The McCain Institute for International Leadership at Arizona State University is pleased to present the 2019 Award for Courage and Leadership to Chhaya Sharma, an officer of the Indian Police Service who is currently serving as deputy inspector general (DIG) at the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) of India.

A resolute guardian of human rights, Sharma has led teams in detection and investigation of sensitive criminal cases and protection of human rights during her career spanning over 19 years. Sharma’s policing has consistently reflected victim-centric approach through her numerous investigations of serious crimes, particularly against women and children.

Since 2015, as DIG (Investigation) at NHRC, Sharma has been instrumental in bringing the voices of the victims of human rights’ violations for effective redressal by the National Commission. For this, she has guided a lean but effective unit of officers who directly meet the victims during spot enquiries. In addition to her background of being a police officer, her tenure with NHRC has allowed her to have pan-India outreach and deal with subjects including public health, food security, right to education, good governance and LGBTQ rights.

Her stellar contribution, however, has been leading the investigation of the infamous Nirbhaya gang-rape and murder case of December 2012 in New Delhi. As the head of the special investigation team, she closely supervised all aspects of investigation of this blind case by actively taking charge of the situation – making quick decisions, giving directions, assimilating information and guiding with succinct inputs – all the while coordinating efforts of various teams. During the six grueling days of the manhunt across five Indian States, Sharma stood as a shield for her team of officers and men, insulating them from mounting media and civil society pressures, which led to quick apprehension of the perpetrators of that ghastly crime. As the lead investigator, Sharma kept the focus on meticulous documentation and collection of scientific evidence including use of forensic techniques like analysis for bite marks as evidence, hitherto unexplored in India. Scientific evidence was collated, stitched into the charge-sheet and filed in a record 18 days, which withstood various stages of judicial scrutiny all the way up to the Indian Supreme Court, the highest appellate authority, resulting in conviction with maximum punishment.

Early in her career, Sharma successfully led several police operations for rescuing minors from commercial sexual exploitation for which she has received Commendation from the High Court of Delhi in 2001. Sharma’s investigation and prosecution of human trafficking finds a prominent mention in a research published by the Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi in 2005. This research credited her for causing a paradigm shift in law enforcement in the human trafficking of women and children in India. Her avowed mission against human trafficking continues in her present role with the NHRC as well, where she has played a critical role in drafting Standard Operating Procedures and Guidelines to Combat Trafficking of Persons in India in 2017. Sharma has also been an active participant of the Core Group on issues of Human Trafficking, which advises the NHRC.

The McCain Institute for International Leadership’s Award for Courage and Leadership is presented each year to honor an individual who has stood unwaveringly for fundamental values and has inspired the world through acts of selfless courage. By recognizing this service to humankind, the McCain Institute hopes to nurture the courage in each of us to stand for what we know is right. The recipient is selected based on his or her acts of personal courage on behalf of human rights, humanitarian compassion, justice, freedom, and human dignity. Past recipients are the White Helmets (2018), Kayla Mueller (posthumously 2017), Dikembe Mutombo (2016) and Malala Yousafzai (2015).