Washington: It would be unfair to portray India’s banning of a BBC documentary on the gang-rape of an Indian woman as a signal of a more authoritarian government, according to a leading US expert.
“Some portray the government’s move as an attempt to stifle free speech on an issue that could harm India’s image,” said Rick Rossow, Wadhwani Chair in US-India Policy Studies Centre for Strategic and International Studies.
This “in a way, is an attempt to turn this issue into a question over whether India’s ‘strongman leader’ Narendra Modi is exhibiting an authoritarian streak many believe he harbours,” he said commenting on the ban on the documentary “India’s Daughter”.
“While there are questions over whether the BBC followed India’s procedures, the debate in India is certainly focused on whether the documentary should be blocked due to its content,” Rossow said.
“But at the same time, it is unfair to use an overly broad brush and paint this as an issue which Prime Minister Modi is personally trying to avoid,” he said.
“Prime Minister Modi has actually been a fairly strong proponent of women’s rights, using far less paternalistic language than his predecessors,” Rossow said, pointing to his various speeches.
“It is not the first time we have seen free speech attacked in India,” he said.
“This BBC dispute, though, should not be taken as indicative of a personal inclination by Prime Minister Modi to ignore the issue of the mistreatment of females.”
“Less than a year into his tenure, he has become an unexpected champion of women’s rights,” Rossow said.
Several US newspapers, including the Washington Post, carried an AP story headlined, “A murderer and rapist’s views reflect those of many in India”.
The condemned rapist killer Mukesh Singh’s reported views that “the woman he and others brutally gang-raped on a New Delhi bus was responsible for what had happened to her”, it said “were shocking in their callousness and lack of remorse”.
“But the underlying view has wide acceptance in India,” it said, suggesting “blaming women for rape is what hundreds of millions of men here are taught to believe”.
“But how different were the convicted rapist’s words from comments that Manohar Lal Khattar, the top elected official of Haryana state, made last year?” it asked.
The influential New York Times too focused on the rapist’s comment “that the young woman invited the rape because she was out too late at night and that she would have lived if she had submitted to the assault”.
The comments, released as part of a publicity campaign for the film “were met with outrage in India, in part over why the film-maker, Leslee Udwin, had been permitted to interview the defendant in jail”, it said.
The Los Angeles Times noted that the ban on film about 2012 Delhi gang rape had stirred a debate in India.