What drives Seema Kushwaha, the lawyer who fought to bring justice to Jyoti Singh Pandey’s family? Here’s her inspiring story.
“My intolerance towards patriarchy started since then, (when she wasn’t permitted to attend school) but maybe it was in my destiny to go through all of this, so that one day I could fight the most important case of my life- to get justice for Jyoti-Singh Pandey…. Nirbhaya,” says Seema Kushwaha, in a recent interview to Humans of Bombay. Today, she stands strong in the wake of the final execution of Nirbhaya’s four rapists.
Seema Kushwaha explains how she was born in a village in Uggarpur and was the first girl to study beyond the 8th grade. She was branded a ‘pagal ziddi ladki’ (the mad stubborn girl) growing up.
Since the time she was born, she was unwanted by most and was almost like an extra in her family. They wanted her to get married as soon as possible. She recalls how she had worked several jobs and even sold her payal (anklets) and earrings to get money to study law.
Then came the fateful day when Jyoti Singh Pandey was gang-raped. As she fought for her life, Jyoti’s horrific story had a profound impact on Seema Kushwaha. She was at the forefront of the movement following the death of the woman who became known to the country as ‘Nirbhaya’.
“They sprayed water cannons on us; lathi charged us- but we didn’t stop,” she explains, as she tried to obtain some form of justice in her own capacity. After witnessing the many gaps in the legal system and AP Singh’s defence of the perpetrators, first hand after the trial commenced, Kushwaha decided to fight for Nirbhaya and her parents.
Kushwaha described how she was ‘gut wrenched’ when she witnessed the perpetrators “lying through their teeth” and how “AP Singh amped up his aggression to save the convicts.” Even though the death sentence was made, AP Singh delayed the execution date further by filing appeals and verbally attacking judges in court.
With a new resolve to catapult the case and give it greater urgency and visibility, Kushwaha took it to the Indian Supreme Court. However, she was only able to get a hearing after a full year due to the sheer backlog of Supreme Court cases.
AP Singh still stuck to his previous narrative and hindered the progress of the final execution by prolonging the trial. He even found loopholes to put the trial in a state of legal limbo.
“I wrote to the President and PM, I questioned the delay in the media and fought in court like my life depended on it,” remarks Seema Kushwaha as she questioned the immobilities of the court in advancing the case.
Kushwaha’s story is again a woman’s story in the face of great personal hardship and immense perseverance. “My fight wasn’t for Jyoti anymore- it was for every girl in India,” This rings loud and clear as we begin to understand how deeply entrenched toxic rape culture continues to be in our society. And we see the many gaps and deficiencies in our legal systems to help correct and rectify it.
Nirbhaya’s trial was the biggest representation of this: “7 years, 3 death warrants and countless delays later, our efforts paid off. Justice for Jyoti would be delivered on March 20th, 2020. But AP Singh hadn’t given up yet- he had another trick up his sleeve.”
In a last ditch attempt, the lawyer tried his luck everywhere and woke the Supreme Court at 12 am who called an emergency session. He used several old arguments and even tried using COVID-19 as an excuse to delay the execution.
“At that point, I didn’t even need to fight back; the court was tired of his antics and saw through them. Finally, at 3 in the morning, the judge said, ‘It’s time for your clients to meet with God and you need to accept that AP Singh!’” she said. And while this may seem like a victory, it still wasn’t for AP Singh refused to accept defeat and even went on to abuse Jyoti and blamed her for the convict’s families’ suffering.
When the execution finally took place, more than seven years later, Seema Kushwaha stood with Nirbhaya’s parents and they all hugged and cried. While the rapists have been hanged, and it may feel like justice has been served, as a country we still have a long way to go. The mentality of the people needs to change and that is something she agrees with.
But there’s hope since we still have women like Seema Samridhi fighting all odds and becoming a fearless lawyer. There’s hope for the world still has people like her who say, “Hum chodhenge nai unhe. The fight has just begun.”
You can read the whole interview here.
Picture credits: YouTube
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Shivani is currently an undergraduate political science student who is passionate about human rights and
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