Ten years ago this month, a horrifying gang rape and murder in Delhi served as a turning point that brought the topic of violence against women to the forefront of India’s national discussion.
The world was outraged when Jyoti Singh, 23, was gang-raped by the driver of the Delhi bus she was riding on and five accomplices. Jyoti had retaliated after being dubbed “Nirbhaya” or the “fearless one” by the media. But she was flung naked from the bus and sustained internal injuries. Within two weeks of the assault, she passed away.
My own initial memory of that incident is one of fear. I recall the horror that spread through my body as I read graphic accounts of her torment, including the insertion of a rod and the removal of her intestines. Having experienced frequent street harassment while growing up in Delhi, I believed myself to be quite battle-tested, yet this worried me.
Laws were changed to recognise broader and more nuanced definitions of violence against women, impose fines for ineffective police intervention, and create stiffer sanctions for abusers, including, importantly, the death penalty. The 2012 protests did result in some change.
However, there are still major risks for women in India today, ten years later. Over the past ten years, there has been a more than 50% increase in crimes against women.The mother of Jyoti Singh, Asha Devi, was one woman who became entangled in the fights for rape justice.
She founded the Nirbhaya Jyoti Trust in honour of her daughter as a result of her trauma. The families of rape victims are required by Indian law to remain anonymous, but Asha made the decision to release her daughter’s name in 2015, stating that “those who do horrific crimes should be humiliated, not the families of victims.”