The daughter of Badrinath and Asha Singh was raped and killed on a bus in 2012
They have been fighting to keep Nirbhaya's story alive
The appalling case caused revulsion across the world
I felt conflicted. As we walked into the bare, modest flat owned by Badrinath and Asha Singh, Nirbhaya’s parents, I was reluctant to make them talk about their daughter’s brutal rape and murder in 2012.
Yet I know that it’s because they’ve chosen to engage with the media that they have been able to keep Nirbhaya’s story alive, and make women’s safety a topic of national conversation in India.
Asha Singh looked drained and distraught. But she didn’t turn us away. She had a message. She wants the world to know she feels cheated. “Crime has won, we have lost,” she said.
For three years after her daughter, dubbed Nirbhaya or “the fearless one,” succumbed to her injuries after a brutal gang rape on a bus in Delhi that shook India to its core, Asha and her husband have been fighting on their daughter’s behalf.
Theirs is the story of parents fighting for their daughter who was gruesomely wronged. They want the world to know what a bright, ambitious, lovable girl Nirbhaya was. That she did no wrong but was terribly wronged by six attackers.
Theirs is the story of a family whose loss galvanized India to strengthen anti-rape laws. And theirs is the story of two people keeping up Nirbhaya’s fight for justice. The Singhs say that means ensuring none of the rapists walk free.
But now one of them is.
Teen rapist freed
The youngest of the six men who took turns to rape Nirbhaya in December 2012, was just shy of his 18th birthday when the grisly incident took place. This makes him a minor in the eyes of Indian law.
This also means the punishment he receives for a crime is more lenient than that of an adult. In this case, the juvenile was sent to three years in a reform facility – the maximum punishment permitted. Now that this sentence has been served, the rapist, who was then a minor, has been released.
“If they understood my daughters pain, if they understood my pain, the culprit would not be free,” said Singh.
Across India, many people believe the three years the juvenile spent in a reform home was hugely disproportionate to the heinous nature of the crime he committed. Of the other five rapists, one died in jail and the other four are on death row.
“He deserves the same punishment as the four who’ve been given the death penalty,” Singh said. “It should set a historic example in society that if you treat women and girls this way, no one will be spared.”
The Singhs want India to amend its juvenile justice laws. “What we ask for is not to focus on age. Instead, prosecution and punishment should be determined by the crime,” said Badrinath Singh.
A proposal to permit juveniles between the ages of 16 and 18 years to be treated as adults for offenses like rape, murder and acid attacks is expected to come up for discussion in parliament this coming week. Even if the change goes into effect, it is unlikely to be applied retrospectively to this particular case. One of Nirbhaya’s rapists will remain free.
“I want them burned alive,” a dying Nirbhaya told her mother and a visiting magistrate who was recording her statement in hospital, Asha Singh said. Three pain-filled years later, a grieving mother remembers those words. And two distraught parents press on with their fight for justice.
I joined them as they made their way to Jantar Mantar, a protest site in New Delhi. I remember being there three winters ago when India rallied for Nirbhaya. When tens of thousands of people took to the streets in solidarity, I remember Jantar Mantar being packed with protestors, the crowd so thick I could barely move.
This December, just a handful of people gathered here. I couldn’t help but feel the Singhs were now alone in their fight for their daughter. But I was no longer conflicted about giving them a microphone, giving them a chance to have their voices heard.