Tuesday, 9 August, 2022
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Asha Devi had never seen a police station. Then she forced India to change its rape laws

The mother of 23-year-old paramedic, who was gang raped in 2012, is hopeful that other pending rape cases will be expedited and concluded.

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Asha Devi is now at ease. The fight that began seven years ago, with a resolution to take to the gallows the men who brutally gang raped and murdered her 23-year-old daughter, has finally come to an end. The mother of the paramedic student became, over the years, the face of the fight — going in and out of the court, always ready to talk to the media and take a stand.

It was this case of gang-rape and murder, reported on 16 December 2012, that shook the nation’s conscience, bringing to the fore a long-overdue conversation about women’s safety.

Such was the impact that many people across India took to the streets, forcing not only the administration to act swiftly in the case but also the country to make the rape laws more stringent through the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013.

Although the participants in this fight have been many, Asha Devi has always been the one leading from the front. And that’s why she is ThePrint’s Newsmaker of the Week.

Also read: ‘Cruel and inhumane’ — European Union condemns hanging of 16 December gang rape convicts

A tough battle

Asha Devi, a family manager who had never seen a police station or a court complex before, had had her weak moments and broke down on several occasions. Especially at times when she was made to stand in the witness box and asked to speak for her daughter’s character by the lawyers defending the rapists in a courtroom full of people.

At times when it was implied that her daughter deserved to be raped because she stepped out of her home with a male friend at an “odd hour” to watch a movie.

Or when she was made to recall, time and again, about when she saw her daughter last and the condition of her body after the gang-rape.

Or whenever the lawyers discussed, in great detail, the wounds on her daughter’s violated, butchered body.

She, however, weathered all of it and emerged stronger than ever.

She was the first to assert that the name of her daughter should not be concealed and that she should be called by her name Jyoti, a practice that was never followed before while reporting a case of sexual assault. Indian law protects the identity of the rape survivor, considering the taboos attached to it.

“She has not done anything wrong, then why should we hide her name? The ones who have done such a thing should hide their identity. She will be called by her name Jyoti,” Asha Devi had told this reporter.

She also took charge to understand her daughter’s case file, read the procedures of law to ensure that the fight continues in the right direction and her daughter’s rapists are hanged.

And on Friday, she won.

“Only I know how I have sat through those hearings,” she said.

“I am at peace now. To know that the men who brutalised my daughter have been hanged and are no more alive. It has not been an easy journey,” she said.

“My sufferings, my efforts, my fight did not go in vain. My worst nightmare was these men walking free one day, but now I am relieved. The fight that I started seven years ago has reached its logical end,” she said.

What made her go on? The memories of her daughter in the hospital with a dozen pipes running through her body, unable to speak, eat or even drink a few drops of water.

“Her internal organs had collapsed and her body was not even accepting water. Which mother can see her daughter in that condition? I did not have the heart to look her in the eye. That is when we decided that no matter how long this fight takes, I have to be strong for her,” she said.

Also read: This is what happened in the last moments as 16 Dec rapists walked towards the gallows

Fight for a larger cause

Asha Devi, who has now become the face of this movement wants to take this fight forward.

She believes that this hanging will surely deter those with criminal tendencies, and is now hopeful that other cases of rape that have been pending in the court for years, will be expedited and concluded.

“Today’s hanging has restored my faith in the judiciary. But this fight is not just about my daughter alone. The cases that have been pending in courts for years now need to be fast tracked,” she said.

Just like this case, that had a daily hearing, Asha Devi now wants all cases of rape to be heard and decided quickly.

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