India’s Daughter is a powerful, courageous and heart-wrenching documentary that shines a spotlight on the issue of violence against women and girls – an issue that lies at the heart of Plan International’s Because I am a Girl campaign, the world’s biggest campaign for girls’ rights.
The creator of the documentary is Plan International UK ambassador and renowned filmmaker Leslee Udwin. India’s Daughter tells the story and aftermath of one of the most brutal and shocking gang rapes and murders committed in India’s recent history – the case of 23-year-old medical student Jyoti Singh.
The film, which took two years to make, fuses dramatic reconstruction with first-hand accounts and moving interviews with Jyoti’s mother, father and friends, as well as frank encounters with some of the men convicted of Jyoti’s rape and murder – now on death row in India, where they have been sentenced to death by hanging.
It charts the tragic sequence of events that began with an innocent trip to a Delhi cinema on Sunday 16 December 2012, when Jyoti saw The Life of Pi, accompanied by a male friend. At 8.30pm, on the way home, the pair got into an off-duty charter bus.
As the bus travelled through Delhi’s streets, Jyoti was brutally raped by five men and an unnamed minor, referred to only as “the juvenile”. Her body was eviscerated and then thrown on to the street. Remarkably, Jyoti was still alive, but died of massive internal injuries after 13 agonising days in hospital.
A wave of protests
The crime reverberated across India, galvanising thousands of protestors. For the next 30 days, women and men took to the streets of Delhi and other major cities, calling for the equality that is recognised in India’s constitution but which has never been delivered.
Leslee Udwin remembers it as an “Arab spring for gender equality." She says: “What impelled me to leave my husband and two children for two years while I made the film in India was not so much the horror of the rape as the inspiring and extraordinary eruption on the streets. A cry of ‘enough is enough’. Unprecedented numbers of ordinary men and women, day after day, faced a ferocious government crackdown that included teargas, baton charges and water cannon. They were protesting for my rights and the rights of all women. That gives me optimism. I can’t recall another country having done that in my lifetime."
Tragic and poignant
As details of Jyoti’s life emerged, the case gained ever more poignancy. The aspiring medical student had recently completed her medical exams, after weeks spending her nights working in a call centre whilst studying for finals. She was a beacon for a new India – a modern India, in which “a girl can do anything,” as Jyoti herself said.
"Happiness was just a few steps away," remembers her father, Badri Singh, in an emotionally charged interview. He and his wife, Asha, originally from Uttar Pradesh, had sold their family land to provide schooling not just for their two sons but also Jyoti. Badri’s brothers wondered why he was wasting money on a girl, but both parents believed she deserved more than an early marriage.
Attitudes towards women
Such attitudes stand in stark contrast to those evinced by other interviewees in the film – such as two of the defence lawyers for the accused men, and the men themselves.
"We have the best culture. In our culture, there is no place for a woman," says ML Sharma, one of the defence lawyers in the case. A second lawyer, AP Singh, says if his daughter or sister “engaged in pre-marital activities … in front of my entire family, I would put petrol on her and set her alight".
Leslee reveals that she quickly uncovered a pervasive lack of respect for gender across Indian society. “It’s not just about a few rotten apples, it’s the barrel itself that is rotten,” she says.
Testimony of a killer
Perhaps the most uncomfortable segment of India’s Daughter is an interview in Tahir jail, Delhi, with Mukesh Singh, a slum-dweller who drove the bus on which Jyoti was raped and killed.
His own assessment of what happened that fateful night is shocking. "You can’t clap with one hand – it takes two hands”, he says. “A decent girl won’t roam around at night."
He also criticises Jyoti for attempting to fight off her attackers. "She should just be silent and allow the rape. Then they would have dropped her off after ‘doing her’ and only hit the boy."
Now, the juvenile involved in the crime is serving three years. Two of the convicted men are appealing against their sentence, a process that could take years.
Freida Pinto - Photo: Santosh Vasandi and Tess JosephIndia’s Daughter was broadcast on BBC4 on Wednesday March 4. Four days later, March 8, the documentary was simultaneously shown in seven other countries including India, Switzerland, Norway and Canada to mark International Women’s Day.
On Monday 9 March, actresses Freida Pinto and Meryl Streep attended a screening in New York, launching a worldwide India’s Daughter campaign against gender inequality and sexual violence against women and girls.
Every girl and every woman has the right to be safe from violence in all its forms, our Because I am a Girl campaign is committed to zero tolerance to viovence against girls.