Indian demonstrators following the gang rape of Jyoti Singh. Photo: Getty
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Silencing India’s Daughter: why has the Indian government banned the Delhi rape film?

Delhi is refusing to air a documentary about the gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old medical student in 2012.

Every time you hear the story of how Jyoti Singh was gang raped and murdered, it is as if you are hearing it for the first time.

So unimaginably brutal is the attack to which the 23-year-old medical student was subjected at the back of a bus driving around Delhi that it acts as a wake-up call every time it is retold. But this alarm clock that exploded with the ringing of thousands of protesters across India’s cities in the weeks following Singh’s death has now been put on snooze by the Indian government.

Delhi has banned a painfully forensic documentary exploring the crime from airing in India. The film, India’s Daughter, scheduled for International Women’s Day on Sunday, has been silenced by the Indian authorities, who object to the film-makers releasing it without their approval.

The BBC brought forward the Storyville broadcast in a last-minute change of schedule to Wednesday night this week, in spite of the Indian government protesting that it hadn’t been allowed enough input.

The home minister Rajnath Singh had asked the BBC, the Ministry of External Affairs and the Information and Broadcasting Ministry to ensure that the documentary was not broadcast anywhere in the world. And the parliamentary affairs minister, M Venkaiah Naidu, said: “We can ban the film in India. But this is an international conspiracy to defame India. We will see how the film can be stopped abroad too.”

Watch the trailer:

The Delhi police have also claimed they have questions about an interview included in the film with the perpetrator who was driving the bus, Mukesh Singh. They argue that his incendiary comments about women could provoke a breach of the peace. Leslee Udwin, the director who took two years making the documentary, has left India for fear of being arrested.

Udwin has called on the Indian prime minister Narendra Modi to intervene and allow her film to be shown to Indian audiences, insisting that, “the banning of the film will see India isolated in the eyes of the world. It’s a counterproductive move”.

Udwin is right. Not only is her film an enlightening investigation into the attitudes towards women in Indian society – “it’s not just about a few rotten apples, it’s the barrel itself that is rotten” – it is also agonisingly balanced. Something it didn’t really need to be, considering it covers a crime so undeniably obscene that the trial was fast-tracked and the men have been sentenced to death.

Everyone gets a hearing: lawyers on all sides, the accused, politicians, the families of the rapist as well as the parents of the victim, the man who found the victim and her friend dumped, naked, at the side of the road.

Jyoti’s parents tell of spending their scarce savings on their child’s dream to become a doctor. Her mother recalls the bafflement of the surgeon, unable to know which pieces of her daughter to sew back together, so devastating were her injuries.

The cold, oddly cocky look in the eye of one of the rapists as he coolly informs the viewer: “You can't clap with one hand – it takes two hands. A decent girl won't roam around at 9 o'clock at night. A girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy. Boy and girl are not equal.”

The hideous incessant metaphors from the rapists’ lawyer about how “precious” women are, like flowers, or diamonds, that you cannot leave in “the gutter”. “We have the best culture,” he concludes. “In our culture, there is no space for a woman.”

Although harrowing viewing, the one element of hope in this film is the outrage of the public, shown through footage of women and men protesting in their thousands across India’s cities. So irrepressible was their anger and sorrow – from clashing with police on the streets to mass-signing of online petitions – that the government was forced to begin a conversation about the place of women in Indian society.

Watch the protests:

The defiance of the women, young and old – out marching with placards demanding that their country teaches its sons not to rape, rather than locking away its daughters – is one in the eye for the unrepentant rapists, and the only break in the bleakness of Udwin’s film.

Perhaps then, there is also some hope in the story of the government’s attempt at repressing the film. Its attitude is being taken in Delhi as yet another example of society trying to stifle women, and, as happened immediately following the crime in 2012, people are speaking out.

The independent MP Anu Agha said India was failing to confront the problem of violence against women: “Banning this movie is not the answer. We have to confront the issue that men in India do not respect women and any time there is a rape, blame is put on the woman.”

Incendiary quotes from the perpetrator who was interviewed, and the rapists’ lawyers, are already all over the internet, and there are reports that Indian audiences have managed to access the film regardless of the blanket ban.

As Udwin says, “The more they try to stop the film, the more they are going to pique people’s interest. Now, everyone is going to want to see it.”

Silencing India’s Daughter will only serve to fuel the anger on her behalf.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.

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In Russia, Stalin is back

New statues and memorabilia are appearing, as Russians overlook the terror to hark back to a perceived era of order and national safety.

It was during the Victory Day march to commemorate those who fought in the World War Two, the Great Patriotic War (as it is known in Russia) that I saw the face of Stalin. A young woman carried a crimson flag with the image of the Leader which appeared amidst the black and white photographs of grandparents remembered on the seventieth anniversary of the victory over the Nazi Germany. Just a few months later I was back in Moscow to face the fact that the fleeting image of Stalin, like a seed dropped into rich soil, has sprouted everywhere. At the busy Moscow Domodedovo airport you can now buy souvenir mugs and badges featuring a man with a moustache, coiffed hair and unsmiling eyes; men wearing Stalin T-shirts walk the streets of Moscow and just in time for the festive season 2016 calendars with the twelve photos of the ”Red Tsar” are spread across the counters of the book shops. Most shockingly, new statues of Stalin have appeared in Lipetsk, Penza and Shelanger, a village in a Russian republic Mari El. The monuments were commissioned and erected by the Russia’s Communist Party. Its leader, Gennadiy Zyuganov, promised new statues to be built in Irkutsk in Siberia and in Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine. Charles de Gaulle, the former French president was right: “Stalin didn't walk away into the past, he dissolved into the future.”

According to a January 2015 survey by an independent, non-profit organisation, founded by a Russian sociologist Yuri Levada, 52 per cent of Russians think that Stalin played a “definitely positive” or ”mostly positive” role in Russia’s history. Stalin’s positive image today is cultivated mostly through his association with the Great Patriotic War. Throughout 2015 the Russian media have been obsessively commemorating the 70th anniversary of the victory over the Nazis, with Stalin, the generalissimo, at its helm. Political psychologist Elena Shestopal, quoted by the Levada Centre, explains that the positive opinion of Stalin is a reflection of the society’s demand for order and national safety. In her view, Russians associate Stalin with the role of the father: strict, demanding and powerful.

Stalin’s resurrection is astounding not least because his role in history and his “personality cult” have been consistently condemned in Russia since 1956. Three years after Stalin’s death, the then General Secretary Khrushchev denounced it at the Communist Party conference. Stalin’s body was removed from the Red Square mausoleum; the monuments commemorating him were taken down and destroyed. During glasnost, the openness period initiated by Gorbachev, some state archives revealing the extent of Stalin’s purges and mass repressions were made public. My own grandfather, Aleksandr Bakunin, who devoted his entire life to the history of the Russia’s Communist Party and its accomplishments, set to work in his seventies to research the newly available materials and write a trilogy about the history of Soviet totalitarianism. In popular literature, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn made stunning revelations about mass repressions and his personal experiences as a prisoner in a labour camp in his novel The Gulag Archipelago, first openly published in a Russian literary magazine in 1989. In Gorbachev’s days Nikolai Svanidze, a popular Russian TV host, historian and journalist – related to Stalin through his first wife, Ekaterina (Cato) Svanidze – declared that Stalin and Hitler were cut from the same cloth on national television. I do not believe that such a statement would be made by the Russian media today. 

An example of a “Red Tsar” calendar

With knowledge about collectivisation and famine of the 1930s, mass arrests and forced labour, the culture of terror and the totalitarian governance, it is difficult to understand the current sentiment in Russia which makes it acceptable to print Stalin’s image onto T-shirts and mugs. Russians, who approve of Stalin, credit him with turning around the backward agrarian economy with its mostly rural population into an economic and scientific powerhouse, responsible for sending the first man into space. It was allegedly Churchill who said that “Stalin inherited Russia with a wooden plough and left it in possession of atomic weapons”. These sympathisers hail rapid industrialisation and economic progress, forgetting its costs. Mayakovskiy put it well in his poem about the construction of Kuznetsk: “The lips are turning blue from the cold, but the lips recite in unison: ‘In four years this will be a garden city!’”

Stalinists are especially vocal in giving their hero credit for winning the war. By the end of 1930s, the Soviet Union had become the largest economy in Europe and in the 1940s it was the defence industry that carried the Soviet campaign against Hitler. Stalin united people and inspired them to fight the enemy both on the front line and in the factories, according to those who believe in Stalin as “the Leader”. “The European nations are being ungrateful”, they say. “Stalin saved them from the Nazis.” It is inconvenient to remember that it was Stalin who had signed a non-aggression pact with Hitler in August 1939 and had been falsely assured that Germany would not invade the Soviet Union. Stalin disregarded several reports from his own intelligence agents and defected German spies about the advancing of Hitler’s army in 1941. Millions of lives were lost as a result in the first months of the war. As for the gratitude, the Baltic and the eastern European nations are quite right to dispute the post-war reorganisation of Europe, implemented after the Yalta conference, when Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill agreed to divide their spheres of influence.

After the war, the USSR became the second most powerful nation in the world and a force to be reckoned with in geopolitics, economics and technology. Previously illiterate peasants, Soviet citizens enrolled in universities, became engineers and doctors, went to the theatre and cinema, read and became part of the Soviet miracle. There is a great deal of nostalgia among the older generation in Russia, who mourn the ”golden decades” of the Soviet Union and wish for Russia’s international status to climb again. “We lived better with Stalin than with anyone else who came to power after him. He looked after us. Today only oligarchs live well,” said a Russian woman in her late seventies. One Russian blogger writes that mass repressions were necessary to align the Soviet consciousness to the new ideology, to replace individualism with collective responsibility. He believes that the terror was necessary to maintain order. There is also rising support among the younger generation who see parallels between Putin and Stalin, the two rulers who favour autocracy and ubiquitous state control.

Already in his seventies, my grandfather wrote two books about the genesis and the evolution of the totalitarianism in the Soviet Union. His third book was meant to be about the fall of Stalinism. Despite several heart attacks and a stroke, he continued working. He died from the fatal heart attack, his book unfinished. Perhaps, it was meant to be. Section 86 of the German Criminal Code makes it illegal to display Nazi images and to hail Hitler in Germany. In Russia, Stalin has never been similarly condemned. The Russian government ostensibly does not object to the new statues of Stalin being erected just 60 years after they had been taken down. The nation that has forgotten its own history is terrifying.