After almost seven and half years, Nirbhaya finally got justice at 6 a.m. Indian standard time on March 20. Her tormentors and killers hanged to death at this hour. Compared to the horrid struggle to infuse life into her badly mutilated and violated body for days, four of the remaining architects of her death died within predictable minutes of hanging. What thoughts might have crossed their minds while hanging from the noose, we will never know. That is not important, too. They paid for their crime with their lives, albeit after an excruciatingly long, long time. But this does not lessen the victory, the justice that Nirbhaya finally got.
To put in proper perspective, a larger picture, it is not Nirbhaya’s victory alone. It’s gender victory and justice for all women victims not just in India but those across the entire world. Nirbhaya has brought earth-shaking changes in India’s justice system concerning rapes. Now, rapes of girls under 12 years will earn a death sentence, so will murder or the death of rape victims — a profound change in the deeply entrenched judicial system.
The case has also sent a lesson that rapists cannot escape justice irrespective of their power and wealth. Nirbhaya generated so much heat that a powerful state MLA of the ruling party in India went to jail for his rape adventure. Without Nirbhaya, this would not have been possible. Still, India needs to work on swift justice delivery for victims of gender violence.
Countries in the neighbourhood, too, including Nepal, which reports of heinous rapes almost regularly, can take judicial lessons on rape and gender violence from the Nirbhaya case. Nepal, too, has its Nirbhaya in Nirmala, a 13-year-old student, found raped and murdered while returning home from a visit to a friend. It is time to scratch away the scabs from the case and start investigation afresh.
The state must find the perpetrators and bring them to justice. It should leave no stone unturned to find the criminals. For this, the investigating officials must be held accountable. It is their duty and responsibility to conclude the cases within a reasonable time.
To me, the Nirbhaya case also brought to the fore the strong characters of the Indian lawyers from both sides. Lawyer A. P. Singh, who represented the criminals, is beyond reproach and seems incorruptible. He pulled all the legal steps to try and save his clients until the last moment.
A version of this article appears in print on March 25, 2020 of The Himalayan Times.