that there definitely needs to be a sense of responsibility while telling these stories. In my understanding, they did take the appropriate permissions and were within the legal framework, but I would have liked to have heard the questions that were asked to be sure of the context in which these things were said. Of course, that doesn’t excuse anything that was said; no context can justify most of those responses. So, to your question, I believe it was appropriate to interview the lawyer and the convict if everything was within legally allowed boundaries, but I think this could have been handled more responsibly. A lot of people have been saying that this should have been released later—after the final verdict because it could sway a decision. I think that is disrespectful to our judiciary—to say that the Supreme Court could be influenced by a BBC documentary.
RM: According to you, what need to be done in India for women’s safety?
DP: This isn’t an easy question to answer in a few words because ‘women’s safety’ isn’t limited to a particular area. There is so much involved when it comes to understanding women’s safety in the home, on the streets, at the workplace, in public spaces and more. However, since this interview is with reference to the documentary and Jyoti Singh’s case, I would assume we are talking about women’s safety on the streets and in public places. There are a series of short and long term solutions like education, awareness, change in mindsets (particularly important) that are already much talked about, but I would like to focus on what is definitely not a solution to be touted. Restricting women from leading their daily lives in the way they would want to to prevent harassment on the street is not a solution. Victim blaming of so many different kinds is unacceptable; asking women to take responsibility to prevent rapes fits into this same mould. This could be misinterpreted and so I will explain. Telling women to wear ‘electric bras’ or wear anti date rape nail paint or learn martial arts to prevent rape is subtly putting the responsibility of these rapes on the shoulders of women. If women would like to do all of these things out of their own free will and interest, that is fine, but to suggest to women to indulge in these things to prevent gender violence is something I find extremely problematic. Popular culture (not just in India, but all over the world) is ridden with misogyny. This is what almost 100% of us consume on a daily basis. I personally believe that popular culture, in all its forms, is an extremely powerful tool for information sharing and exchange and strongly lobby for the use of this platform to bring about awareness, education and change in mindsets. Curriculum in schools and colleges needs to be gender sensitive; maybe introduce gender studies as a compulsory subject? Redressal needs to be made easier; women should be comfortable to report these issues without fear of mistreatment. Additionally, we must definitely make use of technology to make these spaces safer for women. We run the Delhi chapter of Hollaback and realise the importance of leveraging technology to be able to fight street harassment. There is no one stop solution—this is a tumor that runs extremely deep—and multiple approaches through many different media is what is going to allow for the change we would like to see happen. The conversation has begun and is continually growing stronger. It will take time, but with so many people becoming more aware and conscious of these issues, I see hope.
Featured in HYSTERIA #6 ‘Eruption’