India’s Daughter: What is wrong with our judicial system?

Posted by Yashika Totlani Khanna on 12:33 AM
Leslee Udwin was born in Birmingham, England. She grew up to become an actress and then ultimately changed her career to being a producer. Her most notable achievement was winning the BAFTA award for her film ‘East is East’ in 1999. She is also a prominent personality among NRIs and feminists in UK. The brutal gang rape of a 23-year old girl in India in December 2012 moved Leslee so much that she invested two years of her life afterwards towards making a 58-minute documentary on the victim, who is also commonly referred to as ‘India’s Daughter’ (or Nirbhaya in Indian media reports). Leslee decided to name the documentary that as well.

But as a reward, her film was banned from being aired in India. The reason - she had interviewed one of Nirbhaya’s rapists, Mukesh Singh, for the film. The Indian government had objections to giving a public voice to the rapist. BBC in the UK still went ahead with the broadcast in several other countries even ahead of its scheduled airdate of March 8 (International Women’s Day). People across the world, including India, watched it on popular streaming websites like YouTube.

So what lessons did the Indian Government learn from this episode? Well first, that the ostrich mentality of banning unpleasant things (films and books) is not a strategy that works in today’s digitally savvy world. People always find a way to watch a video or read a book that the government has banned by simply logging on to the Internet. Furthermore, such bans increase the curiosity and interest in the content that is not being allowed to circulate freely and hence leads to higher viewership. Second, the Indian government also got a reality check of what kind of influence they yield on the world media. It is easy to regulate content within the country. But the country is not yet globally positioned to dictate terms to international media houses. We (Indians) are not as big and important as we think we are.

The whole discussion brings me to the moot point of writing this blog post – what is wrong with India’s judiciary? The thought first crossed my mind when I watched Nirbhaya’s parents talk on a chat show on NDTV. The aggrieved couple has been vociferously and fearlessly voicing their angst for over two years now, demanding death for the culprits who perpetuated the heinous crime against their daughter (they gang raped and brutalized her, and then inserted an iron rod inside her vagina and pulled out her intestines that ultimately led to her death). The pain in their voice is evident and we all realize that while nothing can soothe the agony that stems from losing a child and now lives permanently in their hearts, our only hope of giving them some relief is by doling out timely punishment to the monsters who perpetrated the crime.

In 2013, the Delhi High Court had ‘fast tracked’ Nirbhaya’s case after major protests had erupted across the country. One of the accused, Ram Singh, had died in police custody on 11 March 2013 in Delhi’s Tihar Jail. On 10 September 2013, the four remaining adult defendants - Vinay Sharma (21), Akshay Thakur (29), Mukesh Singh (27) and Pawan Gupta (20) – were found guilty of rape and murder and sentenced to death by hanging. The act was deemed as ‘unnatural sex that counted as a rarest of rare crime’. One unnamed juvenile accused in the case was sent to a ‘special home’ for three years - that being the maximum punishment by law for a juvenile in India, following which he would be allowed to roam free in the society. Soon after the verdict was given, an appeal was filed in the Supreme Court and even after a year of that appeal being filed, it has not been overturned. What’s more gruesome is that not even a single hearing has been conducted in the case since then and it stays pending.

Nirbhaya’s parents are obviously hyper agitated. They say that if justice can’t be ensured and expedited even in a case as high profile as theirs, there is no hope whatsoever for the other rape victims in the country. And we can’t help but agree with them. The confessions are all there. All the accused have admitted to committing the crime. The CCTV footage recorded by a hotel’s camera clearly shows which bus was used for the crime. Even Nirbhaya’s statement, the one that she summoned the courage to record before succumbing to her painful death, is also present. So we ask, what is stopping the Supreme Court from giving a final verdict? What has this one year been wasted over? Additionally, despite pleas from all sections of the society, why have laws for juveniles not been amended? Sure, fingers are being pointed at Leslee for interviewing Mukesh. But we ask whether it is not this very administration that has kept Mukesh alive for all these years? Do they not realize that justice delayed is justice denied? Do they not know that it is their own lethargy and tardiness that has emboldened the rapist to come out and make inflammatory remarks against women? Such hypocrisy and double standards do not go down well with the intelligentsia of the country that has declared its clear defiance by watching, and sharing, the banned documentary. Maybe it is time for the Indian government and judiciary to engage in some soul-searching.

This is not the first time that justice has been delayed. Another high profile case that invariably comes to mind is that of Ajmal Kasab. The terrorist was recorded clearly on CCTV cameras shooting innocent people on those fateful days in November 2008. The court proceedings had still taken almost a year and a half after the incident to find him guilty on 80 counts, including murder, waging war against India and possessing explosives. He wasn’t hung in Pune’s Yerwada Jail until November 2012 – four years after committing the crime, despite the presence of irrefutable and clear evidence from the first day of trial.

We can’t help but question our judicial system. Along with the many things that are wrong with India, this one sticks out the most. We often turn to the Supreme Court for a dose of sanity in an otherwise insane country. But when years are allowed to pass between crimes and punishments, it is hard to keep faith in the idea of India. We wonder why families of the aggrieved are allowed to live with such overwhelming grief when at least on our part we can ensure speedy justice. The wait is not for the want of evidence. That much we know. The files are stuck in endless strings of red tape and bureaucracy rules the game. If such is the state of affairs, then can we really blame the citizens for living in a constant state of anger and disbelief in the fairness of the judiciary?

As for the documentary ‘India’s Daughter’, I think it is brilliant. It shows the Indian society for what it is. It is also riveting, engaging and extremely well researched. The first step towards eliminating any evil is to identify it. And that’s what the documentary does. It pitches several voices together, the ones of the aggrieved and others of the accused, without ever imposing an opinion of its own. It lets you hear all sides and like religious texts, it lets you decipher them on your own. Some people will invariably choose to get offended by the documentary (because it is their nature to get offended).  Some others like me will appreciate that such films are being made to serve as a mirror to our completely flawed society. Why do I say that? Because as a woman who has lived in equal measure in the metropolis of Delhi and in a small town, I know that several evils exist within the Indian society specifically targeting women. The culture of subjugation and rape is one of them. When we see this documentary and hear the lawyers of the rapists give medieval arguments like ‘women are like flowers’ or ‘women are like diamonds, and if you leave them on the streets, a dog is bound to take them away’ or something completely outrageous like ‘we have the best society because women have no place in it’ – we commend Leslee for bringing out these voices to the fore. Because we know that they exist. Another aspect of the documentary that totally pleased me was the level of research that had been conducted to trace down, for example, the gynecologist who had first treated Nirbhaya, or the patrol officer who had first found her bloodied body by the side of the road, or the parents of the accused, or for that matter the hotel that had recorded the CCTV footage of the bus. We wonder if even the police in the Nirbhaya case were so thorough in their investigation.

About Mukesh – well, everything that he says is loathsome. His words blaming the women themselves for getting raped sound like sheer poison. In Leslee’s defence, even she admitted that she felt like her soul had ‘just been dipped in tar’ while interviewing Mukesh. What had shocked her the most was his answer to the question – “Why do men rape?” But to her credit, she brought out the horrors that exist within the minds of the Indian society. We teach our daughters how not to get raped but no one teaches their sons to not rape in the first place. Even the mother of accused Ram Singh was more upset by the fact that he wouldn’t be around to take care of her in her old age than she was with the fact that he was a cold-blooded rapist. ‘Budhape ki laathi chali gayi’ were her exact words (my old age support is gone). The wife of one of the accused said that she was also a woman and with her husband gone, no one would take care of her now.

Leslee is merely the medium of a horrifying message. And by banning her film, the government has repeated the classic mistake of shooting the messenger. We have much deeper problems than just a short film called ‘India’s Daughter’. Some thought over the slow judicial process of delivering justice will go a much longer way in making the idea of a better India a reality.


This is a good thoughtful piece that is relevant given the unnecessary actions in India regarding banning the documentary. I am never in favor of bans and this one is more illogical. India needs to face up to the ugly realities of its society. Unless we become self-critical, no change will happen and things like these will keep occurring. The first step to change is recognition of the problem and this documentary, whatever one's artistic criticisms of it may be, serves that part well. It shows us a window into who we are and simply banning it because we do not like the view is a childish response unbecoming of a society that wants to approach this seriously.

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