ONE refrain of lawmakers who passed the Bill yesterday lowering juvenile age from 18 to 16 for heinous crimes was that times had changed, there was outrage outside the House and Jyoti Singh’s parents needed justice and closure. Away from TV cameras, a group of men and women worked to amplify a family’s anguish so that it could be heard loud and clear and prod the dissenters into changing their stand and voting for the Bill. From a former enquiry member with the National Commission for Women to a US-returned businessman, from an ABVP member to an ex-NSUI volunteer — they organised protests and fixed up meetings between parents and top politicians, many of whom had reservations about the Bill. The Indian Express tracks down the four key members:
Yogita Bhayana, 35
Yogita, a former enquiry member with the NCW, was the one who convinced the victim’s mother to take to the streets — after she saw her deliver a fiery address at Jantar Mantar on December 16 this year. Yogita, who dealt with rape cases during her stint as an enquiry member, first met the victim’s mother in 2012 and re-established contact in 2013, often accompanying her to meetings.
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Recalling the first time she asked the mother — whom she described as a recluse — to launch a protest this month, Yogita, now an independent activist who works with rape victims, said, “She told me to call her back in 10 minutes. She had seen the protests in 2012 on TV and she was scared to hit the streets. But last week, she finally told me she would call back. That gave me hope.”
Anand Gupta, 41
Anand has been managing the Facebook page of the Nirbhaya Jyoti Trust, set up by the victim’s family in 2013, for the last six months. He met the victim’s mother at Jantar Mantar last year, and insisted on several occasions that she launch an agitation. But, as Yogita put it, “he would always get rebuked”.
A US-based businessman who moved to India two years ago to look after his ailing parents, Anand joined the AAP in 2013, but quit after Arvind Kejriwal resigned from his first stint as CM. “I remember (the first time I met the parents) because it was Christmas. There were hardly 30-40 people, and this old couple. I was shocked at the turnout. I had read about the case and the movement it stirred, but I was shocked at how short public memory can be,” Anand said. That was also the first time he met Yogita, and the two realised that the Nirbhaya Jyoti Trust barely had Rs 10,000 in its account.
Saket Bahuguna, 26
Saket, ABVP’s Delhi state secretary, was first contacted by Anand in March this year through a Facebook friend. The two met at a coffee shop in Connaught Place, and talked about how to take the movement forward. “We were concerned that ever since the victim’s brothers moved out, the parents were all alone with no one to help them,” said Saket. In August, he and Anand organised a march in Delhi University, and in October, a public meeting in JNU, where the parents spoke.
On December 17, when the victim’s mother finally called Yogita back with a green signal for the protests, Anand and Saket were the first two people she called. “We told her to have faith in us. Nothing was possible without engaging the public. We assured her we would get the crowds,” Yogita said.
Akash Deep, 26
A former NSUI volunteer, Akash and the victim’s brother were in touch with Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi in 2012 to get justice for the family. He was formally introduced to Yogita, Anand and Saket during the protest at Jantar Mantar on December 19 last week — the first time the group officially hit the streets with the parents.
Akash also had a personal connection with the family — he is from the victim’s village in Ballia and calls her parents chacha and chachi. “I met these great people and we realised we could actually do something to help push this Bill in parliament. Before Saturday, till December 16, we were just organising a commemorative function, we did not realise we could actually help pass the Bill,” he said.
The protest on December 19 afternoon was, as one of them described it, “lukewarm”. A senior journalist who is friends with Yogita told them the Parliament session was winding down and protests had to be escalated. So that evening, they decided to move outside the correctional home in North Delhi where the convicted juvenile had been put up.
“We coordinated our forces. By now, we had a WhatsApp group, and we divided the crowd into three groups… This was also the first time aunty and uncle were seen in the protest,” said Anand. Saket also got ABVP members to block the road for two hours.
Photographs and videos of the protest were promptly put up on the trust’s Facebook page.
But they soon realised street protests were not enough. “Another senior journalist told us we had to meet MPs who were part of the select committee that would examine the bill,” said Anand.
The first meeting, with Congress’s Ghulam Nabi Azad, was set up by Yogita on December 21. The next meeting, fixed up by Saket, was with MoS Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi. Akash got in touch with a close aide of Rahul on December 21, and the victim’s parents, along with the four, met the Congress vice-president the next day.
On Tuesday, as Rajya Sabha debated the Bill, the four were present alongside the parents inside the House, with Azad ensuring they had passes to attend. Soon after the Bill was passed, a “victory photo” was posted on Facebook.
“My four told me I would have to convince both the Congress and the BJP on this. In three days, they helped me do more than I could in the last three years. I do not understand these things properly, but whatever they advise me, I will do,” said the victim’s mother, flanked by the four.