Leslee Udwin, the 57-year old Israeli-born British filmmaker is still in the news. ‘India’s Daughter’, Udwin’s latest documentary film on the 2012 brutal gang rape on a Delhi bus of a 23-year-old physiotherapy intern, became hugely controversial in India. Subsequently, the film was banned and also taken off from the YouTube in India, but it continues to attract massive attention of international audiences in Europe and elsewhere.

Udwin is a mother of two children — Emil, 19; Maya, 15 — living in Britain for last 30 years and shuttling between Copenhagen and London for last seven years.

She speaks her heart out in an exclusive interview with Gowhar Geelani for Dawn.com in London about the making of her film, love for India as a country, displeasure about the ban in India, and utter sadness for what she refers to as “witch-hunt” and “hate campaign” from sections of the Indian media without even trying to know her side of the story.

Here are the excerpts…

GG: First let me ask you about the idea that led to the making of India’s Daughter. Your critics are saying that rapes take place globally, why did you choose India then?

LU: My simple answer to ‘why India’ would be why not. The idea about making of this film evolved only after I watched extraordinary street protests in Delhi and other parts of India over the gang rape of Nirbhaya, a 23-year-old medical student.

Young men and women took part in these protests and demanded an end to sexual abuse, sexual harassment and rapes in their country. I reacted to these protests in India as a woman, as a global citizen.

These protests were a spontaneous eruption of hope, a demand by the civil society to challenge patriarchy. As a global citizen, I have every right to scream about women issues. We’re living in 2015, in a global village, and I’m a citizen of that global village.

GG: Well, absolutely. But your detractors also say that in your documentary film you have given a platform to rapists. There were passionate debates in sections of Indian electronic media about this, how would you react?

LU: The responses from sections of Indian media have been hysterical, a knee-jerk reaction. There has been no attempt to contact me, watch and understand the film. I feel deeply, deeply sad. There are times when I burst with anger, not publicly though.

And there are also times when I break down. (Tears…!) It is uncomprehending why this witch-hunt and hate campaign was unleashed against me. I don’t take criticism personally, because criticism and debates are healthy.

But I’m sorry the hate-campaign is not. All I would say is that reactions and responses from Indian media over ‘India’s Daughter’ are exaggerated, inaccurate, and nasty. However, I am thankful to NDTV 24/7 for broadcasting my film and their support for freedom of speech.

GG: And what about the allegations that through your film you may have provided a platform to rapists?

LU: It is utterly crucial to know about the rape from the rapists itself. Psychologists, psychiatrists and experts would tell you all sorts of things, but, in my view, to know about the rape from the rapists is crucial. It has not been easy for me to sit with five rapists in Tihar (jail in Delhi).

One of them named Gaurav had raped a five-year-old girl. When I asked him why, he said she belonged to a beggar’s family and therefore her life had no value.

That is pathetic. Mukesh (one of the men convicted of raping Nirbhaya) agreed to speak to me only after his mother convinced him.

Woman beating is so common in their daily lives. Those in India who allege that I made this film for commercial reasons, I tell them that I’m in debt.

GG: We watched your film together; it seemed that the rapists you interviewed inside Tihar jail had no remorse.

LU: Each case is different; there is a certain commonality though. And that is a lack of remorse. Lack of regret. Remorse comes from understanding and empathy. One said he deeply regretted what happened but believes he was not guilty.

I interviewed seven in all, including Pawan and Vinay (Nirbhaya case).

Overall, there was no sense of regret over raping and hurting another human being. The disease is the mindset and gender inequality. We have to re-educate an entire generation.

GG: What do you have to say about the allegations that you had no proper permission to shoot the film in India?

LU: Absolutely ridiculous! There was nothing wrong in permission. In December 2012, I was busy cutting vegetables in the kitchen with my husband when the news about the rape and the subsequent protests exploded.

Why this rape? Protests in India were so inspirational that I thought the world needs to learn from Indian civil society. Establishments do feel threatened when civil society demands a change.

GG: You broke down a couple of times while saying that you love India as a country. It must be hurtful to know about the restrictions on your film in India then.

LU: My film was a big Thank You to those extra-ordinary people of India — men and women — who took part in those memorable protests on Delhi streets.

The hate campaign in Indian media, ban on my film and travel in India are all backward steps. It is a great loss of opportunity.

I know what my intentions were. Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh should have come to me and asked me questions if he had doubts about the film. Whatever he was saying in Lok Sabha was inaccurate. You cannot rush to judgements and ban the film. I hold India aloft with pride to inspire the whole world. But the response from the Indian government and large sections of Indian media has been utterly disgraceful.

Banning is an attempt to bury heads in sand to deny shame. India has committed international suicide. As of now I believe I can’t go back to New Delhi. I loved that country for 14 years. I’m blacklisted.

But I do hope that Indian Prime Minister Modi will make a right decision by lifting the ban on my film and travel.

GG: What were the “lies” and “inaccuracies” spread about you in sections of Indian media?

LU: First, I paid people for the interviews; I did not pay anyone for the interviews. Second, I’m a British journalist; I’m not a journalist at all. I am a Jewish woman born in Israel, spent first nine years of my life in Tel Aviv, and then studied in South Africa until I was 19. I’m living in Britain for last 30 years.

Third I’m a documentary maker; I’m not - I’m a filmmaker for last 20 years. Fourth, ‘India’s Daughter’ is a BBC film; it is not. The BBC has a license to show the film only in the United Kingdom. Fifth, I had no permission to shoot the film in India; there was nothing wrong in permission.

GG: Any last message?

LU: See, you can build as many toilets but it can’t prevent rapes. Temporary measures will neither solve nor treat anything. Education of heart is the answer followed by compassion, tolerance and understanding.

My film is a global campaign against rapes in the world, not just India. I've been involved in filmmaking for the last 20 years. I’m not a new kid on the block. I understand my work and responsibility as a global citizen.

The 2012 Delhi Gang Rape: One of the rape accused, Ram Singh, died in police custody on March 11, 2013. Some reports said he committed suicide by hanging himself inside Delhi’s Tihar jail.

The rest of the accused including Mukesh Singh, Ram Singh’s brother and driver of the bus, went on trial in a fast-track court; four of them were sentenced to death by hanging.

The juvenile was convicted of rape and murder and sent to three years’ imprisonment in reform facility. Indian government does not allow the media to publicise a rape victim’s name.



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