Rape: Satyamev Jayate and Indian Cinema
Indian Cinema has brought into light the grim issues – how the police handle rape cases, how doctors treat rape victims, how society turns indifferent to them, and how rapists escape punishment -which is highlighted in the first episode of the Amir Khan show Satyamev Jayate Session 2. Cinema is said to be a reflection of society. If it is believed, a few Indian movies (Hindi and Bengali) movies on crimes against women like rape have unmasked the society and system where rape victims are not only denied justice but also treated as outcast. Damini, Bawander and Premgranth are some of the few Bollywood movies depicting the grim reality in the reel. Since the release of Damini in 1993, there has been little change in the way that Indian society and system treat rape victims.
Damini (released in 1993), one of Rajkumar Santoshi’s signature films, is the story of a woman in conflict with the dumb society and the deaf judiciary system for a woman’s rights to justice. Though not based on any true story, the film relates to the rape of those women who belong to the bottom of economic heaps, who are mere playthings for the rich, spoilt boys, and who has not one to fight for them. Meenakshi Sheshadri plays Damini, daughter-in-law of the rich and powerful Gupta family. When the domestic maid is gang-raped by her husband’s younger brother and his friends, Damini reports it to the police. She is pressurized by her in-laws to forget the incident and told that it is her responsibility to save the family reputation which will otherwise be disgraced if the matter reaches the court. But, Damini decides to seek justice for the victim and get the rapists behind bars. However, the defense lawyer of the rapists establishes in the court that she is mentally unstable, and seeks a judiciary order to send her to a mental institution. In the meantime, the main servant dies in the hospital, and it is reported as a suicide. The film also highlights how the trial is stretched and the justice is delayed due to adjournment of the court for trivial excuses. The faulty process still exists as shown in the first episode of Satyamev Jayte Session 2.
Dahan (released in 1997), one of the best Bengali movies by Rituparna Ghosh, is based on a true story of sexual assault which happens on a rainy evening in Kolkata. Again it is the group of rich, spoilt boys who molest a housewife on the open road. No one comes forward to rescue the helpless victim, except an upright schoolteacher played by Indrani Halder. She reports the case to the police, gets the miscreants behind the bars, and tries her best to seek justice for the molested. But the victim’s in-laws and husband ask her to withdraw the case because if the victim goes to the court, their family reputation will get mired in society. Being the lone witness, the schoolteacher faces difficulty in the process. Her dignity is disgraced and her character is blemished due to iniquitous interrogation by the defense lawyer in the court. The apathy of the society, the judiciary system and law to the matter is starkly highlighted in the movie Dahan. The voice of protest and the voice for justice are suppressed by the entire system which tilts to the favor of the high and mighty.
One of the gang-rape cases by the elders of the higher-caste communities in the rural backwaters of India was adapted into a film by Jag Mundhra in the year 2000. Bawandar (Sandstorm) starring Nandita Das in the lead is the true story of Bhanwari Devi, a lower-caste woman who was gang-raped by the males of the higher-caste Gurjar community in Bhateri, a village in Rajasthan. This Bollywood movie on a real life case of social crimes against women in India highlights the issue – ill treatment of the victim by the local doctor, the local police and the defense lawyer of the rapists – which has been discussed in the first episode of Satyamev Jayte Session 2.
In the movie Bawander, Nandita Das’ character Sanwari (inspired by Bhanwari Devi) belongs to the low-caste community Potter. She is married off at the age of only 6. When she grows up, she becomes a woman with self-esteem, a dutiful housewife and a mother of two children. Her husband is a rickshaw-puller. She keeps the house, takes care of the in-laws, brings up the children and works in the field so that she can share her husband’s financial responsibility for the family. She joins Saathin, an NGO, as part of the Women’s Development Project in the villages of Rajasthan. She motivates the rural womenfolk to prevent child marriages, which the conservative male elders of the Gurjar Community take as a potential threat to their patriarchal authority over the women.
When Sanwari gives the police a tipoff about the child marriage in a Gurjar family, the five men of the family rape her as a lesson or punishment. Then, she goes through harassment from one door to another door of the country’s law and judiciary system. The inspector at the local police station refuses to report her case without a medical confirmation report of the rape. The doctor refuses to issue a medical report without a court order. Even the rape case is politicized by an MLA. He hires a lawyer to establish Sanwari’s gang-rape as a concocted story in the court so that he can win the support of his vote bank, the Gurjar community. The defense lawyer’s aberrant questions put Sanwari to public humiliation in the court. The rapists elude the clutches of law due to the careless handling of evidences by the police.
Still we hope for a positive change which we can achieve through united protest against the iniquitous system.