Ruchika's suicide: Feeble justice
August 12, 1990: SPS Rathore, a 1966-batch IPS officer and then IG, molests Ruchika Girhotra at the office of the Haryana Lawn Tennis Association.
September 3, 1990: Inquiry report by R.R. Singh, then DGP, indicts Rathore.
September 20, 1990 Ruchika is expelled from Sacred Heart Convent School for 'indiscipline'.
October 23, 1993: Her brother Ashu is arrested in 11 car theft cases.
December 28, 1993 Ruchika commits suicide.
November 1994: Rathore is promoted as the Additional Director-General of Police, Haryana.
November 1997 Ruchika's friend's mother Madhu Parkash moves the high court seeking a CBI probe.
August 21, 1998: High court directs the CBI to conduct an inquiry.
November 16, 2000 CBI files chargesheet holding Rathore guilty of molestation under Section 354 of the IPC.
July 2002 Rathore retires as DGP, Haryana.
December 21, 2009: CBI court gives six months of rigorous imprisonment and a fine of Rs 1,000 to Rathore. He gets bail the same day. Two years is the maximum punishment under the provisions.
Neighbours and friends crowd the large living room as the children stare goggle eyed but 32-year-old Aradhana Gupta still blanches when she recalls the moment in 1990 when her friend, Ruchika Girhotra, then a bright-eyed 14-year-old with a dream to make it big in tennis, was molested by Shambhu Pratap Singh Rathore, then inspector general of police (IGP), Haryana.
As if in slow motion, the scene unfolds before her eyes, Rathore pulling Ruchika towards him and Ruchika struggling to free herself.
"When she was released from his grip, she ran out like someone possessed. She dusted her clothes wherever he had touched her. Later, whenever we talked about it, she would break down. I could see her spirit was being shattered," says Aradhana, who was then only 13 but would counsel her friend daily, telling her not to worry. She would get justice one day.
Unfortunately, despite Aradhana's battle, braving harassment and threats, it hasn't happened. On December 23, after 400 adjournments in special CBI courts and over 40 adjournments in the high court and Supreme Court, Rathore was given six months imprisonment and a fine of Rs 1,000.
As he left the Chandigarh District Court with his lawyer wife, Abha, he even smiled, as if to mock the system he had once vowed to uphold. He even seemed optimistic that he would emerge victorious in reducing the punishment.
"I am filing an appeal against this order. Truth will prevail and I will win," he said with complete lack of irony. For Aradhana, who had pursued the case since it was first filed by her mother Madhu Parkash, 60, in November 1997, in the Punjab and Haryana High Court, it was a rude shock.
One that was shared in an unprecedented outpouring of outrage against the judgement, with MPs in Parliament saying the punishment handed out to Rathore was too light and social activists demanding a retrial.
But then the case seemed doomed from the start, when despite an inquiry by then director general of police (DGP) R.R. Singh holding Rathore prima facie guilty of molesting Ruchika and his recommendation to the state government that a case be registered against him, chief minister Hukam Singh of the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) ignored it.
Rathore, now 68, was even promoted as the additional DGP in 1994 when Bhajan Lal was the chief minister. It was just a few months after Ruchika committed suicide. Five years later, the INLD government led by Om Prakash Chautala made him the DGP of the state, where he stayed on till December 2000, despite the CBI chargesheeting him in the molestation case in January the same year.
Such was Rathore's clout that he even managed to thwart efforts to lodge an FIR against him. On May 28, 1991, the Government okayed filing of a chargesheet against him but even that didn't happen till June 30, 1992, when Legal Remembrancer R.K. Nehru said that the Haryana government was not competent to issue a chargesheet to Rathore and it would be appropriate to get an FIR registered instead.
That didn't happen. For several months even the case file went missing from the government records though it was found later.
In her own words
"Mr Rathore caught hold of my hand. He pressed his body against mine. I tried getting rid of Mr Rathore by pushing him away with one hand which Mr Rathore was not holding. I was shocked and became nervous with the behaviour of Mr Rathore. In the mean time Reemu (Aradhana Gupta) came into the room and on seeing her Mr Rathore released me and fell down in his chair. Mr Rathore asked Reemu to go out of his room and bring Mr Thomas, the coach, with her. But she refused and then Mr Rathore rebuked Reemu loudly, asking her to bring the coach, Mr Thomas. Mr Rathore insisted that I stay in his room but I ran out. I told Reemu whatever Mr Rathore had done. She had also seen Mr Rathore misbehaving with me. I was so afraid and nervous that I asked Reemu what we should do now. We were afraid that since Mr Rathore is the Inspector General of Police, he may involve or harass our parents. Therefore, we decided not to inform our parents or anybody else about the incident. On August 13, we did not go to play. Next day, we went to play tennis and when we were leaving, the ball picker Mr Paltoo said Mr Rathore was calling me again. It was then that we decided to inform our parents. Reemu narrated the incident to my father and after that I went to her house and told her mother, Madhu."
In all this, Rathore was not suspended for a single day. Instead, Ruchika's family was harassed unrelentingly. Eleven cases were filed against her brother, Ashu, then 16, and now a transporter in Panchkula. Her father, Subhash Chander Girhotra, now 68, Rathore's exact age, a manager with the Oriental Bank of Commerce, was threatened, harassed in office and left with no choice but to quit.
He was forced to sell his Sector 6 house after Ruchika filed a complaint with the police, seeking registration of a molestation case. Goons would man their locality and their house would be attacked with stones. Ruchika was stalked and even rusticated from Sacred Heart Convent School on grounds of "indiscipline".
- The Parkash family can seek a retrial, adding Section 306 of the IPC for abetment to suicide.
- Ruchika's family is still hesitant to come out in the open, and hopes that the court will take notice and intervene in the case.
- Parkash's lawyer Pankaj Bhardwaj says a retrial will be possible only through media-inspired public pressure.
Almost a prisoner in her own home, her family in ruins, her gleaming sporting future shattered, Ruchika felt there was nothing to live for, recalls Aradhana. "More than what happened to her, she was bothered about what her brother and father were passing through. She felt responsible for all that." She committed suicide on December 28, 1993.
"I was busy with my BA exams and hadn't spoken to her for some days," says Aradhana, still shaking her head at the waste of a young life. Her family went underground, not even accessible to the Parkashs. Even Aradhana and her father were not spared. "When I was doing my MBA in Kurukshetra, my parents would get calls that someone has kidnapped me."
Her father, a chief engineer with the Haryana Agriculture Marketing Board, was chargesheeted 13 times for alleged corruption and even demoted as superintending engineer.
But never did the family think of withdrawing the case. "We were threatened but we were never intimidated," says Madhu, who was the first person Ruchika confided in after the molestation, having lost her own mother when she was just 12. They are disappointed and yet relieved.
Says Aradhana, "A message has been sent out that you might be a top police officer, but you can't get away from your sins. The nation and the media are now with us. But this is not enough. We will fight until he gets a harsher sentence."
They are examining their options, and as Parkash's lawyer Pankaj Bhardwaj says, they believe it will be possible only thanks to public pressure. "He should have been charged under Section 306 of the IPC for abetment to suicide in which the maximum punishment is 10 years. But the CBI didn't challan him under that section. We will still seek a retrial and ask for a harsher sentence," says Bhardwaj.
The Punjab and Haryana High Court dropped Section 306 in 2003 and the CBI said it was investigating only charges under Section 354. "In the absence of adequate support from the agency, the high court rejected the application for abetment to suicide," says Parkash.
Aradhana, Reemu to Ruchika, the lone witness to the molestation, and now settled in Sydney, has been in India for two months with her husband Aman Gupta.
Life has moved on but it hasn't been the same. Her favourite sport, tennis, and so much else died along with Ruchika. "I remember Rathore used to watch us for hours everyday as we played tennis. We respected him as a senior police officer who was heading our tennis organisation.
But we could never tell that he looked at us in any way other than as his daughters. He used to chide us for wearing long skirts. "You can't play in long skirts", he would say. We had to fold them. "How could a police officer behave like that?"
It is a question that defies a humane answer. And it is an answer that sends chills down the spine of any parent.
Making justice work
Intense media scrutiny helped conviction in these high-profile cases as well.
-Nitish Katara, a management graduate, was seeing his classmate Bharati Yadav which her brother Vikas and cousin Vishal, didn't approve of. Nitish was abducted and murdered by them on February 17,2002, and his battered, mutilated body was found three days later. A number of witnesses repudiated their initial testimony as Vikas was the son of influential criminal-politician D.P. Yadav. Thanks to intense media scrutiny, however, Vikas and Vishal were sentenced to life imprisonment in 2008.
- Priyadarshini Mattoo, a 25-year-old law student, was raped and murdered on January 23, 1996, by Santosh Kumar Singh. He was acquitted three years later by a local court which led to a massive public outcry. The CBI challenged the judgement in the Delhi High Court on February 29, 2000. The matter was then dealt expeditiously and the judgement was reached in 42 days. It overturned the original acquittal order and held Singh guilty of murder and rape.
- Jessica Lall On April 29, 1999, Lall was shot dead at Tamarind Court by Manu Sharma, son of a senior Haryana Congress leader, when she refused to serve him a drink. Six years later, a Delhi court acquitted all those charged with Lall's murder. A sting operation showed how the witnesses were pressured to turn hostile. Public anger led to the reopening of the case and Sharma was held guilty. He was sentenced to life imprisonment by the Delhi High Court in 2006.