Despite my very rudimentary domestic and professional correspondence, for almost a year now I have been more of a hermit (more alone than I used to be) in Delhi, the city of millions, with no dearth of human varieties from street sweepers to the President of the country with their noises filling the whole decibel range audible to the human ear. No newspaper. No TV. Nearly no social media presence. So I missed Leslee Udwin’s BBC documentary India’s Daughter.
Yesterday morning (it’s already 7 March now), opening my FB account to check my timeline for an old post, I stumbled on a post of my friend Rituparna Sengupta (thanks to her) commenting on or supplementing or introducing a Quartz India article, followed by my friend Anveshi Gupta’s comment. Rituparna’s introductory word made perfect sense, and Anveshi’s comment intrigued me, but these comments on the theme of what Rituparna had shared and the very title of that article could not immediately make up for my ignorance of the world’s developments in months. Beginning with the shared article, I read quite a thin book’s worth of volume along that line (including quite a few comments) in the few hours that followed, discovering that the documentary has been successful by “hitting hard,” the controversial nature of whose reception has made it controversial. As for me, what I have gathered from the commentaries on the film that I have read has pushed my thumbs up to Leslee Udwin despite its “alleged” “failure to get to the core of the problem.” A lack of substance can be (thankfully) socially supplemented by what we as members of the very society in which the incident occurred are aware of, and thus it is not a sin which the film would have been guilty of if it presented factual errors, which is not the case.
If the rapists’ defence attorneys (M.L. Sharma and A.P. Singh) share moral values with the rapists themselves—if what they have said is not just a professional act of risking their legal occupational hazards (no matter what their personal conviction) but their personal ethical and legal (?) conviction (if they are psychologically certifiable as normal, it is very hard not to be convinced that their statements reflect the ethical and legal ground they stand on), then India’s rape epidemic cannot solely be accounted for by the country’s “lack of education” (unless we consider the likes of M.L. Sharma and A.P. Singh as uneducated). While the lack of education plays its irrefragable part in this ignominious epidemic, there are more elementary causes in the tissues of our society/culture that even warp our education and cause our “warpedly” educated minds (most of us are like that) to view a girl coming out of home after certain “culturally” quietly declared point of time in the night as “legally and ethically” “rapeable,” as if being born a male comes with the natural appurtenance or privilege of biting like a mosquito [which you cannot sensibly drag to the court for exercising their mosquito right to bite (yes, you can slap and kill mosquito mosquitoes, not human mosquitoes)] any “ma” or “bahin” coming out of the house after that cultural Lakshman rekha of time in the night for whatever reason or no reason. This cultural thing, however, is not what I want to talk about here.
Among the many criticisms of India’s Daughter is the one condemning it on the mistaken grounds of its “giving platform to the [unapologetic] rapists” and their extra-blooded, never-say-wrong defence attorneys who have hurt more than previously imaginable number of hearts to such an extent that this episode seems to be the career suicide of these non-uneducated attorneys. Let me repeat the crux here: “giving platform to the rapists.”
Parallel to this, the Bar Council of India has moved its jaw opening the floodgate of its pent-up rage and frustration over the two defence attorney’s “hurtful and insulting statements,” circulating an online petition against them seeking the signature of the citizens of the country looking to suspend their licenses (if enough people sign it).
It is at this point that the law seems to be helplessly at a crossroads. Not merely the law’s helplessness, but an unconditional universal human condition. Because, the law is a normative science, which is definitely very subjective at the root despite its objective projections when there are no serious debates. So subjective that the law, despite its accepted force “in the [m]iddle-earth,” has a “mystical foundation of [its] authority.” However, again, it is not my purpose here to deal with this Derridaean mystical foundation of authority, but to share what I think about “giving platform to rapists” and “suspension of their [the lawyers’] licenses,” to say nothing of the government’s unwise ban of the film.
Aesthetically and logically, let’s ask if the documentary’s purpose to show the prevalent mindset of many people (whether educated or uneducated or undereducated) capable of causing such disturbance who constitute “our” society (whether they are our representative or not, that’s not the issue, because the issue is the little or more part such section forms of our society can cause such disturbance of this magnitude) would have been fulfilled if what shock us (i.e. the statements of the rapists and their defence attorneys) were not presented. Is not it like a pathological diagnosis explained to us to hear what the rapists have in their poisonous minds which are in unholy communion with other rapists and still other men capable of committing rape [though they have not (yet) physically committed this crime]? Isn’t it better for us to reply to and refute these false/mistaken ideas [supported by certain elements of our culture (though this “human” crime of rape occurs in every other culture as well)—I am not talking about these here] than keeping them growing up under the cover of decency? In any case, the rapists are now convicts on death row, the price for the “sweets” they ate as “street/gutter dogs.” Yes, we don’t want to hear much from these rapists, not that they have much to say, not that we have holy or sordid things to learn from them. However, it is good for one to show that they bark to prove they are dogs. It they mew, we cannot say they are dogs. What has shocked us again is not the film but what the film reminds us of, the very thing we have so close among us that we are unconscious of it most of the time until it shocks us with what it can do—rapes and its accompaniment, murder. What has rubbed salt into our “Indian” psychological wound is the fact that the filmmaker just happens to be a “foreigner” “hell-bent on gratuitously defaming India in front of the international community.” But who ever of a pure desi breed could have done that if they had the idea? Nobody.
As for the statements of the rapist(s) in the documentary, I think that those are legally redundant now to hold them legally culpable because they are already on death row and none of them have two or enough lives to be punished in the appropriate degree of severity. And they are not given any platform without a plausible purpose, which (by dint of the nature and gravity of their crime) would in no way do anything in their favor any more.
As regards the stand and statements of the convicts’ defence attorneys, M.L. Sharma and A.P. Singh, I think it is quite problematic and difficult to deal with. This matter touches the core of the force the law has or the authority it enjoys, which is again complicated by the fact of these two men’s happening to be lawyers (no matter whether they have plausible reasons to defend themselves). As the Bar Council pointed out, I think it is quite courageous above board (though it seems to verge on foolhardy and professional suicide at best, if their minds are normally functional) for Mr Sharma and Mr Singh to support and take stands for their clients [when it is inescapably clear that they (their clients) would end up as they have now] risking the unusually serious occupational hazards involved. I appreciated their courage which I thought was driven by a spirit of justice and democracy, to look into the whole legal process their clients will undergo and safeguard them against any possible injustice in sentencing, punishing, and even executing them for their crime, and guiding their clients through all these processes so these convicts become sober/sensible (if possible) and die a better and hence less hated death. On the contrary, these attorneys have proved their own senses to be spurious and dubious.
However, as everybody is entitled to their own opinion or conviction, these two lawyers, however crazy, weird, irrational or shocking their views may be to us, can “legally safely” have and express their own opinion as long as they keep themselves categorically within the legal domain (i.e. without saying anything legally culpable). We may hate them or even want to do away with them somehow for having that opinion or expressing them; however, until what they say or do is “concretely” culpable (be it to be a Hitler without rounding up gullible or like-minded people for some “ethnic cleansing mission” or something else), hatred/dislike, by itself, is not a solid legal ground for punishment. Hating our good neighbors just because they are more advanced than us in the kind of life we want to lead is not an unfamiliar feeling among us many humans.
However, as Cobb in Christopher Nolan’s Inception (2010) says, the most resilient parasite is neither a bacteria nor a virus nor an intestinal worm, but an idea. Ideas are highly contagious. “Once an idea has taken hold of the brain it’s almost impossible to eradicate. An idea that is fully formed, … that sticks; right in there somewhere.” If the idea is really bad, and is spread by a powerful agent (powerful at least because they (rightly or wrongly) command their society’s high respect (as in the case of the two lawyers), then the idea becomes very dangerous, breeding poison in every gullible mind they contact. Here creeps in the idea of limits to one’s freedom of speech (though nobody will poke a legal nose into one’s cache of unexpressed thoughts however poisonous they may be), though no written acts have ever drawn a line separating what’s ethically [hence it leads to “legally” (involving some courtroom drama of debates)] culpable from what’s not. While the un/culpability of a speech act in this unchartered ethical, political and legal field is not measurable like the height of a pillar, meaning that it depends on the discretion of whoever in juridical authority (which keep changing from time to time), meaning that what is culpable at point A may not be so at point B, what the law upholds and encourages is responsible speech, though, in fact, history has witnessed many speeches considered responsible by many being condemned by many others as irresponsible. So, it is an opinion that comes against an opinion. Thus, ultimately number counts. Majority carries the vote, be it deciding on whether we should poison Socrates or crucify Jesus Christ. Democracy has a “fair” room of the possibility of the foolish majority winning the elections, and prosecuting the wise for saying wise things hazardous (and hence “obnoxious”) to the foolish establishment’s health/sensibility.
As for the two defence attorneys of these rape case convicts in question, I think it more democratic for them to be let alone and practice their art. I think they will professionally die on their own because of the suicidal statements and commitments they have made, unless we have still further people among us capable of doing things as will necessitate them to hire these attorneys for their defence (which would be an interesting social test). Whatever the case, however, we (how many of us are there in this country) should reply to and refute their flawed reasoning which they are mouthing so confidently now. Our inability to silence their flawed reasoning in this way is not a virtue, and silencing who/what we don’t like by the equivalents of mob justice will make spuriously legal and ethical precedence or room or convention of silencing any Socrates or Christs (who are possible to be born as social reformers—social reformers are almost invariably regarded as antisocial first) among us. (What we think now to be incontrovertibly best/right may turn out less than that when we sort of get wiser–we are fallible and we should leave room for our self-correction in future.) A couple of rotten eggs should not spoil the whole basket and all the eggs yet to be laid, and all the chicks yet to hatch.