Nirbhaya’s rapists have been hanged after ASHA DEVI’s seven-year-long fight to get justice for her daughter whose last wish was to live. MUSBA HASHMI catches up with this courageous mother who never lost hope in the system despite the roadblocks
They were hanged too
Before the four convicts — Akshay Thakur, Pawan Gupta, Vinay Sharma, and Mukesh Singh — were hanged on March 20,2020 at 5:30 am for the gangrape of Nirbhaya in December 2012, there were others too who met with a similar fate.
Geeta-Sanjay case 1978: It was a case that had shaken the nation to the core. Convicts Ranga aka Kuljeet Singh and Billa aka Jasbir were sent to the gallows for the kidnapping and killing of two siblings Geeta and Sanjay Chopra in Delhi in 1978. The two convicts had back then been recently released from Arthur Road in Mumbai when they kidnapped the siblings for ransom. But when the duo realised that the father of the siblings was a Naval officer they killed the children and not before the duo had raped Geeta. The two were executed on January 31, 1982.
Dhananjoy Chatterjee: He was the first to be hanged for rape and murder of a 14-year-old on March 5 1990 when she was at home. Chatterjee was a security guard with an apartment complex in south Kolkata. Chatterjee was born in Kuludihi, Bankura in West Bengal. He had claimed, repeatedly during his trial that he was innocent and that he had nothing to do with the murder, rape or theft. He maintained his stance till the day of his execution. The night before he was hanged he had requested for sweets and curd and a new shirt and pyjama that he wore when he was hanged – August 4, 2004 at age 39.
The seven years and three months long battle has finally come to an end. An end that will be remembered by all, especially those who are born without a heart and have the audacity to commit unimaginable crimes that put the entire human race to shame. The two feet that were yearning to see the sunrise like most of us, but was overshadowed with countless visits to courts and hundreds of meetings with lawyers, has finally seen the dawn. Now, she will no longer have to wake up every day and plead for justice for her daughter, which was not a big ask to begin with when her battle began in December 2012.
After an extended fight for justice, Asha Devi’s face that was always in a frown and worry lines was eventually filled with a huge smile not because of celebration but out of satisfaction that her daughter’s wrong-doers were hanged to death on March 20, 2020 (Friday) at 5:30 am.
“Last seven years have been extremely long and tough for us. Every day I use to wake up with just one thing in mind that my daughter should get justice. After completing the household chores, Nirbhaya’s father and I used to sit and decide who all we had to meet and where we had to go for the day. That was the only thing that we could have thought of all these years. Our efforts and the whole country’s prayers have paid off and the day came when justice was served,” Devi tells you.
It took a lot of courage for Devi to become a fighter mother from yet another voiceless woman from a village in Uttar Pradesh who never in her wildest dreams thought of standing up and raising her voice. “Until December, 2012 none of us knew what a thana looked like. We never got into any fights with anyone. All we wanted was to live a simple and happy life jahan ghar ki baat ghar mein hi rehni chahaiye. I have never been that kind of person who raised her voice. I have spent most of my life in a village and this was something that I or for that matter no one can ever imagine. Facing the camera, speaking in front of the mic and answering the media was initially difficult. But, the thought of what my daughter has gone through gave me the courage to stand up for her and do everything that I could. When Nirbhaya took her last breath in the hospital, I made up my mind that these sinisters should be punished so that no other girl will have to go through the same situation as my daughter. Saving my daughter was something that was not in my hands but protecting the other girls of the country and to ensure their safety is my responsibility,” she says with conviction in her voice.
She sounds exhausted when she finally takes the call at 10:15 pm on the day of the hanging. She tells you that she has been giving back to back interviews since morning. However, she gave up on a ritual that her family had been doing for the last seven years — candle march — due to COVID-19 and the pleas for social distancing. But she continued with the last interview for the day because it meant that the people and media never let her daughter fade into oblivion like so many other rape cases in the country.
Whether or not the death sentence will reduce the crime against women is yet to be seen but it will definitely send a chill down the perpetrator’s spine and make sure that before taking any such step they will give it a second thought.
“This is the first time that hanging has been given to the rapists in two decades. This will definitely leave an impact on the society and will ensure that rapists will know that they cannot run away from the judiciary. They can mislead the judiciary, they can delay the justice but can never in history deny justice to an innocent,” Devi adds.
In the wee hours of Friday, Devi and her husband, Badrinath Singh were counting every second. It was probably the longest night for them. “We were in the court till 3:30 am. After the hearing was over and the court dismissed the culprit’s plea, we went home and switched on the TV. All we were waiting for was the clock to strike 5:30 and the headline ‘Nirbhaya’s rapists have been hanged’ to flash on TV. We couldn’t get our eyes off the TV screen. That one-and-a-half-hour was the longest of our lives. We couldn’t wait to see my daughter get justice. And finally, when we saw that all the culprits have been hanged, I rushed to the other room where Nirbhaya’s photo is. I hugged her photo, looked into her eyes and said: ‘Beta, aaj aap ko nyay mil gaya. Aap ke aaropiyon ko saza mil gayi.’ I cannot put that feeling into words,” she recalls.
Devi says that the way society has stood by them through thick and thin and helped her daughter get justice, the same way it should support the other survivors too. “All my neighbours have been extremely encouraging and supportive. Every day at 8:15 pm we all used to participate in a candle march without fail. I feel fortunate that every Indian see Nirbhaya as their daughter. I hope that this is how all the survivors should be treated — with empathy and care by the society. The blame game should be only with perpetrators,” she says.
After the hanging, while everyone was congratulating Devi, what touched her heart was when a group of young girls came and hugged her outside the court. “I was almost in tears when I saw around seven young girls coming towards me with much happiness. They hugged me. It was a touching moment. This made me realise that how much faith these young people put in our judicial system and that it was not broken,” she tells you.
Not even once did Devi lose hope. Her husband, she says never let her break down. “There were times when we couldn’t see a way forward. The delays in hanging were disheartening but I never lost faith in the judiciary. I was confident that my daughter will get justice. When one of the culprit filed a mercy plea on March 19, 2020 (Thursday), I knew that this isn’t going to work and that the hanging couldn’t be further delayed. They all had exhausted all their legal remedies and the death sentence was confirmed. There was no other way that they could have extended the date this time round,” she says.
The fight is not over yet for Nirbhaya’s parents. Devi and her husband have to put some plans in place for their way ahead. “We will be working towards women safety in the country. It is not as if the fight has got over. We have to protect all our daughters. We will try to help the ones in need in whichever way possible. In the last seven years too, we have guided the ones who would seek our help. From now on, we will try and do this on a fast track,” Devi tells you.
Where they are
Closure for friend
Avanindra Pandey: Nirbhaya’s friend and the only witness in the December 2012 gangrape. He has since moved on. His journey through the ordeal has been quite terrible too. From being accused of taking money for interviews to be stinged on demanding a lakh for an interview. He later apologised.
The hanging should bring closure to Pandey who got married three years back, has a son and works abroad. His father, a well-known lawyer in Gorakhpur, refused to reveal exactly where but said his son was happy that all the accused have been finally hanged.
One who walked
Mohammad Afroz: The only rapist who walked free after serving three years in a juvenile home. Hailing from a village 250 km from Delhi, he left home at 11 and used to work as a cleaner with bus driver Ram Singh, one of the accused. According to a 2015 report, Afroz had been radicalised by his cellmate involved in Delhi High Court blast. An Intelligence Bureau inquiry on BJP leader Subramanian Swamy’s letter to PM Narendra Modi saw to it that he was shifted to another cell but apparently there was no change in him or regret for what he had done on the night on December 2012. He was the one most violent during the gangrape. This is not all, before he committed the ghastly act, he had wanted to pick up another girl, the counsellor working with him had revealed back then. He also revealed that Afroz didn’t show any positive change and yet the system allowed him to walk free. Today, Afroz reportedly works at a roadside dhaba in a South Indian State under a changed identity. At the correctional home, for three years Afroz was taught to cook, paint and tailor.
Ram Singh: The prime accused committed suicide by hanging himself in Tihar Jail days after the trial began.
‘Focus on reducing crime’
Anuja Kapur, criminal psychologist, says that the hanging can only be seen as a research work and not as an implication that crimes against women will stop immediately after this. “First, our focus should not be on stopping the crimes completely because it is unrealistic. It is not possible to completely eliminate something from a society in one go. It takes time and efforts of one and all. We have to tackle this step by step. Our aim, right now, should be on reducing the crimes. Second, the hanging of Nirbhaya’s culprits is just a research work. This will help us see how things will change in the society. One can’t expect that this will hit the criminals hard and they will stop committing crimes,” she says.
She has a take on what AP Singh had said after the convicts were hanged. “The man has made such a statement because he wants to come into the limelight, that’s all. These people have no business but to pass derogatory remarks for women, there’s nothing else we can expect from such people. What made him question Nirbhaya’s character was may be that he has never learnt to respect women,” Kapur asserts.
The infamous defender
Ajay Prakash Singh is a Supreme Court lawyer from Uttar Pradesh but lives in Delhi with his family. A law graduate from the Dr Ram Manohar Lohiya National Law University, Lucknow, with a Juris Doctorate degree in Criminology, he was been practising in Supreme Court since 1997. He is infamous for having taken up the case of two of the four convicts in Nirbhaya case — Akshay Kumar Singh and Vinay Sharma. When no lawyer took up the case of the other two convicts, he took up their cases as well. Apparently, it was his mother who made him take up the cases of the four convicts who were hanged till death on March 20, 2020.
In 2013, Singh had made an outrageous remark: “If my daughter or my sister in engages in pre-marital or meretricious relationship or if she lowers her moral standards and character, I will definitely burn her alive in front of my family members.”
The second time that Singh had made a similar remark was where ‘godman’ Chandraswami, had also played a key role in the bail granted to Swami Chinmayanand, the former BJP leader accused of sexual harassment, Singh had argued before the Allahabad HC that: “Both the girl and Swamiji had used each other and there was no coercion.”
Over the years Singh had left no stone unturned in order to defend the four convicts. He had filed over eight applications in various courts and even involved the National Human Rights Commission and the International Court of Justice on grounds that the death penalty isn’t an acceptable form of punishment.