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After one year of the Nirbhaya Incident of Dec 2012 has anything changed for women in India.

Almost a year ago a young physiotherapist was brutally raped and critically injured by iron rods and left to die. After that a number of rapes occurred in our country and gets added to the statistics to be forgotten. But Nirbhaya case was different, it shook us.

Everybody was in sympathy with the young girl. The entire nation stood up for her and demanded justice. Wide spread agitation, rallies and candle marches were organized. It seemed as if a revolution has been instigated. The aim was to make India a better place for women to live in. It was for the first time in the history, people had raised their voice specifically for the cause of women in the country.

The girl was named Nirbhaya. What was special so about Nirbhaya? Why did the society, which is in the habit of holding women responsible for everything, united for her?

The reason is her attitude, her fearlessness. In spite of being raped and badly injured she wanted to live, She wanted to see her wrongdoers punished. She resolved to fight. She belonged to a society who never accepted a raped girl with dignity. Most victims in this society consider suicide or draw a veil over such crime that brings shame. But Nirbhaya showed the courage to live and fight it out. Although she died fighting bravely for her life, her attitude struck a chord into the hearts of people who rose for her cause.

Her death brought the issue of safety of women to the fore. The inadequateness of the laws relating to women was unveiled. Revamping of the laws was urgently needed. And it had to be done now. People were not in mood to tolerate any delay. Death penalty was demanded as punishment for rapists. Every nook and corner in India rose up to demand justice for her, justice for every woman in this country.

This led to changes in rape and sexual assault laws and tougher penalties for those convicted. Important changes made were:-

  • The definition of rape was changed to include penetration by an object to the body part.
  • Stalking, Voyeurism and sexual assault is also considered a crime.
  • Minimum 20yrs sentence for rape.
  • Death Penalty for rapes where victim dies or is left in vegetative state.
  • Hearing of rape cases to be held in Fast track courts.
  • Setting up of Nirbhaya Fund.
  • 24X7 help lines were setup to assist women.

Four out the six accused in the Nirbhaya case were given capital punishment. One of them was found dead in his cell in jail and the Juvenile was sentenced to 3yrs in rehabilitation home.

These changes made were welcome, but far from enough. One of the greatest disappointments was the failure to make rape within marriage a crime. In India, marriages are arranged by family members, which make the issue of consent important. This needs to be pursued as rape can happen within marriage as well.

The root cause of rape is the acceptance of general inequality of genders in our patriarchal society. The justification of gender based violence is still couched in terms of protection for our women, our daughter, and our wives. This language speaks of ownership and control where women are considered to be the property of men.

A change in this societal attitude is needed. Women in India can never be safe until society changes its attitude towards them. The change is slow but will definitely come. We have come a long way from sati and dhropiti. The educated Indians have started to accept women at par with men. This wave will soon spread to the rest of the country.

Nirbhaya has not only changed our laws but also the mindset of the society. She has become an inspiration for all women who have been victims of gender crimes.

The number of rape cases has increased to almost double in the past year. This shows that now a lot more women are coming forward to report such incidents.

Earlier women have always been reluctant to speak about rape because of the social stigma attached to it. Nirbhaya has helped in lowering this stigma. Her story has to an extent made people believe that such incident can happen to anyone, which is contrary to the existing belief, that women are accountable for all that happens to them.

Another area where people need to change their mindset is, instead of accusing the government; they may come forward to solve our problems. Of course it's government's duty to protect people from crime but we can also contribute to the safety of women by staying alert, speaking up and intervening in case such incident is taking place.

Most important influence of Nirbhaya is on the self esteem of women. There is increased determination in victims to face the humiliation with pride and demand justice. Women have shown courage to report alleged rapes and sexual assaults by the most powerful people in the society e.g. Asaram, Tarun Tejpal, A.K Ganguly etc. This courage is the gift of Nirbhaya to the women of this country.

The greatest change a year after Nirbhaya is that, instead of fearful silence, there is openness without inhibitions of this social shame.

Rashmi Chaudhary

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