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U.S. To Honor India Gang-Rape Victim


It is International Women's Day. To mark that occasion, First Lady Michelle Obama joins of Secretary of State John Kerry to recognize women around the world who have shown exceptional courage, as they put it, in advancing women's rights. The nine honorees include the 23-year-old Indian woman whose brutal gang-rape last December inspired a movement to end violence against women in India.

From New Delhi, NPR's Julie McCarthy reports.

JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: Her family and the Indian media dubbed the young girl who is being posthumously honored Braveheart. It is illegal in India to name a rape victim. The family has also been advised to withhold its name. As it conferred the International Women of Courage Award, the U.S. State Department called her only Nirbaya, meaning fearless. The citation describes her as born into a working-class family that invested their hopes and life savings into her dream to pursue medicine. She was on course to become a paramedic.

Down a dirt lane, in a warren of dwellings in West Delhi, sits the small ramshackle house where her family has lived for 30 years. A framed picture of the young woman, propped up against the wall, is garlanded with flowers in the bedroom of her parents. Her father sits on the bed nursing a sore knee, fondly recalling his daughter as a tiny infant sleeping on his chest.

She grew up, he says, to be independent and unafraid. As she lay dying in the hospital, she twice recorded testimony about the rape and repeatedly called for justice against her six attackers. I want to live, she told her family.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Foreign language spoken)

MCCARTHY: The courage she had, and the fight she gave, says her father, told us that we could not be silent. And it told other girls that they must stand up for themselves, save themselves. He added: Now all the sleeping girls have been awakened. Women say they won't stay quiet any longer. If injustice happens they will fight. This is a very big change and a very good thing, he says.

Two and half months on, the ordeal is still raw, the events re-playing in their minds. The victim's younger brother, age 20, holds on to the image of his sister fighting back as six men assailed her.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Foreign language spoken)

MCCARTHY: When you see six people, anyone would give up. But my sister, the Braveheart, didn't.

The family has been too pained to attend the trial of the accused now underway in a Delhi court. The young woman's mother draws her shawl tight and says the award bestowed on her daughter for bravery will have little meaning if the culprits are not convicted.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken)

MCCARTHY: Only the hanging of these criminals is justice, she says. All this public support, the awards, we will understand them and derive some happiness from them when these men are actually hanged.


MCCARTHY: The grisly episode has put its stamp on International Women's Day in India. Poetry readings and street plays like this one performed by Delhi University students portray the humiliation of sexual violence.

Feminist Kamla Bhasin says the violence will only end when patriarchal attitudes towards women end.

KAMLA BHASIN: If slavery could be done away with, if monarchies could be done away with, then definitely patriarchy can be done away with, if all of us want to do away with it.

MCCARTHY: Julie McCarthy NPR News, New Delhi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Julie McCarthy has spent most of career traveling the world for NPR. She's covered wars, prime ministers, presidents and paupers. But her favorite stories "are about the common man or woman doing uncommon things," she says.