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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What Brussels can learn from the Italian referendum

Matteo Renzi's proposed reforms would have made it easier for eurosceptic forces within Italy to gain power in upcoming elections in 2018.

The Austrian presidential elections can justifiably be claimed as a victory for supporters of the European Union. But the Italian referendum is not the triumph for euroscepticism some have claimed.

In Austria, the victorious candidate Alexander van der Bellen ruthlessly put the EU centre stage in his campaign. “From the beginning I fought and argued for a pro-European Austria,” he said after a campaign that saw posters warning against “Öxit”.

Austrians have traditionally been eurosceptic, only joining the bloc in 1995, but Brexit changed all that.  Austrian voters saw the instability in the UK and support for EU membership soared. An overwhelming majority now back continued membership.

Van der Bellen’s opponent Norbert Hofer was at an immediate disadvantage. His far right Freedom Party has long pushed for an Öxit referendum.

The Freedom Party has claimed to have undergone a Damascene conversion but voters were not fooled.  They even blamed Nigel Farage for harming their chances with an interview he gave to Fox News claiming that the party would push to leave the EU.

The European Commission, as one would expect, hailed the result. “Europe was central in the campaign that led to the election of a new president and the final result speaks for itself,” chief spokesman Margaritis Schinas said today in Brussels.

“We think the referendum in Italy was about a change to the Italian constitution and not about Europe,” Schinas added.

Brussels has a history of sticking its head in the sand when it gets political results it doesn’t like.

When asked what lessons the Commission could learn from Brexit, Schinas had said the lessons to be learnt were for the government that called the referendum.

But in this case, the commission is right. The EU was a peripheral issue compared to domestic politics in the Italian referendum.

Alberto Alemanno is Jean Monnet Professor of EU Law and an Italian. He said the reforms would have been vital to modernise Italy but rejected any idea it would lead to an Italian Brexit.

“While anti-establishment and eurosceptic actors are likely to emerge emboldened from the vote, interpreting the outcome of the Italian referendum as the next stage of Europe’s populist, anti-establishment movement – as many mainstream journalists have done – is not only factually wrong, but also far-fetched.”

Renzi was very popular in Brussels after coming to power in a palace coup in February 2014. He was a pro-EU reformer, who seemed keen to engage in European politics.

After the Brexit vote, he was photographed with Merkel and Hollande on the Italian island of Ventotene, where a landmark manifesto by the EU’s founding fathers was written.

This staged communion with the past was swiftly forgotten as Renzi indulged in increasingly virulent Brussels-bashing over EU budget flexibility in a bid to shore up his plummeting popularity. 

Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker even publicly reprimanded Renzi for demonising the EU.

Renzi’s vow to resign personalised the referendum. He gave voters a chance to give him a bloody nose when his popularity was at an all-time low.

Some of the reforms he wanted were marked “to be confirmed”.  The referendum question was astonishingly verbose and complex. He was asking for a blank cheque from the voters.

Ironically Renzi’s reforms to the constitution and senate would have made it easier for the eurosceptic Five Star Movement to gain power in upcoming elections in 2018.

For reasons best known to themselves, they campaigned against the changes to their own disadvantage.

Thanks to the reforms, a Five Star government would have found it far easier to push through a “Quitaly” referendum, which now seems very distant.  

As things stand, Five Star has said it would push for an advisory vote on membership of the euro but not necessarily the EU.

The Italian constitution bans the overruling of international treaties by popular vote, so Five Star would need to amend the constitution. That would require a two thirds majority in both houses of parliament and then another referendum on euro membership. Even that could be blocked by one of the country’s supreme courts.

The Italian referendum was closely watched in Brussels. It was hailed as another triumph for euroscepticism by the likes of Farage and Marine Le Pen. But Italians are far more likely to be concerned about the possibility of financial turbulence, which has so far been mildly volatile, than any prospect of leaving the EU in the near future.

James Crisp is the news editor at EurActiv.com.