New Delhi: For the last seven years, Nirbhaya’s mother Asha Devi has been battling for justice.
As four convicts in the Nirbhaya gang-rape and murder case petitioned the Supreme Court and a lower court on Thursday, she first appealed to all those who stood with her in her fight to get them the death sentence to pray. “It is a very big and a very difficult day for us,” she wrote on a WhatsApp group.
Later in the evening, as the Supreme Court dismissed a curative petition filed by one of the convicts while a Delhi court rejected a plea seeking a stay on the executions, paving the way for the hanging on Friday morning, Asha Devi wrote another small message, “Sab petition kharij” (‘all petitions rejected’).
Incidentally, ever since the Supreme Court upheld the death penalty in the case in December 2019, a large number of residents of the colony in which Nirbhaya’s family now resides in Dwarka and also of the surrounding areas have been regularly keeping a candlelight vigil in the evenings, to seek closure of the case.
For Asha Devi, her husband Badrinath Singh and their two sons, life changed ever since Nirbhaya was brutalised on the night of December 16, 2012.
Earlier, in an interview to The Wire, they spoke about the seven-year legal battle and how they had to face personal criticism for seeking and pursuing the death penalty for the convicts.
Here are some excerpts from the interview:
Speaking on how the convicts used the legal remedies available to all those on death row to get their death warrants stayed, Asha Devi had said:
“It remains to be seen how much time the government gives them.” She said the convicts exhausted their remedies one by one to delay the execution.
On how she and her husband kept attending the court hearings, she said:
“The order from the trial court came in 2013, from the Delhi high court in 2014, but it remained pending in the Supreme Court for two years. From that time we fought the case and started running around. In 2017, their special leave petition was dismissed. Then on July 9, 2018, the review of three of the convicts was dismissed. From that point onwards the case started getting delayed.”
‘For a year very little happened in the case’
“We did not know that since only one convict remained, the case would not move forward. We waited for a couple of months, then met people, but three-four more months passed and nothing happened.”
“Finally, in December 2018, we filed an appeal that whatever rights to review or appeal the convicts had, the court should direct them to exercise those and their death warrant be issued.”
“But for the next full year, till December 2019, we kept doing the rounds of courts. After seven-eight months had passed like this, I realised that unless I would do something, nothing will happen.”
‘Legal remedy to delay execution’
In December 2019, after the death sentence was upheld and the death warrant issued but the execution delayed, Asha Devi said,
“Somewhere I hold the system responsible for this. We have laws but loopholes have been left to benefit the convicts. For us everything is new, first we have to understand it and then fight it.”
“The incident happened in 2012 and then the laws were changed (to treat those over 16 years as adults for rape cases) but the juvenile accused (who was over 16 years at the time of crime) was let off (with milder punishment) on the ground that the incident took place prior to the new law.”
Finally, she said:
“A new Jail Manual article came in 2018 which stated that if there are multiple convicts in a case, they will hang at the same time and if one would be punished, then all would be punished. But it did not say that they will also file their mercy plea or revision petitions together. So it was helping the convicts.”
‘Rarest of rare’
Also, she had said, the Jail Manual did not provide any time limit for such appeals.
“So in this way there was a conspiracy to benefit these convicts. If there is a death sentence for ‘rarest of rare’ cases, then nothing could be more rare than this considering the kind of torture which was done on Nirbhaya.”
Yet, Asha Devi had said:
“I have hope from the judicial system that they will hang.”
‘Telling family to forgive shows lack of concern’
On the family of Nirbhaya being asked by some leading lawyers to forgive the convicts and not to act with a sense of revenge, Nirbhaya’s mother said:
“This approach is wrong. I say that those who think like this are the ones in whose homes such criminals are born. They remain asleep when such heinous crimes are committed on girls.”
“If it had been only about Nirbhaya I would have said okay, but after her so many other girls were raped, murdered and burnt and yet these people were nowhere to be seen. It is only when the death warrant is issued that they rise.”
‘There is no discussion on the pain Nirbhaya went through’
“The biggest drawback for the victims,” she had said, “is that a death is pronounced, it is not delivered. What happens is after the death sentence is pronounced the convicts stay put and the hanging does not take place. There is no place for a victim in our laws. It is only the human rights of the convicts which are spoken about.”
Then as a mother, she added:
“There is no discussion on the pain and trauma that Nirbhaya withstood. When the incident happened seven years ago, there was anger in the people and many protests and we with new laws being made we thought that things would be set right. But we found more girls falling victim to such crimes.”
She charged that while her family never spoke ill of the family convicts or their families, Nirbhaya was abused by the lawyers of the convicts and they also accused her family of making crores through a trust.
“They have made it personal. I want to sue them for defamation. They should show where have we made any money.”
Asha Devi had said all she knows is:
“I am a woman. I am fighting for my daughter, for the country’s daughters.”
She said the families of the convicts should remember that they are in this case because of their sons and not Nirbhaya.
“It is also up to the government and the judiciary to establish and restore the faith of the people in them.”
‘Parliament should debate, strengthen rape law’
Nirbhaya’s father, Badrinath Singh, spoke about the need for making rape laws more stringent.
“It seems like the Criminal Law Amendment Act was never passed. There are hundreds of families like ours who are hopeful that when Nirbhaya’s family would get justice then they too would get justice in their respective cases.”
He had said families of such victims want new laws passed with more stringent provisions. “Many other families whose daughters suffered similar criminal acts want his family to help them out.”
He also spoke about how existing laws do not deter rapists.
“There are so many shortcomings in the existing laws covering rape cases that they need to be removed. There have been so many instances in which people accused of rape and even burning victims have been let off. We will have to fight the government and not stay silent. Those with any element of humanity in them have stood with us and we will bring the change.”