Our Daughter in India

As the mother of  two girls and one of three sisters myself, the statistics about rape are a permanent reminder of just how unsafe the world is, to a person. The fact is that one in four women will be raped; this fact holds true in that within the number of girls and women named in the previous sentence, one indeed already has been raped and another the victim of childhood sexual molestation. We are middle-class, educated. . . . It doesn’t matter.


Fillmmaker Leslee Udwin pictured with the mother of two of the convicted rapists– the one who killed himself in prison after the arrest and the other whose interview forms the major narrative of the rape in the film. / Photo from the Guardian.

I watched Leslee Udwin’s documentary, Storyville: India’s Daughter with my husband last night. Originally set to premiere on the BBC and worldwide on International Women’s Day, March 8th, the BBC moved the airing upon hearing that the Indian government had banned the film from airing in India. It’s not surprising, given the level of corruption and openly-held misogynistic views of women held by some of the men speaking in the film. I was safely in my living room, viewing the dark side of human sexuality and power, a case of a desperate need for social and political change.

It’s a story of an amazing girl with amazing parents, “traditional people with modern values,” says Jyoti’s tutor, a young man whose words, in their very breath, held hope of the way forward for India — with compassion, respect, kindness. Such was his regard for his friend, Jyoti Singh.

Storyville was remarkable in its restraint. Udwin never showed Jhoti’s adult body. She was allowed to disappear into the river with the dignity of her family’s sacred and loving burial offering. As someone in the film said, it became about more than her. Jyoti’s story engendered an uprising of the voice of young people, their departure from the “old ways.”

And the film never became angry. In the end, it seemed to say that there was enough anger in the crime that is the basis of the film. And we all were exhausted from that alone.

Storyville isn’t a case of prejudiced editing or filmmaking, though I’m sure many will make this accusation in an attempt to save face — I am referring to the resistance of the Indian government to the issue of endemic sexual violence, as discussed in the film and as now witnessed in the government’s banning of the film. — But it’s not a face worth saving. I would say to those people to think, instead, of all the faces that are worth saving.

Storyville is available on iPlayer for a short while and will air again on BBC Four on International Women’s Day — Sunday March 8th at 10pm.



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