U.S. State Dept. to Honor India Gang-Rape Victim with Courage Award

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The posthumous honor, to be presented by Michelle Obama and John Kerry, follows protests and an outpouring of support from Bollywood figures over the plight of women in India.

NEW DELHI – The U.S. State Department will posthumously confer the Secretary of State's International Women of Courage Award on the 23-year-old Delhi woman who died after being brutally gang-raped last December. The horrific crime sparked mass protests -- which turned violent -- and outrage against the government with demands for speedy justice and increased security for women. Leading Bollywood personalities and celebrities also supported the protests. The woman -- who died in a Singapore hospital after she was flown there for advanced medical treatment -- was given the name Nirbhaya ('Fearless' in Hindi) by the media as her real name cannot be disclosed under Indian law. The case against the six alleged rapists is currently being heard in a Delhi court.

The Secretary of State's International Women of Courage Award annually recognizes women around the globe who have shown exceptional courage and leadership in advocating for women's rights and empowerment, often at great personal risk. This year's awards will honor ten women from across the world. The awards will be presented in Washington by Secretary of State John Kerry and special guest Michelle Obama on March 8, International Women's Day. U.S. Embassy officials will present the award in Delhi to Nirbhaya's family while a statement prepared by them will be read out at Friday's awards ceremony in Washington.

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"For millions of Indian women, her (Nirbhaya's) personal ordeal, perseverance to fight for justice, and her family's continued bravery is helping to lift the stigma and vulnerability that drive violence against women," the State Department said in a statement. “She bravely recorded two police statements while in the hospital, repeatedly called for justice against the six attackers, and stated her will to survive to see justice done. In the wake of her death just two weeks after the attack, India's civil society began advocating heavily for legislation and social programs to stem gender-based violence in all its forms and to ensure higher rape conviction rates and gender-sensitive law enforcement and justice systems.  Thanks to these efforts, the Indian government has begun to take action to follow through on those demands," added the State Department statement.

Since the awards were founded in 2007, the State Department has honored 67 women from 45 different countries.
The other awardees for this year are Malalai Bahaduri, First Sergeant Afghan National Interdiction Unit (Afghanistan); Samira Ibrahim, Coordinator Know Your Rights (Egypt); 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) and Fartuun Adan, Executive Director, Elman Peace and Human Rights Centre (Somalia).  Three of the awardees -- 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) would be given the award in absentia.