Nirbhaya's mother, Champion of Change, IN

Published Date: 9th April 2015

Open Windows | In Conversation

Nirbhaya's mother, Champion of Change, IN

April 9th, 2015

On December 16, 2012, India witnessed the barbaric sexual violence against Nirbhaya, a 23-year-old physiotherapy intern. After days of enduring severe damage to multiple organs, she passed away. And in her passing, true to the voice she lived with, she shone the torch on the prevailing ugliness in society as well as fueled conversations on gender equality, education, and safety.

It is through the enormity of their daughter’s destruction that the real character of Asha Devi and Badrinath Singh came to light. In spite of their unfathomable agony and grief, they turned into champions of change. Alongside fighting for justice, they are requesting us to refuse the allowance of criminal thought and slam shame on perpetrators of crime. Their courageous story of commitment is a firm reminder of human worthiness.

I cannot comprehend the scale of your loss and pain, but I want you to know that I empathize with you and greatly admire your dignity and vision for the equality of women and betterment of society. Where do you and your husband, Mr. Badrinath Singh, get the courage?

Asha Devi – See, the things that came in front of us, what has happened to my daughter, I have seen it with my eyes. When she was alive in the hospital, at that time, we did not know what had happened, how much damage was done. All we knew is that somehow we wanted our child to survive.

After my daughter died, I sat at home and cried a lot for an entire year. Those tears gave me strength. I thought if this scale of violence was inflicted on our child, if I take that destruction and just sit quietly at home and cry, what was to happen to thousands of mothers and fathers whose daughters are violently destroyed?

I felt if I remained silent about the violence, it would be a bigger crime.

My daughter’s plight and the tears from losing her have given me strength.

The children who came and protested, their strength and effort have given us strength. They came day and night for 10 to 14 days, to India Gate [War Memorial, New Delhi, India] and Jantar Mantar [Observatory, New Delhi, India]. I am sure there were some who were there for their benefit, some bad, but a lot of good people. We want to do something for them, for the good people.


And this fuels you?

Yes. The main thing is that we want to take out the best from the worst. That is why we bury our pain and meet so many people. We will not get our child back but what we can do, and must do, with the support of women like you, is to do right by society.


What did you go through in the days right after the incident?

See, the truth is that we were so shaken up at the sight of our daughter, we were only praying for her eyes to open, for her heart to keep beating, for her to live. For 15 days we did not know where we were and what we were doing.


Most suffer the layers of abuse silently and hide in shame. You have not only endured the enormous loss and pain, but you continue to rise and lead society through it.

We cared for our daughter dearly, spent 23 years in her upbringing and educated her to make her a first rank human being. We wanted to help others’ like us who do not have the means to get educated. And this is how society pays us back—they destroyed her—the third rate human beings did not take a minute to destroy her.

I still fight with myself, “What was my fault?” This sadness has taught me to fight; it has brought me out. I will not tolerate these violent crimes. I will only endeavor to educate parents and children and tell them not to hide their abuse. By doing so, we encourage those who commit crimes. We have to raise our voices against them.

Till the time we keep silent about the violence against us, instead of speaking up, there will be no resolution.

A victim is saddled with shame and expected to guard the shame of a criminal. I have always believed that shame belongs only to one who commits crimes.

What you are saying is right. We have raised our voice often against those who say, ”Girls should not go out, should not wear such clothes….” But we too have our lives, we go to study, to the bazaar, wear the kind of clothes we wish. Does this mean you are going to rape us? And on top of that blame us?

We should not be ashamed. One who commits crimes should be ashamed. We become our enemies when we hide and keep quiet, “I have been abused, I will hide, and I will not go out.” You must step out, as you have not done anything wrong. The criminal must hide and must be punished.


You and your husband operate as a unit, from educating your daughter to fighting for justice. This partnership lacks in most families.

We can do what we want to at home, bicker and fight, but when it comes to the upbringing of our children and their education, our focus should be on them, all the time. I pray what happened to our child should not happen to any child, but my prayers or others’ prayers do not have the strength to stop these crimes.

I will say to every parent that when these types of crimes are inflicted against anyone they must not suppress it. Immaterial of the relation to the perpetrator of the crime, the criminal must be brought to punishment. It is the right thing to do for the victim, and the future generations to come. In spite of the magnitude of suppressing the crime, one must fight twice as hard to punish the criminal, to get justice.


What do you make of heinous crimes inflicted on children by their family members?

If they are family, why do they do it? Those who harm their children, how can they be considered family? The family unit is far guiltier that the outsider because we know them, trust them and depend on them. When family exploits our trust, they become far worse criminals than the outsiders.


Is there complicity—do criminals within families destroy knowing they won’t be challenged?

Yes, they know that when they commit crimes, they will not be challenged because they are family. They harm knowingly. They are the bigger criminals because they know they will go scot-free. Those around perpetrators of crime must not enable them. When the family members enable violence, this disturbed individual perpetrates crimes outside the home. A criminal feels entitled to commit crimes.

One who sets fire to human life should not be shielded.

Why is your case taking so long?

The laws in our country are such, and it’s taking years to an end. What can I say? If a case like this takes so long to give punishment, what is to happen to other cases?


Would you like to talk about Leslee Udwin’s documentary?

I don’t want to speak about this, as it is in the court.


On how many levels do heinous crimes destroy a human being?

The scale of the demolition, I can’t even begin to tell you.

The damage that is done to the mind, the damage that is done to the soul, it never ends…till she is alive.

A woman is very strong. Only where her dignity is concerned she becomes weak because she has to protect her dignity constantly. If we shy away and sit quietly, there will be no solution to these crimes. We have to come together as one and fight this, for our children. It is our responsibility.


How has your life changed after this incident?

We are just living our life. From the time our daughter passed away we don’t celebrate anything, no festival, no pooja [religious ritual]. We live to get justice for our child, and we want to stop the violence against children, to the extent we can.


How should parents treat their daughters?

I want every mother and father to know that there should be no differentiation between daughters and sons. It is we who weaken the daughter and it is we who elevate the son’s status. This imbalance begins at home. We must give equal respect to our daughters and sons. When one god has created us, then why do we differentiate? It is our responsibility. If we give birth to daughters and sons, we must give them equal status and care for them with affection. Both our children are deserving of respect and importance.


How can we educate children?

Proper thinking is important at a school level. First and foremost, emotional security and dignity are necessary at home.

If the child is extended respect, love, and status at home, then she will be treated well outside.

Who has supported you through the journey?

Some people help, some people tell us they are with us, that they will stand by us, but no one is going to be with us all the time, though life. We have to fight alone. But the positive thing is that many people meet us kindly, and this is enough.


I understand. What can we do to support you?

By coming together, to speak up. Please, support the foundation we have started for children and women. We want to support education for children in schools.


Would you like to share something about your daughter, perhaps about her childhood?

We all have ups and downs in life, but our daughter was even-tempered. She was fond of studying from childhood. She stood first most of the time, maybe a couple of times she came second. Whenever we had a problem, from the time she was very young, she knew how to handle it. She would tell her father, “Papa, don’t worry. Mummy, why are you worrying, it will be okay.” We always felt she was a different kind of human being, a different kind of soul. Even at 20, she would tell us how to go about life.


Ashaji, thank you for sharing your sentiments.

You stay strong.


Thank you for your blessings.