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India’s Daughter: The Story of Jyoti Singh    cover image

India’s Daughter: The Story of Jyoti Singh 2015

Highly Recommended

Distributed by Women Make Movies, 115 W. 29th Street, Suite 1200,New York, NY, 10001; 212-925-0606
Produced by Leslee Udwin
Directed by Leslee Udwin
DVD , color, 62 min.

College - General Adult
Feminism, Rape, Violence, Women’s Rights

Date Entered: 01/14/2016

ALA Notable: yes
Reviewed by Wendy Highby, University of Northern Colorado

In December 2012, Jyoti Singh was riding on a public bus in Dehli, India, returning home after going to the mall to see a movie with a friend. En route, the 23-year-old medical student was gang-raped, tortured, disemboweled, and left to die on a roadside. Her male companion was beaten and abandoned there as well. Two weeks later, Jyoti died of her injuries. Four adult men were sentenced to death for the brutal assault. Singh’s rape became a galvanizing incident for India. Student activists rallied and a public debate was sparked regarding women’s roles, gender relations, and violence.

Like the typical crime documentary, Leslee Udwin’s film features interviews with the families and friends of the perpetrators and the victim, as well as legal representatives and members of law enforcement. But the film transcends the genre in its treatment of this difficult subject. It unflinchingly bears witness to the extremes of human behavior, ranging from the brutally violent misogyny of the rape to the immeasurable grief of Jyoti’s parents. From this individual case, the film extrapolates to the systemic level, showing how misogyny permeates social institutions and affects their response to the violence. The film provides an excellent educational opportunity, but it is not directly didactic. It is the interviewees who teach the audience. Their statements are revealing in a panoramic manner, capturing all psycho-social angles. One half of the circle reveals Victorian views of purity, cowardly defensiveness and denial, blaming of the victim, and outright hatred. The other half is shown by interviewees who espouse a range of progressive and feminist views that advocate expanded roles for women and supportive treatment of crime victims.

The observations of Jyoti’s tutor and close friend, Satrendra, are particularly insightful with regard to the social dynamics of gender roles and class. He describes Jyoti’s family as “traditional but their thinking is modern.” And in addition to the dispensing of criminal justice, he advocates for social justice: “The people of this society and their mindset need to change.” Jyoti’s father describes his daughter’s influence, stating that “in death, she has lit such a torch that not only this country, but the whole world, got lit up” and began to question women’s roles in society.

Director Leslee Udwin has created a tribute to the priceless worth of Jyoti’s life, a testament to the galvanizing effect of her senseless death upon her community and country, and a clarion call for international social change. The film is highly recommended for all adult viewers, and to high school-age viewers with adult guidance. The documentary will support criminal justice, victimology, women’s studies, gender studies, Asian studies, psychology, sociology, and most social sciences curricula.