As per statistics gleaned from the National Family Health Survey conducted in 2021, an overwhelming 99 per cent of incidents of rape remain unreported. A significant factor discouraging victims from reporting such crimes is the desire to safeguard their own and their families' honour. Women and young girls, who are typically the victims of these crimes, also fear that justice is unattainable for them and that they will be shamed instead. 

To Kill A Tiger is a documentary that highlights the courageous struggle of a young girl and her family, who firmly believe in seeking justice. This 2024-Oscar-nominated documentary underscores their journey and the support Srijan Foundation NGO provides, which educates them and their community on gender equality. To Kill A Tiger stands as a compelling illustration of the significance of reform and community sensitization towards the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal for Gender Equality deserving appreciation for Pahuja's impactful contribution.

Still from To Kill A Tiger, interview of Kiran and Ranjit.Image courtesy of TVO Today Docs.

Nisha Pahuja, an Indian-born Canadian filmmaker, serves as the director, writer, and producer of this documentary. She sheds light on the significance of empowering girls and women through her work. The documentary vividly captures the challenges faced by the victim and her family as they navigate the process of reporting the crime and seeking justice. “The crux of the problem is patriarchy, it’s the system that all of us operate under, that fundamentally imprisons all of us,” said Pahuja in an interview with In Creative Company while talking about her documentary.

To Kill A Tiger centers on the story of Kiran, a 13-year-old girl and her family’s quest for justice amidst the challenges of social ostracization within their community. In April 2017, three men from a small village in Jharkhand, India, brutally gang-raped Kiran. Ranjit, Kiran’s father, immediately takes her to the police and files a complaint on her behalf.

Still, in To Kill A Tiger, Kiran’s parents talk to the village Mukhiya. Image courtesy of TVO Today Docs.

As a customary step, Ranjith also seeks guidance from their village leader, the Mukhiya (District Chief). The Mukhiya attempts to persuade the parents to compromise instead of seeking justice, stating “This is a village matter. You belong to a community, so figure out how to remain part of it,” says the Mukhiya. He discourages the idea of prosecuting the offenders, arguing that it goes against the unity of the community. Many members of the community align with this perspective, asserting that Kiran should be wedded to one of the assailants as the only viable solution. A villager points out that solution because, in her words, “she (Kiran) can’t marry another man now. She has to marry one of the perpetrators.”

The act of marrying a rape victim to the perpetrator is a prevalent but legally non-binding practice in India. Such unions are backed by the panchayats, the parents of the victims, and even the police sometimes. Families often reluctantly accept this custom, driven by the apprehension that others might reject rape survivors as potential family members because they are now “unmarriageable.” These fears stem from the notion that women are perceived to be unable to lead independent lives, with marriage seen as the ultimate safeguard for a woman's well-being and security. “I found evidence that all single women in India are seen as objects of sexual prey, and are especially vulnerable to sexual exploitation and violence,“ says E. Kay Trimberger, a sociologist from California.

Still from To Kill A Tiger, interview of the ward member of the village.Image courtesy of TVO Today Docs.

Numerous women continue to face unjust scrutiny, dispelling the notion that this bias is an outdated concept. “Women are either hapless creatures whose honour is located in their virginity or they are conniving blackmailers seeking to trap innocent men,” mentions the company Article 14 as one of the prevailing misconceptions. In an interview with NGO members, the village ward member further points fingers at the victims of such crimes, attributing blame to their clothing choices and makeup. “A boy will only be naughty if a girl encourages him,” the ward member says in the documentary.

As the NGO members strive to raise awareness and educate villagers about gender equality, they come to a crucial realization. Despite efforts to empower women and educate them about their rights, the reduction in violence against women remains elusive. Recognizing the need for a different approach, the focus shifts towards educating men on gender sensitization. Consequently, towards the latter part of the documentary, the NGO initiates counselling and collaborative efforts with the male members of the village. “Constructs by their very nature impose definitions on you, they constrict you, they prevent you from understanding your true self and your real humanity. That was the point of the programme,” said director Pahuja about the NGO’s work in an interview with Academy Conversations.

The prolonged struggle of Kiran and her family reaches a fruitful conclusion, as the criminals are sentenced for their actions. At the end of the documentary, one may wonder, had this not been a matter of gender inequality, the girl would have obtained justice much sooner and with far less resistance.

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