Asha Devi and Badri Prasad are looking better. The change is most noticeable in the light banter with their sons on this Sunday afternoon, just a couple of days after the death sentence was handed down to four of the men accused of raping and murdering their daughter.
This lower middle class family had come to Delhi from an economically backward region in the east of Uttar Pradesh in search of a better future for their children more than two decades ago. That dream ended on the evening of December 16 last year, when their only daughter was subjected to a gang rape of staggering brutality. The young woman succumbed to her injuries nine days later.
Despite their socially conservative background, Asha Devi and Badri Prasad raised their daughter in a liberal atmosphere, leaving her free to decide her career and life. They sold off a piece of land to finance her education as a paramedic. She had recently finished her course when she was attacked.
The Diplomat’s Sanjay Kumar first met the victim’s family in February this year, about six weeks after the death of the daughter. Badri Prasad was nurturing a swollen leg and looked to be in a state of shock. Asha Devi had developed hypertension and was unable to say a single word. Now, in September, the parents appear in a much more robust state, even allowing themselves to think about the future for their two sons.
The government of New Delhi has given the family a new, three bedroom apartment in an upwardly mobile middle-class suburb in the city’s southwest. It’s a vast improvement on their previous quarters, but does little to make them forget the agony of the past nine months.
Kumar spoke with the family about their suffering, what the verdict meant to them and whether they think that the national outrage that followed the attack will ultimately leave to a better society.
Badri Prasad, Father
Q: What does the verdict mean to you?
The court verdict is heartening, not only to me but to all society. This verdict is for everyone, not just for me. The whole country was waiting for the verdict and this judgment reflects the will of the people. Therefore, my happiness is bound up with the happiness of society. I cannot forget the deep pain of losing my only daughter in such a tragic manner but it gives me immense relief that that the culprits have received the death sentence.
For my family and me, life took a terrible turn with the death of my daughter. The last nine months have been the worst of our lives, but the verdict has given a new hope and a will to live. I want to see all four men hanged. This is a historic verdict.
Q: Has the verdict helped you ease the pain of the last nine months?
It does not bring back my daughter. Nothing can ease the pain of that. But the verdict has acted as a balm; it has brought a sense of relief and hope that the men who killed my daughter will meet the fate they deserve. I really welcome the court verdict, and I feel a debt of gratitude to everyone. The media, the police, the judiciary and ordinary people continued to pursue the case until justice was delivered.
Q: How optimistic are you that your case will not be the exception, but the norm, and that other victims and their families will receive justice?
While handing down the verdict the judge observed that in all cases related to rape and atrocities against women the police should act with as much as speed as they have acted in this case. He hoped that in future cases the same urgency would be shown in solving the case and punishing the guilty.
Timely prosecution sends the right message to society and helps curb crime, which has increased frighteningly in recent times.
Q: Do you think that verdict will help curb crime against women?
No doubt about it. Changing the law has an impact. It has a deterrent effect on those who would think of committing a crime. Quick enforcement will influence society. It will help in curbing crime against women. I strongly believe that the court’s judgment will help protect women and give them a sense of security.
Q: Given your experience, what do you think should be done to improve the lot of women in our society?
To change the mentality of the society you need to have strict laws. Fear of the law is important to change the way men treat their women. So strong laws and strict enforcement are two important aspects. Talk alone can’t change society. Yes, reform needs to start from the home. The way we treat our women at home determines to a great extent how we treat them outside the home. But for me, strict enforcement of the law is vital to changing the mindset of society towards women.
The mentality of society has to change. It will take time. The role of parents in the home is important. But tell me why juveniles should be treated differently. Their crime should not be treated any differently.
The government should also think of rehabilitating victims of rape who now have to live a life of shame. Their lives are often terrible. There should be some attempt to rehabilitate such girls and we also need to show them greater empathy. They should have the support of the law. There are thousands of women who are suffering like that. They also need justice and they also need to feel that society accepts them. Why should they suffer because of someone else’s crime?
Asha Devi, Mother
Q: How you feel now after the verdict? You were looking completely distraught on hearing the decision at juvenile court.
They have been given their punishment and now I am waiting for them to be hanged. It was a decision I was expecting. The verdict in the juvenile court was very disappointing for me. I never expected that someone involved in such a heinous crime could be let off so lightly just because he is a few months short of 18. I was heartbroken the way the fifth culprit got lighter punishment as a juvenile.
When my daughter returned to consciousness in hospital she told me that the culprits should be burned alive. Just imagine how much pain she was suffering on her hospital bed. This pain is also in the heart of the people and they don’t want anything less than a death sentence.
Q: This tragic case has had a profound impact on Indian society. How do you feel now that your daughter has become a symbol in the fight to correct injustice and violence against women?
I feel that she has become the daughter of all of society. She has inspired a new struggle. Her death has awakened the public conscience. It is now up to us to sustain the movement. I hope this enlightenment will help weed out some of the rotten mentality and attitudes towards women. My daughter has sent the message that we need to awaken from our slumber. I hope this cry for change will last. Only then will we see real change in society. And that change would be a real tribute to my daughter.
Q: What message do you think the verdict sends?
The verdict will send a positive message to society. It will strengthen the hope and hands of those who have lost trust in the law, who feel let down by the slow legal process. The court decision will help other women come forward and report the atrocities committed against them. It will give a voice to those who feel oppressed by this patriarchal system. It is a landmark verdict that will usher in change to the system and the way we think.
Q: As a mother and a woman what do you think should be done to improve the situation of women in society?
I stay at home but one thing I know is that before we change society we need to change ourselves. We have to understand that the perpetrators are the byproducts of society; they are the end result of the way we think about women. This dirt has come from our society. So we need to change our thoughts and attitudes.
You cannot expect the government and police to guard you at all times. We need to change ourselves. Violence and discrimination against women start at home. We hear so many instances of men treating their women badly, we hear cases of young girls being molested at home….how can police stop this?
Q: What do you think the future holds for you?
Right now we can’t think clearly. We are still in the process of collecting ourselves. These last nine months have been very painful for us. Our dreams have been broken. Now we are trying to focus on our two children and their future. I had many plans for my daughter and my other kids, but our priorities and focus changed after December 16.
Q: What does the new house mean to you?
Whether I’m in the old house or new house, the pain doesn’t go away. In the old place, I had lots of reminders, but the move hasn’t lessened my pain. There is no change for me.
I don’t know how to describe the pain. I got a house. I came inside the house. I have money. I can buy a bed. But tell me, how can I buy sleep?