In a country where the Constitution guarantees all sorts of freedoms to its citizens, how fearless do you have to be to go out for a movie at 6 in the evening? The world over, students and people who remember their days as students know that heady, relaxed feeling after the completion of final exams and before start of work. It is a time of complete freedom, when all the months of tension and revisions and pressure of exam time is behind you and before the responsibilities of working life descend. At a juncture like that, is it not only natural to grab hold of a friend and head to the nearest multiplex? Who would begrudge a hardworking, sensible young girl such an outing?
Well the answer to that is – quite a few people. These include the five men who brutally raped and mutilated the girl (widely referred to as Nirbhaya, fearless, in the media as Indian law prohibits the naming of a sexual assault victim) and beat up her friend. All this on a bus, when they were heading home around 8.30 at night after the movie got over. The incidents of December 16th 2012 in Delhi are well known as is the controversy surrounding the documentary, India’s Daughter, made by filmmaker Leslie Udwin and shown on BBC 4 for International Women’s Day. The Government, in a typical knee jerk reaction, obtained an injunction against the broadcasting of the documentary. Although we agree that there are many questions regarding the procedural irregularities in obtaining permission to record interviews of people on death row awaiting the hearing of appeals,. Not that it mattered because the documentary was widely viewed on the internet before being taken off. In fact a lot of people made it a point of seeing it because of the furore.
PS: Ultimately the documentary did not tell us anything new. Shocking as it is, one does not expect men convicted of such brutal crimes to be repentant or even acknowledge having committed the crime. But the attitude of their lawyers is a different story altogether.
LL: Whatever happened to not personally identifying with your client? People can never understand how lawyers can defend those who are very obviously guilty. We get tired of explaining that it’s a process and the lawyer cannot judge his/her client. But in this instance the lawyers of the rapists went not just one step but too many steps further.
PS: It is bad lawyering to say that you agree with why your client did what he did and that too in such personal terms. For someone who is supposed to be familiar with the Constitution, it is shocking to say that a girl should only step out of her house in the evening when accompanied by a person related to her. This is not Taliban country!
LL: The Delhi Bar Council seems to have made all the right noises by issuing notices to the two lawyers but to what end?
PS: One of them even said that if his sister or daughter went out with a friend, he would burn her alive. And all this when he knows he is being recorded, so obviously he did not think such statements will be objectionable, let alone abhorrent.
LL: Which country do these people live in? And what profession do they practise? Is it fearlessness or stupidity that makes the man spout such ideas? I wonder whether he has a sister or a daughter and what they made of the statement. Someone should interview them.
PS: The Government’s fear that the documentary showed India and particularly Indian men in a bad light is a little extreme because the same documentary shows Nirbhaya’s father, and her tutor, both normal men with normal opinions. And the many, many men who protested along with the women, after the crime came to light, on the streets of all Indian cities; braving lathi charges, water cannons and tear gas.
LL: In no other country, which we know of, has such an incident raised a spontaneous and uncontrollable public reaction which ultimately forced the then Government to establish a Commission for a change in the law.
PS: The documentary is kind to the Government of the day and does not mention that it did absolutely nothing to aid the Justice Verma Commission beyond setting it up. Even the basic infrastructure was not provided and the members of the Commission had to make do with whatever facilities they could muster up.
LL: I don’t think the Government had expected the Commission to really do anything, after all commissions are formed to not do anything and issues are thereby brushed under the carpet. They must have been shocked when the Justice Verma Commission not only submitted their report in one month but that it had done a very through job. That too after the Commission went through some 80,000 suggestions received by it from around the world!
So, Nirbhaya was fearless, as are her parents and as were the people who protested in 2012 for the Government to do something. But unfortunately, the perpetrators of the crime are also without fear, as are their lawyers and so many others like them in society. Not to mention the many people in public life who feel they can say or do anything with impunity.