India After Jyoti

Following last years tragic incident where a young girl was raped and murdered on a bus in Delhi, one woman embarks on making a documentary to discover, is India really a dangerous place to be a woman? 

Posted: 24.06.13

On 16th December 2012, the world witnessed a horrific attack on 23-year-old girl, Jyoti Singh Pandey who was gang raped on a moving bus in Delhi, India. Having suffered extreme internal and external injuries, she died on 29th December. The attack sparked emotional outcry across the world; people were glued to their TV screens to see the horrific event unfold and told across the globe. One such person was journalist Radha Bedi but she did more than just watch, she took the brave step to travel back with a camera crew to her homeland to document why women are still subjected to such treatment in India. Entertainment Journalist Parminder Kaur finds find out about her eye-opening visit.
How did the idea for the documentary come about?
Last October, I attended a friends wedding in India. I went as a tourist but as a journalist you are always listening and speaking to people. I was struck by how many female foreigners have stories to tell about some sort of mild form of sexual harassment, be it on the bus, unwanted comments or looks from men. It’s something that is part of being a foreigner, you just kind of accept it.

Radha with 15-year-old Tuba who had acid thrown in her face for not talking to a boy on a bus

In December, the story of a 23-year-old girl gang raped in India broke, what was your reaction?
I tracked the story like a hawk. The more I was watching and learning about why it happened, the reasons and the attitudes, the more I was shocked, and thought OMG its not just the foreigners. I didn’t realise that women and girls in India itself are suffering and battling with sexual harassment too. That’s when I thought right I have to do something with this. As I work in the business I spoke to my producer and told her about my experiences and how I wanted to find out more. She was intrigued and before I knew it, it was a commission. So that’s how the documentary came about, and it’s literally about me going back to India to find out about the daily struggle of being a woman there.

What did you discover while you were out there?
When you are a tourist you are moved from the reality of what goes on in India every day. When you go back to see family or are just travelling you don’t really get to see the real India, geographically yes, but you don’t get to experience what everyday life is like. When I went back to make this documentary, I was totally unprepared for what I discovered and what struck me the most was how wide spread the problem was.

The victims that you met had such disturbing stories, how did it make you feel, seeing as India is your heritage and one you should be proud of?
The case that struck me the most was when I met a 15-year-old girl, Tuba, who was a victim of an acid attack. She was approached by a boy on a daily route to her tuition class, she refused to talk to him and just out of sheer rejection, his ego was damaged. Because of that he took a two litre bottle of acid and threw it over her thinking if she isn’t going to say yes to me, I will ruin her so no one else can never have her either.

That was probably the hardest thing, simple 'no' and look how her life has been destroyed. In western culture when guys check you out you’re never afraid something like that will happen. When I met her I just thought gosh - her hair, her face, what makes her a female had been taken away from her. I was shocked. I had never seen brutality like that ever in my life, it was really really profound and really difficult.

Radha talking to Delhi bus rape victim Jyoti's father

You also met the parents of the Delhi gang rape victim, what was that like?
Very tough, that was probably the hardest interviews I have ever had to do. They were literally like the living-walking-dead, the mother didn’t say a word, she was just mute, all she did was hold my hand and pointed to a photo of her daughter. Her father was the most dignified man you’d ever meet. I have met all these people who disown their girls or don’t want girls, or abandon girls, yet here was man, a father, who ploughed everything into his daughter’s education. She was the life and soul of the family and they had been ripped to pieces.

You also met the defence lawyer for the Delhi gang rape victim, who shockingly blames her for what happened to her. Tell us more..
He was a right character. I asked him ‘Who do you blame’? and he categorically blames her. I asked him ‘Why’? and he said she wasn’t a respectable girl. I asked ‘Well define to me what is a respectable girl’?. He said the fact that she was out late at night, with a boy that wasn’t her brother, her uncle, her father or any relation and wearing western clothes, its her fault! I was like hang on a second let me get this straight, I dress like that (in jeans) you're telling me if I go out with my friends as I do in the UK , where 8, 9 o’clock at night isn’t exactly late, if something bad happens to me, that means I am not respectable and its my fault ? He said ‘Yes’. it’s just ridiculous, and horrendous when that’s what a defence lawyer thinks.

Why do you feel all this goes on in India?
Rape happens all across the world but in terms of why it happens in India and why its such a big problem, it's been tolerated for so long that women and the girls have been blamed for the shame of it and made to feel like they are the ones who have caused it. With Jyoti’s case it has changed things because people have now spoken and realised that enough is enough, we can’t go on and quietly tolerate this and accept it. Traditionally if a girl was raped she would be told forget about the matter or marry your rapist so he will became your husband. That way it won’t be classed as rape - these are the sort of things that have been passed by authority hence why they go largely unreported.

Do you think then, that with so many victims coming forward India will finally take action?
There has already been a few change. People have spoken up, they have new laws in place and fast track courts. When I was there, I saw more women’s help desks, they also have a new help line in Delhi, there is now gender training for police - so yeah there are small changes but its going to take a lot for it to implement to high levels and to cross more cities and rural paths.

What can be done to change people’s attitudes to women?
In India there is a huge gap between modernity and the old. India is advancing just as much as the west but what’s lagging behind is the old patriarchal  system where you have got these deep routed attitudes. The root of the problem is within the home, I mean you can change police, you can change the laws, you can bring in new measures but the root of it and the cause of it is the mind sets and attitudes is in the family and within the homes. Until mothers raise their sons equally to their daughters, this is going to continue to happen again and again.

Reflecting on the trip now you’re back in the UK, is there anything you can still do, from home?
I am still in touch with people I met while making the documentary like the acid victim Tuba. I keep in contact with her family and I know she has now had mouth surgery and is waiting for eye surgery, I want to do as much as I can to help her. I also regularly call Venna Bakshi who runs one of the orphanages I visited to keep updated with their progress.

What are your own feelings about India now?
I have been to India so many times. I love the place. I want to live and work there but lets face it, putting emotions aside, it is a savage place to be a girl. Globally being women we face some sort of struggle big or small because of our gender, it’s a fact, but in India the issue is particularly bad. However things are changing and there is a lot more emphasis on female empowerment and gender equality. The girls that I spoke to in India don’t want to be superior, they just want to be valued.

India: A Dangerous Place to be a Woman is on BBC Three at 9pm, Thursday 27th June 2013.

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