Her ringing voice, which faced down opponent after opponent this week, has gone ragged. Leslee Udwin, who has spent the past two years producing a searing documentary that examines the cultural underpinnings of a shocking Delhi gang rape that ushered in a painful bout of soul searching in India, conceded as much. “I’m hoarse,” she told the BBC on Thursday as controversy over her movie roiled the subcontinent. “But I’m not muzzled. Nor will I be muzzled.”
Indian officials are doing everything they can to prove her wrong. “We can ban the film in India,” the country’s parliamentary affairs minister M. Venkaiah Naidu said. “But this is an international conspiracy to defame India. We will see how the film can be stopped abroad too.”
On Wednesday, the BBC nonetheless showed “India’s Daughter,” which sketches the troubling tale of a 23-year-old woman who was raped by six men inside a private bus, sustaining injuries so profound that she later died. In the film, one of the rapists in a jailhouse interview blamed the victim for what happened to her.
“When being raped, she shouldn’t fight back,” he said. “She should just be silent and allow the rape. Then they’d have dropped her off after ‘doing her’ and only hit the boy.”
For Indian officials, silencing the film appears to be a top priority though, in the era of ubiquitous social media and in a country that relishes it, little can actually be “banned.” Hundreds of thousands, if not more, have viewed the film on YouTube. And more than 300,000 people watched in the United Kingdom on Wednesday. “In fact, the government’s strenuous efforts appear to have only helped to give the film publicity,” the Times of India said.
These efforts include: sending threatening legal notices to the BBC. Sending legal notices to Google and YouTube. Assembling something called the Indian Computer Emergency Response Team. Summoning officials associated with the BBC New Delhi to the local police station. And warning, according to the Hindu, that Udwin will soon be subjected to “examination by senior officials.”
“I’m very frightened what’s going to happen next,” Udwin told India’s NDTV, according to the Guardian, before she caught a flight out of the country. “I predict the whole world will point fingers at India now. It’s a tragedy – you’re shooting yourself in the foot.”
The Indian government contends Udwin violated any number of agreements, which range from the extremely granular to mildly granular. It claims Udwin agreed the film wouldn’t be put to a commercial end, but then sold the film to the BBC and gave it permission to profit from its release. “No necessary approval was taken by the BBC for the commercial use of the documentary,” a Home Ministry official told the Hindu. “We have served the notice and are awaiting for its response. Further action is awaited.” Another lawmaker said this week he thought the interviews were intended for “a study and an inquiry” and wasn’t sure how “it got into the public arena.”
Prison officials who signed off on Udwin’s interview – who themselves are now subject to government criticism – have alleged that Udwin didn’t allow them to fully vet the content of the interview she captured. Udwin has denied that allegation, saying that she did fork over the full 16 hours of “raw, unedited footage,” but the was told by the officials that “We can’t sit through all of this; it’s too long.” So, she told the Guardian, “I submitted an edited version which was cleared.”
Home Ministry officials claim she deliberately misled them and wasn’t transparent with her intentions when applying to interview the bus gang-rapist. According to anonymous officials interviewed by India’s Economic Times, the filmmaker said she was seeking to interview numerous convicts related to “atrocities against women.”
But, the official said, “her sole intention, it seems, was to interview [that] convict – which she didn’t reveal to the home ministry or [jail] authorities while seeking a nod,” an anonymous official told India’s Economic Times. “She filmed half-a-dozen convicts in Tihar but only [rapist] Mukesh Singh’s interview has made it into the documentary.” He lamented the fact Udwin was allowed to leave India, calling it a “goof up. … We wanted to ask Udwin why interviews of no other convict is there in the documentary.”
Udwin, who didn’t return to a request for comment left by The Washington Post on Thursday evening, has also come under some criticism by the family of the victim. The father of the victim, according to the Times of India, has expressed unease over the unveiling of his daughter’s identity. “Despite clearly telling them not to make the name and photo of our daughter public, they have gone ahead with it and this is not right,” the newspaper quoted him saying. “We will take legal action against this.” He has, however, called for everyone to see the movie, calling it a “bitter truth.”
Amid the raging controversy, the Indian government has failed to get the film removed from YouTube and Google – though, confusingly, some officials seem to think they have succeeded. “We got the court notices this morning,” Gulshan Rai, director general of the Indian Computer Emergency Response Team, told the Hindu on Friday morning. “We served it on Google and YouTube and they have removed the documentary from their servers.” (Actually, they haven’t.) “Like Ravana, Internet is a multi-headed entity,” he said. “If we remove some content from a website, it might appear on other URLs on another server.”
And so, “millions” of people are ringing up views of the documentary on YouTube, according to the Times of India. As one blogger put it after viewing the video: “If the government of India wanted to minimize the viewing of this documentary,” Lauren Weinstein wrote, “they blew it big time.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article said Leslee Udmin fled the country under fear of arrest. After the article was published, she said she left on a scheduled flight.