India: Bollywood joins anti-rape movement

THE serial rapist stalks her for days. Eventually, he breaks into her home when she is alone and tries to rape her at knife-point. But she somehow manages to overpower and trap him.

The poster for the new Bollywood film, 'Kill the Rapist'. Picture: Contributed
The poster for the new Bollywood film, 'Kill the Rapist'. Picture: Contributed

Now, she has to decide what to do. Kill him and bury him in the garden? Or call the police, who are known to be insensitive and where there is a likelihood he will be let off?

The plot is from Kill the Rapist?, a new Bollywood thriller which aims to embolden Indian women to report rapes, and deter potential rapists by making them “shiver with fear before even thinking of rape”, according to its promotional material.

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It may be a controversial idea, but it is all part of a growing conversation in India about violence against women following the fatal gang-rape of a 23-year-old trainee physiotherapist in December which prompted massive street protests.

Nine months on, the case has left a lasting impact on Indian society. The judge in the trial of the four men charged with raping and killing the woman is due to deliver his verdict in a Delhi court today. A teenager tried separately in the same case was sentenced to three years in juvenile detention last month.

“The December incident shook me to the core,” said Siddhartha Jain, 39, the producer of Kill the Rapist? “I didn’t want this just to be another story that would be forgotten in a year. My film is an excuse to amplify the discussion of women’s security and hopefully bring about some positive changes.”

The increased awareness is not just being reflected in cinemas. Newspapers and television news stations have stepped up their coverage of gender crimes, social media sites are full of debate and even Bollywood stars and cricketers are joining the discussion in campaigns to promote women’s safety.

“I think the conversation has changed, there appears to be much more sensitivity towards gender issues now from many quarters,” said Santosh Desai, a columnist and author of Mother Pious Lady: Making sense of Everyday India.

“It is coming into the mainstream and the conversation isn’t just dying down after a few days, it is being sustained.”

This has not really translated into women feeling any safer, say activists, but it has helped in breaking the silence surrounding crimes against women in this deeply patriarchal country.

Police in New Delhi, for example, believe a rise in reports of rape is partly due to an increased willingness by victims to come forward. There were 1,036 cases reported in the capital this year to 15 August, against 433 over the same period last year, according to police data.

Prabhakar Kumar, of the Delhi-based Centre for Media Studies, said: “The media played the role of a social trigger on this whole issue.

“This case created an overflow of emotions and became the tipping point for Indian society when it came to the subject of violence against women.”

Last month, Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan held true to a pledge following the Delhi gang rape, placing his leading lady’s name before his in the opening credits of his blockbuster film Chennai Express – a statement aimed at promoting the idea of respect for women in a male-dominated film industry.

Social commentators have emphasised that though the debate has had an impact in urban areas, it has not really touched the conservative rural masses that make up 70 per cent of India’s 1.2 billion people.

Kavita Krishnan, secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association, said: “Since it happened, there have been continual protests over rape cases in Delhi as well as other parts of the country and people have come out in greater numbers than ever before.

“This shows that there is a more sustained interest in this subject and people want action on such issues.”

From New Delhi to Mumbai, Kolkata and Manipal, India has witnessed a wave of sporadic protests erupting over rape cases, forcing authorities to take action.