What Nirbhaya’s judgement tells us about law and women’s rights: The fearless daughter of India | Sunday Observer

What Nirbhaya’s judgement tells us about law and women’s rights: The fearless daughter of India

The date was December 16, 2012. Jyothi Singh Pandey, a physiotherapy student living in New Delhi, India went to a movie with her friend Arvind Prathaap Pandey. After the movie, Jyothi got into a bus with Arvind, in which she faced an incident she never would have even thought in her dreams. Jyothi was brutally raped and assaulted by the six men who were riding in the bus, including the bus driver. Her friend Arvind was also beaten inhumanely. Both of them, stripped naked, were thrown out of the moving bus.

On the morning of December 17, the New Delhi citizens found both Jyothi and Arvind alongside the road, in critical condition, and they were hospitalized immediately. New Delhi police soon started their investigations on hunting the culprits and of course were successful. Jyothi, who was in a critical condition, was sent to a hospital in Singapore, but after a fifteen-day struggle in the intensive care unit, she released her last breath, leaving a shocked nation in tears. The post-mortem of Jyothi revealed that the rapists had raped her multiple times.

To the relief of all Indians, including Jyothi’s devastated family, the New Delhi police brought the violent gang of men who were responsible for this unbelievable crime before the eyes of law, and remanded immediately. The bus driver, Ram Singh committed suicide in his cell unable to bear the embarrassment. Attorneys in fact did agree to appear on behalf of the other five. After a struggle of four years, as a result of a non-ending session of statements, examinations and cross examinations as well as an exhausting series of leading evidence, the Indian supreme court gave its final verdict of capital punishment on 5 May 2017, that four of the rapists be hanged to death.

How Jyothi became Nirbhaya

As per the Indian criminal law, it is prohibited to divulge the identity of any rape victim. Jyothi’s fate was so unforgettable that the public discourse on the case did not fade. In order to be able to debate more on this matter, the Indian media gave her the innuendo name of Nirbhaya, meaning Fearless. Since the introduction of this alias, a massive amount of Indian human rights activists as well as women’s rights activists stepped on the roads demanding justice undelayed for Nirbhaya and Arvind. Their sole aim was to make the virtually ineffective Indian mechanism of justice more efficient in obtaining a positive outcome.

India’s Daughter, the BBC documentary produced by Leslie Udwin was released parallel to these protests, and was nothing but an aid to the spread of a fire of outrage, and the Indian government was compelled to answer a number of questions raised by the public. This led to the government banning the documentary in the country.

The minor who changed the law

To the utmost disappointment of the Indians, it was revealed that one of the remaining rapists was in fact a minor, who was then seventeen and a half years old.

When compounded, the Indian law on juvenile justice stated that he should not be tried similarly as an adult.

This subsequently compelled the citizenry to raise doubts on the prevailing juvenile justice system as well. The law was that the maximum penalty he could get was a three year sentence in rehabilitation minus the time spent in remand prison.

Thus, in mid-2015, he was able to walk away after a three-year penalty. Indian news reporters who were keen on his whereabouts after the final verdict revealed that he now works as a cook in a hotel in South India, and also that he is not even aware of the fact that the final verdict of the case was recently given.

Many human rights activists and women’s rights activists protested the decision of Indian courts to set him free, arguing that a person above seventeen years is easily capable to understand the consequences of his acts and decisions, and that he was equipped with a well informed decision to aid and abet a gang rape and an assault. They vehemently argued on this basis, forcing the Indian government to think twice on the current system of juvenile justice, as a result of which, the prevailing Juvenile Justice Act of 2000 was replaced with the new Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, in 2015. As per this new law, any person above the age of 16 will be allowed to be tried as an adult in a criminal case.

“It’s HER fault”

The driver of the bus, Mukesh Singh, was shameless enough to give five reasonings as to why the girl should in fact be raped. “A decent girl won’t roam around at nine o’clock at night. A girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy,” he said. “Housework and housekeeping is for girls, not roaming in discos and bars at night doing wrong things, wearing the wrong clothes. About 20% of girls are good.” People “had a right to teach them a lesson” he suggested - and he said the woman should have put up with it. “When being raped, she shouldn’t fight back. She should just be silent and allow the rape.

Then they’d have dropped her off after ‘doing her’, and only hit the boy,” he said. “The death penalty will make things even more dangerous for girls. Now when they rape, they won’t leave the girl like we did. They will kill her. Before, they would rape and say, ‘Leave her, she won’t tell anyone.’ Now when they rape, especially, criminal types, they will just kill the girl. Death.”

He made this statement to the BBC journalists, who made it public on the International Women’s Day, 2015. Rage spread throughout the world as this was published. Many people insisted they be given capital punishment right away, which was decided a couple of weeks ago as they wished.

“Brutal, barbaric and diabolic”

In a 429-paged judgement, the supreme court judges stated that they were compelled to arrive at the decision of hanging the four men to death as their act was humanely inconceivable, and led to shock the collective conscience of society. Jyothi’s parents were in tears as they expressed their feelings to the media after the verdict was given. “Justice was delayed, but it was not denied” they said. “Finally, we can sleep in peace tonight”.

The way ahead

Despite the delays in justice, the way the Indian media institutions protected the identity of Jyothi as well as the minor was impressive. We all witnessed how our media reacted to the murder of Seya Sewwandi. Her corpse was shown publicly, and the identity of the teenage boy who was initially alleged was also revealed.

A lesson to be learnt from Nirbhaya’s incident by our media is that it is warranted that the victim of any ill-fate should be protected from the judgmental eyes of the public.

Despite the progress made by women in education and in various fields and changes brought in, ideas of women’s rights, respect for women is on the decline and crimes against women are on the increase. Not only in India, this is the case in Sri Lanka as well.

It is prime time that we take the initiative to make the status-quo a better one and ensure that no more Jyothis face the same tragic fate.