Open Windows

If I remained silent
about the violence,
it would be
a bigger crime.

In Conversation

ASHA DEVI

Nirbhaya's mother, Champion of Change, IN

April 9th, 2015

 

Asha Devi and Badrinath Singh are the parents of the late Nirbhaya, a 23-year-old physiotherapy intern.  Post her barbaric rape on December 16th, 2012, in India, and after enduring severe damage to multiple organs, Nirbhaya passed away. The enormity of their daughter's destruction brought to light Asha Devi and Badrinath Singh's character and courage, and despite their unfathomable agony and grief, they turned into champions of change.

 

I cannot comprehend the scale of your loss and pain. I want you to know that I empathise with you and greatly admire your dignity and vision for the equality of women and betterment of society. Where do you and your husband, Mr Badrinath Singh, get the courage?

I have seen with my eyes what happened to my daughter [Nirbhaya}. When she was alive in the hospital, we didn’t know what had happened and the extent of the damage. All we knew is that we wanted our child to survive.

After my daughter died, I sat at home and cried a lot for an entire year; those tears gave me strength. I thought if I take that scale of violence inflicted on our child and sit quietly at home and cry, what would happen to thousands of mothers and fathers whose daughters are violently destroyed?

I felt if I remained silent about the violence, it would be a bigger crime.

My daughter’s plight and the tears from losing her have given me strength. We got our strength from children who protested day and night for 10 to 14 days at India Gate [War Memorial, New Delhi, India] and Jantar Mantar [Observatory, New Delhi, India]. I am sure some people were there for their benefit, some bad, but a lot of good people. We want to do something for the good people.

 

And this fuels you?

Yes. The main thing is that we [Asha Devi and her husband, Badrinath Singh] want to take out the best from the worst, which is why we bury our pain and meet so many people. We will not get our child back, but what we can do, and must do, with the support of women like you, is to do right by society.

 

What did you go through in the days right after the incident?

The truth is we were so shaken up at the sight of our daughter that we were only praying for her eyes to open, for her heart to keep beating, for her to live. For 15 days, we did not know where we were and what we were doing.

 

Most people choose to suffer the layers of abuse silently, hiding in shame. You have not only endured enormous loss and pain, but you also continue to rise and lead society.

We cared for our daughter dearly; we spent 23 years in her upbringing and educated her to make her a first rank human being. We wanted to help others’ like us, who don’t have the means to get educated. And this is how society pays us back — they destroyed her [their daughter, Nirbhaya] — the third rate human beings didn’t take a minute to destroy her.

I still fight with myself: “What was my fault?” This sadness has taught me to fight; it has brought me out. I will not tolerate these violent crimes. I will only endeavour to educate parents and children and tell them not to hide their abuse. By doing so, we encourage those who commit crimes. We have to raise our voices against them.

Till the time we keep silent about the violence against us, instead of speaking up,

there will be no resolution.

A victim, in addition to being saddled with shame, is expected to guard the the criminal(s) shame. I have always believed that shame belongs only to those who commits crimes.

What you are saying is right. We have raised our voice often against those who say: ”Girls should not go out; girls should not wear such clothes.” But we too have our lives, we go to study, to the bazaar, wear the kind of clothes we wish. Does this mean you are going to rape us? And on top of that, blame us?

We should not be ashamed. One who commits crimes should be ashamed. We become our enemies when we hide and keep quiet: “I have been abused, I will hide, and I will not go out.” You must step out, as you have not done anything wrong. The criminal must hide and must be punished.

 

You and your husband work in partnership—from educating your late daughter to fighting for justice; this partnership lacks in most families.

We [Ashaji and Badrinathji] can do what we want to at home, bicker and fight, but when it comes to the upbringing of our children and their education, our focus should be on them, all the time. I pray what happened to our child shouldn’t happen to any child, but my prayers or others’ prayers do not have the strength to stop these crimes.

I will say to every parent that when heinous crimes are inflicted against anyone, they must not suppress it. Immaterial of the relation to the perpetrator of the crime, the criminal must be brought to punishment; it’s the right thing to do for the victim, and the future generations to come. In spite of the magnitude of suppressing the crime, one must fight twice as hard to punish the criminal, to get justice.

 

What do you make of heinous crimes inflicted on children by their family members?

If they are family, why do commit crimes against children? How can those who harm their children be considered family? The family unit is far guiltier than the outsider—because we know, trust, and depend on family. When the family exploits our trust, they become far worse criminals than the outsiders.

 

Is there complicity within the family—do criminals know their crimes will go unchallenged?

Yes, criminals harm knowing that they will not be challenged because they are family. Such people are bigger criminals because they know they will go scot-free. Those around perpetrators of crime must not enable them—when they do, this disturbed individual feels entitled to perpetrates crimes outside the home.

One who sets fire to human life should not be shielded.

Why is it taking so long to get justice for your daughter, Nirbhaya?

The laws in our country are such, taking years to an end. What can I say? If a case like this takes so long to give punishment, what is to happen to other cases?

 

On how many levels do heinous crimes destroy a human being?

I can’t even begin to tell you the scale of the demolition. The damage that is done to the mind, the damage that is done to the soul, it never ends till she is alive.

A woman is very strong, but she becomes weak when her dignity is concerned—because she has to protect her dignity constantly. If we shy away and sit quietly, there will be no solution to these crimes. We have to come together as one and fight this case, for our children; It’s our responsibility.

 

How has your life changed after this incident [The gang rape and death of their daughter]?

From the time our daughter passed away, we don’t celebrate anything—no festival, no pooja [religious ritual]. We live to get justice for our child, and we want to stop the violence against children to the extent we can.

 

How should parents treat their daughters?

Imbalance begins at home. It’s we [parents] who weaken the daughter, and it’s we who elevate the son’s status. I want every mother and father to know that there should be no differentiation between daughters and sons, and it’s our responsibility to give girls and boys equal respect. When one god has created us, why do we differentiate? When we give birth to daughters and sons, we must also give them equal status and care for them with affection. Both our children are deserving of respect and importance.

 

How can we educate children?

First and foremost, emotional security and dignity are necessary at home.

If the child is extended respect, love, and status at home, then she will be treated well outside.

Second, proper thinking is important at the school level.

 

Who has supported you through this journey?

Some people help; they tell us they are with us and that they will stand by us, but no one is going to be with us all the time. We have to fight alone, but the positive thing is that many people meet us kindly, and this is enough.

 

I understand.

What can we do to support you?

Society can support us by coming together and speaking up. And please support the foundation we have started for children and women.

 

Would you like to share something about your daughter, perhaps about her childhood?

We all have ups and downs in life, but our daughter was even-tempered. She was fond of studying from childhood. She stood first most of the time, maybe a couple of times she came second. Whenever we had a problem, from the time she was very young, she knew how to handle it. She would tell her father, “Papa, don’t worry. Mummy, why are you worrying? It will be okay.” We always felt she was a different kind of human being, a different kind of soul. Even at 20, she [Nirbhaya] would tell us how to go about life.

 

Ashaji, thank you for sharing your sentiments.

 

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