By: Shubhangi Mishra
“It seemed as if she had been rescued from a jungle.” said her mother when she saw her in the hospital. On the night of 16th December 2012, a 23-year-old young woman was returning home. She was a physiotherapy intern who was going back home after watching a movie with her friend, Awindra Pratap Pandey, unaware of the fact that this night would become one of the worst ones of her life. The two boarded an off-duty bus at Munirka bus stand. At that time, the bus wasn’t crowded and only had six other men including the bus driver. Suddenly, the bus started going off route and the men on board shut the doors. The pair was alarmed due to this and when Pandey expressed his disapproval, the men shouted, and a physical altercation broke out. Following this, the drunken men started molesting her. The men had knocked out her friend with a rod and hauled her to the back of the bus. The six repeatedly raped her for an hour and when she tried to fight back, she was ruthlessly assaulted with a rod, ripping her intestines. She was beaten, bruised and tortured. They both were thrown out of the bus on the roadside when a few locals saw the naked, blood-drenched bodies and alerted the authorities. The victim was given emergency treatment and her family received a call from the hospital. The perpetrators included Ram Singh, Mukesh Singh, Vinay Gupta, Pawan Gupta, Akshay Thakur and a juvenile, Mohammed Afroz. She was transferred to a hospital in Singapore eleven days after the assault, where she died two days later. The accused were charged with sexual assault and murder. When this news reached the public, people were enraged due to the horrendous act that had taken place. Consequently, protests broke out all around the country with young women joining various protests in different cities to fight for justice. Due to the Indian law that forbids publishing the name of sexual assault victims, the victim was named “Nirbhaya” which means fearless. This was done to signify her struggle and death as a symbol of power all around the world. Many signed online petitions, organized themselves for silent candle marches and wore black garments to display their disapproval. While the protests took place, the legal trial started its course.
On 19th December, the male victim, Pandey, testified in court. Thereafter, the legal proceedings began. The trial was a long one and saw many different aspects. The male defendants were charged with rape and murder. The minor, Mohammed Afroz, was tried in a separate juvenile court where he too was charged with rape and murder. Under the Juvenile Justice Act, he was sentenced to three years in a reform facility. Some of the accused men had also confessed initially, but later their lawyers claimed that they were tortured to confess. During September of 2l, 2013, the fast-track court of Delhi held the four defendants guilty. The four men faced death penalty and pleas for a lesser sentence were rejected by Judge Yogesh Khanna as this case was nerve-wracking and the court could not turn a blind eye to such a crime. The family of the victim also expressed satisfaction when this verdict was out. After this, the defendants tried to appeal to the Supreme Court various times in order to delay the execution process. One of the accused, Mukesh, filed a mercy plea which was rejected by the President of India. This led to a third as well as a fourth conviction which were passed and declared the fate of the accused. After 8 years of fighting, the victim’s family finally got justice for their daughter and the accused rapists were hanged on 20th March, 2020.
This case also resulted in significant changes in the laws against rape, including the passing of The Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance, 2013 which was publicized by the then President Pranab Mukherjee. The Act set forth several new laws. It also resulted in the creation of six new fast-track courts that heard rape cases. The case also had a domino effect worldwide; with support flowing in for the victim from countries like the USA which offered condolences to the family, and promised a change of attitude to end gender-based violence and discrimination. The incident of Nirbhaya was also adapted into a BBC documentary film called “India’s Daughter”. It has also been televised in the form of a Netflix show called “Delhi Crimes”.
Despite the passing of new laws, little change can be seen in the rape statistics in India. On the contrary, the situation has just gotten worse for women in this country, with rapes happening in every part, going unreported and receiving less attention. This case was an eye-opener but did manage to lose momentum due to the slow proceedings regarding the case. Indian women are still struggling while also fighting against the sexual predators that walk the streets of our country every day. If we analyse this on a ground level, the main root for the generation of these crimes against women is due to the misogynistic beliefs in India that tend to reduce women to the status of mere objects. This can be seen by the remarks made by popular political leaders that have led to the propagation of ideas that have continued discrimination against women. When rape became a capital offence after this case, Mulayam Singh Yadav opposed it by saying “Boys will be boys. They commit mistakes.” This statement itself is enough to help us understand how normalised rape culture is in India, and how dreadful acts committed by males are excused by suggesting that males are preprogrammed to act in a certain way and they cannot help it.
However, rape culture isn’t just limited to that. Rape culture inculcates in a society when it becomes ignorant of the peculiar ideas that support rape. One such reason is victim blaming which was also seen in this case. This prevents women from speaking out their truth and leads to them questioning themselves. Another reason is that society is growing to be insensitive and ignorant towards rapes by joking about them and disrespecting survivors. It is extremely necessary that we realize women are human beings as well who have an equally important role in this society. It is important to create a safe environment for women that have been and will continue to be a significant contributor towards a blooming society and future.