Nirbhaya documentary debate: An opportunity to re-define our future

From Sureshbhai Patel, who was left paralysed due to excessive physical force from overzealous policemen in the USA for being a “coloured” human being walking on the streets of a xenophobic town, to Nirbhaya who was brutally raped in a moving bus in New Delhi, it is apparent there is an erosion of the basic and universal values that we perhaps tend to take for granted. It is left to us to salvage this state of anomie by inculcating in children universal values such as respect, compassion, treating people the way one wants to be treated and helping those who are in need.

In the Indian context, it is imperative that we stay away from those so called “traditional” values which often reinforce and encourage discrimination against women and merely reinforce the injustices that stem from the resultant gender discrimination.

The documentary about the Nirbhaya case (which is now banned) renders most of us too numb to say anything. We are shocked by the sentiments expressed by the rapists, their lawyers and families. It is devastating for us as people who are responsible for young lives that we co-inhabit this world with people who feel this way, with total disregard, for their fellow beings.

So, how do we deal with this situation? Our children live in a world that is our creation. Therefore, it is fair to say that they are victims of our own design. We want them to be critical thinkers and problem solvers, yet, don’t encourage open discussion, debate, time for reflection about controversial and sensitive issues such as rape, gender discrimination and grossly unfair social norms and stigmas. We conveniently sweep under the carpet the issues that rankle and show us in poor light in the eyes of our children.

Children have access to the internet, with both its wonders and horrors, the media, post-modern expressions of ambivalence through art and music that border on nihilism and yet, we expect them to be unaffected by all of this, somehow. It is high time that we make amends for our own indiscretions and create avenues for frank and open discussion with our children / students about these “uncomfortable and controversial” issues to help them make sense of the double standards that are rampant in our society.

The Nirbhaya documentary showed that the crime was brutal, while the rapist’s comments as well as those by eminent politicians, lawyers and citizens of prominence are reflective of the frequently dysfunctional views of women in our society. We need to confront such challenges to enable our transition to a 21st Century society, rather than pretend they don’t exist. We cannot even venture to call the viewpoints expressed by the two defence lawyers and one of the rapists in the documentary misogynistic or prejudiced, because that would connote a viewpoint that is at least in some shape or form, human.

What schools and colleges can do?

Educational institutions must open up avenues for debate and reflection on these issues and children should be deliberately included in policy making to address the very social problems that they will face as adults, or are already facing. Educational institutions should target children from senior school upwards to participate in a program facilitated by teachers and counsellors structured in perhaps the following ways: Develop an insight into how systems work (i.e. use a systems-based thinking approach to address this issue) – examine what has led to this incident / other incidents or views on women’s rights and gender parity issues in Indian society.

  • Develop an insight into how systems work (i.e. use a systems-based thinking approach to address this issue) – examine what has led to this incident / other incidents or views on women’s rights and gender parity issues in Indian society.
  • Ethics – revisit those ‘universal values’ and communicate to children that these are the innate values that we have espoused as human beings through history. Also assess how our personal, individual and collective conduct has an impact on our society
  • Use a range of lenses / subjects (including sociology, psychology, history, literature, law, marketing and economics) and an interdisciplinary approach so that all children can resonate with the message that is being projected.
  • Discuss the issue of rape and sexual advances by men whether on buses, in other public areas and in workplaces. Raise awareness about gender parity issues in India, access to education for all, particularly the female child, unequal remuneration scales for men and women, etc.
  • Explore the psychological / emotional / social issues vis-à-vis women’s role in society. What makes someone rape another person, and think it is okay, and get away with it if one has a position of influence in society, or express the views that the defence lawyer / the family of the rapists have in the Nirbhaya documentary? What about those who oppose these views? What has led to these differences of opinion? What is the impact of these divergent views on society and women at large? How do we address them? What do students, parents and faculty think is right, based on their own beliefs / values? How can children participate in designing a future that is theirs? And finally, what can we do to create more awareness about these issues?
  • Look at relevant laws, both in India and overseas with respect to human rights, gender issues and privacy. What should the consequences be and how should women learn to guard against and deal with such incidents? Should the Nirbhaya documentary have been banned? Was it right to divulge the name of the victim? Should the victim’s photograph have been publicised? Should the rapist have been interviewed? Should the film have been aired by BBC when the case is still in court?
  • Use these sessions as an opportunity for action, and informed political and social activism – work on developing and advocating an effective system to address this. While we can set the stage for young adults to explore these issues, it would be ideal if the responses and recommendations came from the students themselves. It is our responsibility as educators to empower our youngsters to be aware, informed, sensitive, with strong values and character, and help them arrive at their own stance on these and other issues.
  • This can also be accomplished through position papers, open discussion among students, questionnaires developed by students to gather a consensus on views and ultimately develop a charter from students that can be shared with governmental agencies and politicians to make relevant changes so that women are viewed as equals. An extremely valuable exercise would be for students from different backgrounds to collaborate on these deliberations.

We from Inventure Academy, a Pre-K to 12 international school on Whitefield-Sarjapur Road, Bangalore, hosted a similar event on child protection in November/ December 2014. We created a student charter on safety on the basis of responses from 1100 students across the socio-economic and cultural spectrum in the city.

We believe that ALL human beings are fundamentally good. We also believe that all of us have the inherent ability to reflect, examine our actions and underlying values / beliefs, learn and change for the better. It is with this underlying premise that we must embark on the quest of building a more respectful, empathetic and just society, along with our children towards a future that is better than our present. Let’s seize this opportunity to make it happen!

– Nooraine Fazal, Ramesh Hariharan, and Mallika Sen

Nooraine Fazal is Co-founder and Managing Trustee, Inventure Academy, Bengaluru. Mallika Sen is Principal, Inventure Academy, Bengaluru. Ramesh Hariharan is Vice-principal, Inventure Academy, Bengaluru.

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