Moment of silence for rape victim at International Women of Courage awards.
WASHINGTON, DC: Nine women, including ‘Nirbhaya’, the unidentified gang rape victim in Delhi who succumbed to her assault injuries in December, were honored with the Secretary of State’s International Women of Courage Award as a part of International Women’s Day, at the State Department, today.
The award was supposed to be given to 10 women, but a 26-year-old Egyptian woman was removed from the list after Anti-American tweets were found on her Twitter account; she claims her account was hacked.
No family members from ‘Nirbhaya’ – the term given by the State Department to the Delhi gang rape victim, which means ‘Fearless’ in Hindi – was present on the occasion, but India’s Ambassador to the United States Nirupama Rao was present on the occasion. The Secretary of State John Kerry and First Lady Michelle Obama handed out the awards. In New Delhi, the US Embassy honored the victim posthumously, with a family member present.
Kerry honored posthumously ‘Nirbhaya’ with the most words at the ceremony, and read out a letter her parents had sent for the occasion.
“Finally, we honor a woman known simply as Nirbhaya – brave, big heart, fearless. This bright young woman was studying to be a doctor when she boarded a bus in Delhi last December,” he said. “For hours, she was brutally gang raped. She was then tossed away, along with her friend, left naked and bleeding alongside the road and left to die. But she kept fighting.”
He said: “Over the next two weeks, she became aware of the growing movement that was supporting her and the outrage and indignation ignited around the world. As she fought for her life, she decided to fight for justice, too. She defied her doctors and the culture of silence, giving two detailed accounts of her attack that the police used to arrest her rapists.”
Kerry said that the victim’s “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.”
In a gesture that reflected the impact the victim had on him, he asked the jam packed auditorium to stand and join him in a moment of silence for the victim.
“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 honor Nirbhaya as a woman of exceptional courage, and we honor her posthumously,” said Kerry.
Kerry read out the message the victim’s parents had sent for the occasion. “Today, our message to the world is: do not tolerate any attack on your dignity and honor; do not silently bear ill treatment. Earlier, women would keep silent and hide away when they were subjected to sexual misconduct.
“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 message said the family 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.”
“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.”
In his remarks, Kerry described courage also as: “…the courage of people raising kids, certainly women raising them – but it is also the courage of every man who defends his daughter’s right to an equal education, or every brother who challenges a law that keeps his sister from owning property or opening a business, or every husband who not only promises that the cycle of domestic violence can stop with him, but who proves it.”
Speaking on the occasion, Obama said of the recipients of the awards this year: “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 added: “…this is not simply an honor bestowed upon a few, but a call for all of us to open our eyes to the injustices around us, and to ask ourselves just what kind of courage we’ve got inside our own hearts. “
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); 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).