2012: Nirbhaya case

The memory continues to sear the conscience of Indians.

Published : Aug 15, 2022 06:00 IST

Protesters carry a floral tribute to a memorial service held outside the Indian High Commission in London.

Protesters carry a floral tribute to a memorial service held outside the Indian High Commission in London. | Photo Credit: REUTERS

Nirbhaya. A word that means “fearless”, a word that stirs up emotion, anger, guilt, and collective shame like no other. Nearly a decade has passed after a 22-year-old physiotherapy intern (referred to only as Nirbhaya) was gang-raped and tortured in a bus in Delhi’s Munirka neighbourhood in December 2012, but the memory continues to sear the conscience of Indians.

When the horrific details of the case emerged, they sent the nation into a paroxysm of rage seldom seen before. Less than two weeks after her assault, the victim died in a Singapore hospital. The death led to a widespread outpouring of anger, with thousands of people gathering in Delhi and other major cities in spontaneous protests, calling for immediate action to prevent such incidents from happening again.

Even as the five accused were nabbed, the public at large demanded justice and lasting change. Seeing the public anger, the government sent the case to a fast-track court where, on September 10, 2013, four of the defendants were sentenced to death while the fifth, a minor, was sent to a reform facility.

After several appeals on technical and other grounds were rejected, the four were hanged to death on March 20, 2020.

One of the major fallouts of the case was the setting up of a judicial committee in December 2012 to look at ways to amend sexual assault laws and ensure quicker investigation and prosecution of offenders. Most of the Justice J.S. Verma committee’s suggestions were implemented.

The new laws included a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years for gang rape and the creation of six fast-track courts solely to prosecute rape crimes. It also expanded the definition of rape to include any non-consensual sexual penetration.

The widespread indignation against the lenient treatment offered to the fifth offender resulted also in the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015, which mandates that anyone above 16 who is accused of heinous crimes will be treated as an adult in a court of law.

The Centre and various State governments also announced several steps to ensure the safety of women, such as dedicated helplines for sexual abuse complaints, CCTV cameras in police stations, and sensitization of police personnel to register FIRs immediately after complaints.

The Nirbhaya case resulted in an unprecedented rise in public discussion around sexual assault, the need for sex education, and the urgent need to sensitise boys and men about sexual gratification and violence.

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