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 senior writer at the New Statesman.

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Stephen Hawking's enthusiasm for colonising space makes him almost as bad as Trump

The physicist's inistence on mankind's expansion risks making him a handmaiden of inequality.

“Spreading out may be the only thing that saves us from ourselves,” Stephen Hawking has warned. And he’s not just talking about surviving the UK's recent run of record breaking heat. If humanity doesn’t start sending people to Mars soon, then in a few hundred years he says we can all expect to be kaput; there just isn’t enough space for us all.

The theoretical physicist gave his address to the glittering Starmus Festival of science and arts in Norway. According to the BBC, he argued that climate change and the depletion of natural resources help make space travel essential. With this in mind, he would like to see a mission to Mars by 2025 and a new lunar base within 30 years.

He even took a swipe at Donald Trump: “I am not denying the importance of fighting climate change and global warming, unlike Donald Trump, who may just have taken the most serious, and wrong, decision on climate change this world has seen.”

Yet there are striking similarities between Hawking's statement and the President's bombast. For one thing there was the context in which it was made - an address to a festival dripping with conspicuous consumption, where 18 carat gold OMEGA watches were dished out as prizes.

More importantly there's the inescapable reality that space colonisation is an inherently elitist affair: under Trump you may be able to pay your way out of earthly catastrophe, while for Elon Musk, brawn could be a deciding advantage, given he wants his early settlers on Mars to be able to dredge up buried ice.

Whichever way you divide it up, it is unlikely that everyone will be able to RightMove their way to a less crowded galaxy. Hell, most people can’t even make it to Starmus itself (€800  for a full price ticket), where the line-up of speakers is overwhelmingly white and male.

So while this obsession with space travel has a certain nobility, it also risks elevating earthly inequalities to an interplanetary scale.

And although Hawking is right to call out Trump on climate change, the concern that space travel diverts money from saving earth's ecosystems still stands. 

In a context where the American government is upping NASA’s budget for manned space flights at the same time as it cuts funds for critical work observing the changes on earth, it is imperative that the wider science community stands up against this worrying trend.

Hawking's enthusiasm for colonising the solar system risks playing into the hands of the those who share the President destructive views on the climate, at the expense of the planet underneath us.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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