Criticising the comments made by one of the convicts in the Delhi gang rape case in an interview in a BBC documentary, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called them “unspeakable.” “I'm not going to comment on the unspeakable comments that were made by the person accused of raping this girl, but I think the Secretary-General has spoken very clearly on the need to halt violence against women and on the need for men to get involved in halting violence against women and decrying it loud and clear every time it occurs,” his spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told reporters in New York on Wednesday.
Even as the government tries to fight the screening of what it calls a documentary that “defames” India, the U.N. Secretary-General’s statement in response to questions puts the international spotlight on the BBC documentary made by filmmaker Leslee Udwin. The film, India’s Daughter, is also due to be screened at a function on International Women’s Day in New York on March 9 to be attended by several celebrities including actor Meryl Streep.
The U.N. chief’s statements have raised concerns in India because they come as part of a series of statements made by him on sexual violence against women in India in the past year. In April 2014, a report by U.N. Special rapporteur Rashida Manjoo on violence against women was very critical of India for “systemic failures” in curbing sexual violence. In June, Mr. Ban said he “was especially appalled by the brutal rape and gruesome murder of two teenaged women in India,” and sharply criticised Samjawadi Party leader Mulayam Singh’s comments that “boys will be boys,” calling it a “dismissive, destructive attitude” towards sexual violence. He also repeated his unhappiness over the issue during a public function in Delhi, and told The Hindu in an interview that gender-based violence was a “matter of human rights.”
In India, several activists, who work on the issue, have now joined the government in condemning the documentary and the international coverage it has received. “My concern is that India's image cannot be damaged. The documentary is fully anti-women from beginning to end,” Kavita Krishnan, secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association, told a news agency. She also wrote a scathing article about the documentary asking why the filmmakers hadn’t focussed on famous rape cases in other countries. “[Leslee Udwin] hinged her “global campaign” on an interview with this particular rotten apple, in this particular case — a case that attracts global attention, funds and a concern to “do something for India's daughters” in a way that other cases might not,” Ms. Krishnan wrote.
Asked whether the U.N. Secretary-General was putting a “particular” emphasis on rape in India with Wednesday’s remark, his spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said he was only responding to questions about the issue.” “The Secretary-General’s concern about violence against women is unwavering, wherever it occurs,” he wrote in an e-mail to a question from The Hindu.
Mr. Dujarric also refused to comment at the press briefing in New York on the Indian government’s ban on the documentary, saying, “I’m not going to get into it. Our position on freedom of the press is clear. Some countries have different rules regarding the viewing of evidence during judicial proceedings ... I will leave it at that.”
Significantly, even U.N. figures on sexual violence put India way behind other countries on the issue. A UNODC (U.N office on Drugs and Crime) study reported by The Hindu in November 2014 placed India at 85 out of 121 countries for which data for 2012 is available. While South Africa came in at the top of the list, the United States comes in at 16 and Brazil at 18. Even factoring in for the large number of unreported cases in India, the U.N. Women agency concluded in a different report that India stood 39th in greater rate of unreported cases, and coming in at 26th in unreported cases (8.5 per cent), behind the U.S.