Washington: Known to India and the world as Nirbhaya (Fearless), the 23-year-old physiotherapy intern, whose brutal gang rape on a moving bus in Delhi in December inspired widespread protests, has been posthumously presented with the International Women of Courage Award.
“Her bravery inspired millions of women and men to come together with a simple message: No more. No more looking the other way when gender-based violence happens. No more stigma against victims or survivors,” the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, said at a State Department function held yesterday to honour women from across the globe with the prestigious International Women of Courage Award.
The award was presented to the brave young girl posthumously.
None of her family members were present on the occasion. The Indian Ambassador to the US, Nirupama Rao was present at the award ceremony in which eight others were presented with the award. In a rare gesture, Kerry asked the jam packed auditorium to stand and join him in a moment of silence for ‘Nirbhaya’, whom he described as “brave, big heart and fearless”.
“Nirbhaya’s fight survives her. For inspiring people to work together to end violence against women in India and around the world by displaying immense courage in demanding justice, and with great sadness, we honour Nirbhaya as a woman of exceptional courage, and we honour her posthumously,” the Secretary of State said at the function presided over by the US First Lady, Michelle Obama.
Kerry then personally read out the message that Nirbhaya’s parents had sent for the occasion. “Today, our message to the world is: do not tolerate any attack on your dignity and honour; do not silently bear ill treatment.
Earlier, women would keep silent and hide away when they were subjected to sexual misconduct,” the parents said in their message. “They would not report it to the police, nor lodge any complaints. They were scared of the stigma.
That has changed – the fear is now gone. And while her end was horrendous, her case is imparting strength to all women to fight and to improve the system. “Women, both in India and in the rest of the world, refuse to be stigmatised and will not keep silent anymore. This incident has opened their minds and empowered them.
They are no longer scared of what anyone will say,” the parents said. In their message, Nirbhaya’s parents said that they never imagined that the girl they thought was their daughter would one day be the daughter of the entire world. “She was meant to be the daughter of the world.
This is a huge achievement in itself,” they said. “She was always different from other children. Other children cry when being sent to school, but she was an extraordinary child who would cry when she was not going to school. She was a happy girl, and even in times of struggle she would stay cheerful.
We gave equal treatment to all our three children; there was no discrimination because of her being a girl,” the parents said.
They mentioned in the letter about her struggle to achieve success in life despite poverty and other odds, adding she had just one goal in life, to study and become a doctor.
The other awardees for this year were Malalai Bahaduri, First Sergeant, Afghan National Interdiction Unit (Afghanistan); Julieta Castellanos, Rector, National Autonomous University of Honduras (Honduras); Dr. Josephine Obiajulu Odumakin, President, Campaign for Democracy (Nigeria); Elena Milashina, journalist, human rights activist (Russia); and Fartuun Adan, Executive Director, Elman Peace and Human Rights Centre (Somalia), Tsering Woeser (Wei Se), Tibetan author, poet, blogger (China); Razan Zeitunah, human rights lawyer and Founder, Local Coordination Committees (Syria) and Ta Phong Tan, blogger (Vietnam).
Speaking on the occasion, the First Lady, Michelle Obama, said when these women witnessed horrific crimes or the disregard for basic human rights, they spoke up, risking everything they had to see that justice was done. “When they saw their communities or their countries were ignoring issues like sexual violence or women’s rights, they gave those issues a face and a voice. And with every act of strength and defiance, with every blog post, with every community meeting, these women have inspired millions to stand with them, and find their own voices, and work together to achieve real and lasting change,” she said. (PTI)