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Television John Doyle: India’s Daughter is harrowing, horrific and essential

It might be the most harrowing, heartrending hour of television you ever see. India's Daughter (Sunday, CBC NN, 10 p.m.) is the documentary about the brutal rape in 2012 of 23-year-old medical student Jyoti Singh in Delhi.

Made by Leslee Udwin, the documentary will be shown on multiple public broadcasters around the world on Sunday. It is controversial in part because it includes interviews with one of the men convicted for the crime. He is in prison in Delhi and awaiting a Supreme Court hearing of his appeal against the death sentence. What he says is that the victim would be alive if she did not fight back: "When being raped, she shouldn't fight back. She should just be silent and allow the rape."

The inclusion of his remarks and those of his defence lawyer has ignited a fierce debate. In India, authorities have banned the showing of the doc (they also claimed they would fight against its airing outside India) . On Wednesday, Udwin, who had been in India arguing against the ban, left the country abruptly, fearing she could be arrested or attacked. In response to the situation, BBC advanced its scheduled airing to Wednesday evening.

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The program is, on one level, straightforward. It tells the story simply, without embellishment. On Dec. 16, 2012, Jyoti and a male friend boarded a bus at about 8 p.m. They'd been to see a movie. They believed it was a private-bus service, safe to be used. Soon after boarding, Jyoti's companion was severely beaten and she was then gang-raped by six men as the bus kept going around the city. Eventually she was thrown from the bus, as the rapists believed she was dead. She wasn't; she died weeks later.

We see the mass demonstrations that began as news of the rape spread – protests that happened daily and turned violent.

Then we meet Jyoti's parents. That is a heartbreaking segment. Working-class people, they were enormously proud of their daughter. They explain that, in India, parents celebrate the birth of a boy, not a girl, but they were ecstatic. Neighbours said, "You're celebrating as if it was a boy. Why are you celebrating for a girl?" The parents sold their small piece of ancestral land to help pay her university fees. Jyoti worked nights at an international call centre to pay the rest.

Then we are taken inside Tihar Jail in Delhi. A man named Mukesh, who drove the bus that night as his brothers and their friends attacked the young woman, speaks. He says, simply, "a decent girl won't roam around at night." He claims that "only 20 per cent of women are good," and Jyoti was not in that 20 per cent. Mukesh is unrepentant when talking to the camera. He describes what happened on the bus. It is sickening to hear. Unspeakable. The rape inflicted on Jyoti was barbaric. You want to turn away, leave this profoundly disturbing circumstance.

But you can't. The story isn't over. We are taken through the aftermath of the rape, the victim's hospitalization and death. The police investigation. We see footage of more riots, and hear furious, screaming voices. And then, eventually we hear the defence lawyer for the rapists express his disgust at who Jyoti was, and explain that if such a young woman was part of his family, he would have her burned alive.

The documentary is controversial for numerous, noxious reasons. The Indian government is furious at the picture this TV program paints of Indian society. Others, especially women, are angry that the rapists were given a platform to express their horrific views. Still others are angry that there is any controversy, arguing that the attitudes expressed by the rapists should be exposed to the light of day. No matter what you might feel about Udwin's filmmaking tactic, the program must be seen. It is unbearably powerful.

Also airing this weekend

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Motive (Sunday, CTV, 10 p.m.) returns and starts its third season. CTV likes to call it a "whydunit," a cop drama that reveals the killer and victim at the start of each episode, and then tracks the unfolding police investigation. Sometimes this is gripping and sometimes it wobbles. Still, it's got a good-sized audience, attracting an average of 1.3-million viewers per episode last season. Essentially, Motive's strongest suit is the performance of Kristin Lehman as the shrewd detective Angie Flynn. Things went awry for her last season. The gist of the season opener is this: "A case involving Detective Vega's father and a young socialite lures Angie back to homicide."

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