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Why the govt is right in banning the BBC film

By Colonel Anil A Athale (retd)
Last updated on: March 05, 2015 17:54 IST
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'There would have been no controversy had the convicted rapists been punished according to the law and met their maker! But our criminal justice system remains dysfunctional.'

Ultimately, besides genuine social reform and gender equality, the lack of effective laws are at the root of women's insecurity,' argues Colonel Anil A Athale (retd).

Protests against Delhi rape case


On the eve of 'Women's Day' on March 8, the airing of a documentary on the Delhi gang-rape case by the BBC has raised a storm in India. With the information that is available in the public domain, it seems the documentary maker took the unusual step of interviewing a convicted criminal and gave him a platform to rave and rant.

As is the wont of the BBC, it has taken refuge under the 'freedom of speech' argument. It must be noted that it is a long established principle that freedom of expression does not mean a licence to shout 'fire' at a crowded place.

The apprehension that the graphic description of the crime by the accused violates the victim's human rights and that it will only embolden perverts to do a 'copy cat' repeat are indeed valid.

The government has indeed done the right thing by banning the documentary.

It needs to go a step ahead and prosecute the BBC and the filmmaker for malafide actions and impose a huge fine since despite the government ban the BBC aired it on its international channels.

There is indeed a precedent. Some years ago when the Irish separatist movement was at its peak, the British government had imposed a ban on broadcasting interviews with Irish separatists (Indian Anglophiles note: There is no such ban on Kashmiri separatists in India). The BBC defied the ban and paid the price.

The BBC, despite its pretensions of objectivity, has been an important tool in the hands of the West to advance its political agenda.

In 1984, at the height of the Khalistan movement, it broadcast a highly provocative speech by Jagjit Singh Chohan wherein he openly incited Sikhs to kill then prime minister Indira Gandhi.

Much later (and I was a witness to it) during the Hazaratbal crisis in Kashmir in the 1990s, it broadcast unverified reports of the shrine being gutted. The result was that an angry mob attacked army posts and many were killed in the firing.

Even before we take action against the BBC for wilfully defying India, we must look inwards and punish the people who made this possible. What on the earth was the official concerned thinking when he granted permission to the BBC to interview a convicted rapist?

Could he not foresee that the material would be used commercially and lead to avoidable controversy/ill effects on society at large? If he did not apply his mind, then he is unfit to hold office and should be dismissed for incompetence.

It is also necessary to find out if the journalist in question brought any political pressure. A question to ponder for all Indians is this: Are we still (after 68 years of Independence) so slavish that we let a Briton walk all over us?

The debates in the print media and on news television have been a revelation of sorts. Many had the gall to justify the publicity for the rapist on the ground that the documentary merely shows the 'reality' of our country and holds a mirror to us.

This does not mean that rapes do not take place in India, they do. But if one were to see the statistics in perspective -- say the crime of rape per million population -- one will find that the incident of rapes in India is one of the lowest in the world.

India recorded a rate of 2 per million while the US figure is 30, 15 times more rapes per million population.

If we were to compare New York, 1/3 of Delhi in terms of population, yet had double the Delhi number of rapes. It is indeed true that many rape cases in India go unreported, but even the US has accepted that only 1/3 of these crimes are reported. Given these facts, it was indeed rather rich that the venerable New York Times thought it fit to editorially advise India.

This out of context sensationalism skews the real debate and sidelines the real issues. This is not very different from two other fallacies that are being propagated -- one about hunger and the second about child malnutrition.

In the case of my city Pune, the statistics say 67 per cent of Puneites need subsidised foodgrain! This flies in the face of the fact that there are more two wheelers in Pune than the number of people -- so people in Pune prefer to fill their two wheelers with petrol over their bellies?

Another ridiculous statistic is that half of Indian children are malnourished -- this nonsense is based on comparing Indian children with African or European children who are naturally of a larger build.

The recent debate as well as the agitation two years ago revealed another Indian reality -- the stark difference between north and south India. While Delhi saw a mass reaction to the Delhi outrage, the reaction was rather tepid in other metros in the south and the east.

While rape is not unknown in other parts of India, the kind of boorish male behaviour that Delhi women suffer day in and day out has few parallels in the rest of the country.

In more ways than one, and especially in case of 'social reforms,' India south of the Narmada and north of it are worlds apart. Even historically, the Narmada river has been one of the longest standing 'political and social' boundaries within India.

The south, west and east have seen movements for social reform for several hundred years. With the exception of the Sikhs in Punjab and the Arya Samaj movement, the rest of the vast Indo-Gangetic belt has been virtually bereft of any social reform and wallows in the purdah culture as far as women are concerned.

It is from this socially backward countryside that hordes of migrants flock to Delhi in search of a better life. These rootless rural youth find the city culture alien and yet enticing. The anonymity that the city offers breaks down mental barriers to deviant behaviour and crimes against women are committed.

In addition, the city pathology of congested living quarters and forced bachelorhood are contributing factors to crimes against women. Similar conditions exist in other metros, but the lawlessness in Delhi is unique.

I remember an incident when a girl visiting from Delhi asked if it was safe to walk home around 9 pm in Pune! I don't know if we were more surprised by the question or she was by our answer! Of course, girls go round freely not just at 9 pm, but till midnight in Pune.

None of these controversies would have occurred had the convicted rapists been punished according to the law and met their maker. Our netas have ensured that our criminal justice system remains dysfunctional and many get away with murder.

Ultimately, besides genuine social reform and gender equality, the lack of effective laws are at the root of women's insecurity.

Colonel Anil A Athale (retd) has been studying internal conflicts and violence for over 25 years.


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Colonel Anil A Athale (retd)