"No Means NO, whether it be a family, friend, girlfriend, sex worker, or even a wife - no means no" - Deepak Sehgal
Rajveer, Dumpy, Vishwa, and Ankit during the trial
"NO means NO. Whether it be a family member, friend, girlfriend, sex worker, or even wife, " Sehgal repeats, "NO means NO." This powerful message invokes the sentiments that have been present in India ever since the horrifying 2012 Delhi Rape Case, which shook the world. Here, he extends that women including sex workers are worthy of respect. If they say no, it means that is NO. This message is at the heart of the film. Interestingly enough, the rape case and the actual events associated with the violent act are not revealed until the very end of the movie but perhaps, what makes the film unique in its nature that it is not the attackers or rapists on trial, but rather the women who are raped and beaten. Rajveer Singh is a man of power; his uncle is an imminent politician.
In India, sexual purity and honor are intertwined. When women challenge these norms, they are viewed as "indecent" and impure. According to the interesting character, Rajveer, whose values are steeped in conservative and traditional Indian values, decent girls do not drink or party with men. They remain at home after dark and do not engage in "un-Indian" values. This is the philosophical conflict that is at the heart of the film - how do you find a balance between one's "traditional" values and modern expectations? Leslee Udwin's India's Daughter (2009) and Nisha Pahuja's The World Before Her (2012), both powerful and influential documentaries, contribute to the discourse, addressing the tensions that exist in India. Young girls are often forced to choose between the ability to remain traditional or to become "modernised." Because women and girls continue to project the honour of their community and nation, their behaviour, especially if a woman has chosen to become independent, professional, working class women is constantly questioned by the society especially if the women are single. Furthermore, the women engage in drinking, going out with young men, and partying - behaviours that are considered "foreign" and risky. As a result, the prosecutor and the men accuse the women of prostitution. The girls are shamed throughout the trial especially in the beginning when corruption becomes apparent when a female police officer gives false testimony to admonish their claims further.
The turning point of the film and perhaps the most unforgettable moment is when Deepak questions if Minal is a virgin. Struck by his question, Minal hesitates afraid that her responses will further shame her in front of the court. She finally admits that she is not a virgin and lost her virginity at the age of nineteen. Deepak continues the questions - he asks if she had asked him to pay her boyfriend for sex or if she was forced into it. Minal defends her decision and says it was a consensual decision. Her response gives Deepak enough information to support her decision. With a loud thunder-like voice, he notes that this was a case of sexual assault and rape because Minal felt uncomfortable and was not interested in having sex with Rajveer.
The film ends on another high note - Deepak Sehgal addresses the court stating that a woman's response NO should be taken seriously. This is also the first time the issue of marital rape is also brought forward in the cinema. While there are examples of commercial films such as Agni Sakshi (1996) and Daraar (1996), which do mention marital rape, these films have been forgotten in the national memory. Deepak's closing speech draws attention to an important reality - women's consent is determined by the impression they gave to the men - by their clothes they wear, their choices to drink or not, or even to a great extent - their career choices or even decision to work and become an independent woman.
To sum up, the film is a powerful reproduction that is an ongoing conflict in the Indian society - the fear that one's traditional values will be lost if anyone - men or women - adopt "modern" values. Secondly, it addresses a vital point - when a woman is raped or molested, it is not her rapist or molester that is put on trial in the eyes of the society - it is the rape victim herself. Therefore, even though the women are innocent, their decision to long to become indepedent, professional, working women is seen as a threat. As a result, they are two key things that the film addresses in its message.
The first thing is that we need stronger laws to punish the rapists. According to Bangkok Post, the leader of the gang rape in Indonesia has been sentenced to death. The case of a fatal death of a fourteen-year-old has to lead the government to increase the punishment for rapists and child sex offenders. While the decision of capital punishment is perhaps a harsh solution, but it does instill fear in the minds of the offenders, which may lead to a reduction of such crimes. But that being said the film notes that law and order are indeed corrupt in India to a great extent. Police officers readily discourage the rape victims from coming forward and lodging an FIR report. While I do not want to make a generalization, I do think that is a salient issue that needs to be addressed if we want to control the numbers of rapes and molestation cases in India.
The second and last point that I want to discuss the ways in which the society targets the rape victim. In the name of honour and shame, women and men are scared to come forward and lodge victim reports. They fear that they will be mocked, humiliated, harassed, or even lose face in the eyes of the society.
Overall, an excellent film that is influential, thought-provoking, and well worth a watch. The drama and thrill of the movie are not bad either.
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