Bengali Documentary Film Review

Naam Poribortito

The high incidence of casteist rape, incestuous rape, marital rape and communal rape in India against the backdrop of a corrupt and tottering democracy, heightening poverty and ethnic terrorism, equals the rape of women in Nicaragua against its backdrop of imperialist violence, against the backdrop of apartheid in South Africa, the racist-inspired violence on Afro-Americans and other racially oppressed people in the United States. Within this scenario, a documentary aptly titled Naam Poribortito (Identity Undisclosed) offers a new reading into rape where a victim insists on not hiding the victim’s identity when the rape is reported or acted upon after the act because the woman raped is the victim and not the perpetrator so there is no reason why she should hide her identity.

The film marks the directorial debut of Mitali Biswas, who works for a NGO, who, as the 60-minute film reveals, went through extensive field research for several months to shoot the film on actual locations. The film explores the role of society, the law and the administration that underlies rape through some actual incidents in India in general and in West Bengal in particular tracing some case histories dating back to more than a decade that strongly suggests that the two respective ruling parties heading the state government have remained oblivious to fair justice being meted out to the victims.

The title, Identity Undisclosed is triggered by a significant question raised by a married victim of rape in the film who asks why should the names of the victims be changed or hidden from media reports when they are the victims and not the criminals who raped them. So, Mitali Biswas opens her statement with digitalized and fragmented faces of the victims discussed in the film. But when the film ends, the faces of the victims, except minors and a very little girl of three, are exposed beside their correct names.

The film rightly focuses also on the patriarchal mindset in the Indian family, specially the rural and poverty-stricken ones where the son is sent to school while the daughter is not if there is to be a choice between the two. This is not only for financial penury but also because the girl remaining at home can be a strong helping hand in household chores. The convenient excuse of ‘culture and tradition’ is used to prioritise boys over girls even by their parents. This, the film suggests, evolves into a background for sexual violence against girls and women. An elderly woman caught on camera says that girls get raped because they do not listen to their parents, dress and behave in any which way. Another woman states, “Parents should take care of how their girls dress when they go out. Look at the way some of these young girls dress. How can you blame young men if they are tempted by these ways of dressing?” A young man driving a car says, “If a man and a woman are in love, it is a different story. But men visit bars and now girls want to go to bars too. They mingle with several men and it does not suit women to behave in this way. So, they are alone to be blamed for being raped.”

Says advocate Jayanta Narayan Chatterjee that dragging court cases for a long time dissuades and discourages the rape victim who does not wish to attend the hearings anymore. The number of fast track courts we have is not enough to take on the burden of rising crimes against women. But there were other victims who refused to put up a fight and accepted rape as an unfortunate event in their lives! The internalization of rape by some victims juxtaposed against the angry protests by others is a reflection of the conflicts in our larger social system and mindsets on rape and its victims.

Naam Poribortito establishes that rape is not to fulfill one’s sexual desire. It is an ugly display of power. It portrays the stories of a few women belonging to lower socioeconomic strata who have been subjected to rape and molestation during some point in their lives ‐ either within the four walls of their home or on the battlegrounds of political power. While exposing the negligence of judiciary and police, they have raised a very pertinent question ‐ why do they have to keep their identity under cover instead of the real culprits.

The most shocking story is about the Sutia rapes which have a back story. In 2000, Sutia, a small village in north 24 Parganas, West Bengal, about 60 kms from Kolkata, is the last village before the Bangladesh border. Many of the villagers are undocumented migrant workers. In September 2000, the village was inundated by floods in which around 99% of the local population lost their homes. Following this natural disaster, the villagers’ threats from the local tyrants Susanta Choudhury and Bireshwar Dhal increased to such a great extent that not a single girl or woman in the village was spared of rape and other incidents of physical violence by these two men and their gang supported by other local gangs in the area.

The reference to the Nirbhaya rape and to Sushma Swaraj’s distasteful and disgusting comment on rape victims living their life as zinda laash (living corpse) are superfluous because the film is focussed on regional rapes which should normally anger the audience across the country and forms a microcosm of rapes across the country. As for Swaraj’s comment, it gives undue importance to a woman of politics who is completely insensitive to the oppression and torture of women. Biswas has taken care of the social consequences of revealing the true identity of minor victims of rape and their faces are never shown clearly in the film. One involves a little girl of three-and-a-half who was raped by Subhash Roy, an aged man in the neighbourhood who subsequently absconded with his wife. The girl, when questioned by the filmmaker, shows no realization of what has happened to her. When asked what she would like to be when she grew up, she says, “Police, so that I can bash up everyone.”

The aesthetics of this kind of documentary does not demand separate attention because a documentary defines its own aesthetics as it goes along, narrating one story after another, trying to make its statement, establishing a point here or pointing out an anomaly there. Naam Poribortito spells out its argument loud and clear and establishes the point it wanted to make.

Score70%

Bengali, Documentary, Color

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