Sunday, February 5, 2023

Fanning the ban

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While the government has banned this documentary on the December 16 gang-rape, a group of activists and lawyers wants its telecast to be delayed due to legal and human rights issues

By Somi Das

The documentary, India’s Daughter, on the Dec-ember 16, 2012 gangrape by British film-maker Leslee Udwin, has been criticized for giving one of the convicts in the case, Mukesh Singh, a platform to air his shocking views on women and rape. There has been widespread demand to stop the telecast of the film. The government respon-ded by banning it.

While it didn’t cite any legalities or procedural lapses for the ban, it primarily reacted to the outrage the interview caused. Though Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh belie-ves the film commercially exploits a very tragic and sensitive issue, that surely can’t be reason enough to ban a film.

BBC didn’t concede to the home ministry’s demand for an international ban and went ahead with its telecast in the UK. However, on the insistence of the home ministry, it asked YouTube to remove the online version of the film. NDTV, which was supposed to air the documentary on Inter-national Women’s Day, protested the ban by running a slate referring to the film’s title during the hour-long slot on March 8.

A letter written by a group of feminist activists and lawyers says that though the ban was unwarranted, the film thwarts the sanctity of the evidence recorded in the Nirbhaya trial.

LUCKNOW, DEC 16 (UNI):- Women sitting on dharna on second anniversary of Nirbhaya gang rape case at GPO  in Lucknow on Tuesday demanding fast track court for women.  UNI PHOTO-55u



Questions that have been topmost on everyone’s minds are: Did Udwin have the required permission? Was the footage seen by Tihar Jail authorities, where Singh was jailed? What are the laws that govern video recording of convicts by media?
A letter written by a group of feminist activists and lawyers to NDTV throws light on the legal aspects of interviewing a convict. The letter, signed by Indira Jaisingh, Vrinda Grover, Kavita Krishnan, Urvashi Butalia and others, says they do not want a ban on the film, but having watched it, they feel “the film thwarts the sanctity of the evidence recorded in the trial thereby threatening to jeopardize the rights of the victim and the accused”. They wanted NDTV to postpone the telecast “till all legal processes and proceedings pertaining to the December 16, 2012 case have concluded”. The case is still pending before the Supreme Court.

Vrinda Grover

Indira Jaisingh


(From above) Vrinda Grover and Indira Jaising


The activists say that airing the film would be punishable under Section 153A (1) which states:

Promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place
of birth, residence, language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony—

(1) Whoever—(a) by words, either spoken or written, or by signs or by visible representations or otherwise, promotes or attempts to promote, on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, caste or community or any other ground whatsoever, disharmony or feelings of enmity, hatred or ill-will between different religious, racial, language or regional groups or castes or communities.

The activists invoke Section 2(c) of Contempt of Courts Act 1971 that states:
“Criminal contempt” means the publication (whether by words, spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise) of any matter or the doing of any other act whatsoever which—

(ii) Prejudices, or interferes or tends to interfere with the due course of any judicial proceeding, or

(iii) Interferes or tends to interfere with, or obstructs or tends to obstruct, the administration of justice in any other manner.
The activists have also questioned how Udwin obtained permission to interview Singh. “It is necessary to find out how Mukesh Singh’s ‘informed consent’ was sought and given for this interview, as claimed by the film. You would appreciate the vexed nature of assuming free, informed and voluntary consent of a man who is in custody in a jail, convicted of death sentence,” they say.
Apart from the legal aspect, their major concern is that the film does a disservice to the feminist movement in India. “We cannot lose sight of the fact that the unlawful and reprehensible statements voiced by two male lawyers (defense lawyers ML Sharma and AP Singh) are dangerous, inasmuch as they can be received by people as being the opinion not only of lay persons, but informed by law,” they write in the letter. The documentary shows their regressive views on women and why they should be controlled to stop rapes.

India Legal tried to contact some of these activists, but they refused to comment. One of them angrily retorted that the media was making a deliberate attempt to conflate their position with the ban imposed by the government, thus making them look pro-ban. The group is clear that they do not support the ban, but only want the telecast of the film to be delayed, keeping in mind legal and human rights issues.

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  1. Does the SC get to decide (again) the guilt of the accused, or is its review limited to matters of law? What is the scope of SC review? It would be good to also know the basis of any statements made, including citations.

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