Screens of one of India’s biggest news broadcasters, NDTV (New Delhi Television), went mono-colour on Sunday night, eliciting curious queries.
“We won’t shout but we will be heard,” tweeted the station’s Managing Editor Sonia Singh. And by the time the light came back, they were indeed heard.
Filmmaker Leslie Udwinn’s India’s Daughter, which recounts the 2012 gang-rape rape and murder of a young woman, has succeeded in raising awareness not only about rape but also the lack of ability to have a discerning discussion about it because of the ban on broadcasting the documentary in India that followed.
Journalists abhor censorship, understandably, as that hits at the core of what we do and we would obviously don’t like to cut the branch we are sitting on.
However, are people in India as outraged about censorship? That query lies at the heart of the debate the country has seen raging in and out of TV studios in the past week.
“National security”, “national pride”, “social unrest” are some of the oft-cited reasons for these restrictions: some understandable, some not. There is a healthy divergence of opinion here.
While most of us would vote against any attempt at censorship, there have been differing voices, even cautionary ones. In one of the panel discussions on TV last week, Supreme Court lawyer Dushyant Dave said it is a fallacy to believe “bans are not good for democracy”. Instead, he argued, “every democracy needs power to ban. The question is whether the power has been exercised in the right way or the wrong way.”
On the face of it, Leslie did not break any law though there are allegations that she may have subverted some official procedures. But taking refuge in that, to ban a documentary, is seemingly sheer “over reaction”.
The government has, inadvertently and unnecessarily, taken the spotlight from battling the rise in crimes against women to one of censorship.
It is strange that those batting for censorship have, in effect, ended up making common cause with Mukesh Singh, the rapist accused in the December 2012 gang-rape incident.
From Indian Minister for Home Affairs Rajnath Singh, who said he was “deeply hurt” by the documentary, to Venkaiah Naidu, another senior minister in the Indian cabinet, who said it was “an international conspiracy to defame India”, to non-resident Indian Devaki Parthasarathy, who said they “felt obliged to defend India because sweeping statements were made about Indian society and Indian men”.
Sadly enough, this debate, especially on social media like Twitter, turned into one of “nationalism”. In the high-decibel slanging match, that also included a big Indian news group asking for a ban on the documentary, one salient point was lost- rape or other crimes against women are neither nation-specific nor class-specific.
Rape is a heinous crime and should be viewed from that prism only – because any other parallel is misleading and counter productive.
There can be many opinions about the way this documentary was shot, the procedures the filmmakers ought to have followed. But banning the documentary on the pretext that it will spoil India’s image in the world is untenable.
In this backdrop, NDTV’s silence on Monday has spoken and we should speak about the silence in order to ensure no screen goes black again.