The 23-year-old Indian student who became known as by a multitude of names, among them — “Nirbhaya” (Fearless)— after she was brutally gang raped on a moving Delhi bus last December, has been posthumously given the International Women of Courage Award.
The award was presented yesterday at a State Department event held to honor nine women around the world who demonstrated qualities of courage, and also marked International Women’s Day.
The young physiotherapy student was gang raped by six men on December 16. She died 13 days later from multiple organ failure at a Singapore hospital. Her death triggered waves of protest across India from women’s groups, students, and ordinary citizens.
“Her bravery inspired millions of women and men to come together with a simple message — ‘No more,’” US Secretary of State John Kerry told guests at the ceremony which included the First Lady, Michelle Obama and the Indian Ambassador to the US, Nirupama Rao.
Kerry continued: “No more looking the other way when gender-based violence happens. No more stigma against victims or survivors.”
None of Nirbhaya’s family members were present at the ceremony, but a short notes from her parents was read out by Kerry. It said:
“We never imagined that the girl we thought was our daughter would one day be the daughter of the entire world. While her end was horrendous, her case is imparting strength to all women to fight and to improve the system. Women in India and the rest of the world refuse to be stigmatized and will not keep silent any more.”
As he presented Nirbhaya’s award to Ambassador Rao, Kerry asked the jam-packed auditorium to observe a moment of silence for the young student whom he described as “brave and fearless.”
Adding that Nirbhaya’s fight survived her, Kerry praised her for being a point of inspiration for those now working to end violence against women in India while calling her a woman of “exceptional courage.”
Other women honored at the event included Tsering Woesern, a Tibetan author, blogger and poet, who, despite constant surveillance and routinely being placed under house arrest, uses words to address the self-immolations, protests, and human rights conditions for China’s Tibetan citizens.
Dr. Josephine Obiajulu Odumakin of Nigeria, Russian human rights activist and reporter Elena Milashina, Ms. Fartuun Adan, executive director of the Elman Peace and Human Rights Center in Mogadishu, Somalia, Razan Zeitunah, the founder of the Human Rights Association in Syria and the Local Coordination Committees, and three others were also honored.
Nirbhaya recorded two police statements about her gang rape while in the hospital and called for justice against her six attackers. Her death catalyzed a grassroots movement for reform that had led to the Indian government stated plans to bring in new legislation, police reforms, and various social programs to reduce violence against women and ensure higher rape convictions.
The six men (including one juvenile) accused of her gang rape and murder are currently on trial in India. If convicted, the five adults may face the death penalty.