A prominent writers group in the US has said the Indian government’s decision to ban the BBC documentary on the Delhi gangrape incident has “backfired” as attempts to suppress the film have given rise to a broader debate on issues of women’s rights and freedom of expression.
PEN American Center said the Indian government’s censorship of the documentary ‘Storyville: India’s daughter’ is a “worrying attempt” to restrict free expression on a key issue in the public interest.
“The Indian government’s attempt to suppress this film has precisely backfired, provoking an even broader domestic and global debate on the complex questions it raises,” PEN American Center’s executive director Suzanne Nossel said in a statement.
Nossel said that while it is “perfectly fair to debate the merits” of the film and to sound an alarm over how its content may be misconstrued, members of the public who choose to view the film should be free to do so and form their own opinions on the vital issues it raises.
“If people disagree with the message of the film, they can refute it or even condemn it, but not insist that it be banned,” she said.
PEN American Center urged video-sharing website YouTube and all other affected media outlets in India to make the documentary as freely available as possible and to challenge the Indian court’s “unwarranted” restriction, which is “inconsistent with the country’s own domestic legal protections for free expression, as well as with its international obligations to uphold freedom of speech.”
Made by British filmmaker Leslee Udwin, the documentary focuses on the brutal rape and murder in December 2012 of a 23-year old paramedical student in Delhi.
The film includes extensive footage and interviews with members of her family, the rapists and their defense lawyers, with the aim of examining widely held attitudes toward women in India.
The documentary included an interview conducted by Udwin and BBC, of Mukesh Singh, the driver of the bus in which the student was brutally gangraped by six men on December 16, 2012. Mukesh has made derogatory statements against women, Delhi police has said.
The documentary was due to be aired in the UK on Sunday to coincide with International Women’s Day but the telecast was brought forward to Wednesday night in the wake of attempts by the Indian government to block its release worldwide.
India’s government agencies have also ordered YouTube to remove access to the film after the BBC made it available on the Storyville website.
Commentators have complained that the film portrays India in a negative light among other concerns.