In an interview shortly after the release of his book In Cold Blood, Truman Capote said of the motives of one of the two killers whose stories the book told: “I believe Perry did what he did for the reasons he himself states — that his life was a constant accumulation of disillusionments and reverses and he suddenly found himself (in the Clutter house that night) in a psychological cul-de-sac. The Clutters were such a perfect set of symbols for every frustration in his life. As Perry himself said, ‘I didn’t have anything against them, and they never did anything wrong to me — the way other people have all my life. Maybe they’re just the ones who had to pay for it.’”
No one who has read the book will come away feeling that Mr. Capote believed this to be a justification of Perry Smith’s actions, but the book offered a rare insight into the mind of a killer. At a time when India needs an insight into the mind of a rapist in order to recalibrate its own institutional responses, the country is instead choosing an ostrich-like response — burying its head in sand.
Journalism has a long history of interviewing those convicted of heinous crimes including mass murder, rape and cannibalism. Yet, on March 3, the Delhi police registered a First Information Report against filmmaker Leslee Udwin for her documentary “India’s Daughter” on rape in the country, and on March 4, following the night of news shows railing against the documentary, a Delhi court stopped its broadcast, and the Union government warned television channels against airing it.
Misdiagnosing the problem
Issues of freedom of expression apart, the documentary, including its interviews with convicted rapists, needs to be aired and watched so that we do not continue to misdiagnose the roots of sexual violence in India and focus on fixing the wrong things.
In excerpts released from an interview from jail that forms part of the documentary, Mukesh Singh, who has been convicted of the December 16 2012 gang rape, says that the deceased victim was to blame for her rape for wearing the “wrong clothes” and being out with a boy late at night. Mukesh’s repugnant comments are echoed by one of the defense lawyers, A.P. Singh, who tells Ms. Udwin that he would set ablaze his sister or daughter if she “engaged in premarital activities.” Another lawyer M.L. Sharma is a step worse. “If you keep sweets on the street then dogs will come and eat them. Why did [her] parents send her with anyone that late at night?” he says. Another man convicted of raping a ten-year-old tells Ms. Udwin, “she was a beggar child. Her life had no value.”