By Tania Goklany:
Most (but not all) victims of sexual harassment are women. The reason is that our culture encourages men to be sexually assertive and to perceive women in sexual terms. As a result, social interaction in work places, campuses, and elsewhere can readily take on sexual overtones.
The Ruchika Girhotra case involves the molestation of 14-year-old Ruchika Girhotra in 1990 by the Inspector General of Police Shambhu Pratap Singh Rathore in Haryana. After she made a complaint, the victim, her family, and her friends were systematically harassed by the police leading to her eventual suicide. On December 22, 2009, after 19 years, 40 adjournments, and more than 400 hearings, the court finally pronounced Rathore guilty under Section 354 IPC (molestation) and sentenced him to six months imprisonment and a fine of Rs 1,000. On hearing his verdict, Rathore had a distinct smile on his face, clearly, suggestive of the mockery he had made of our judicial system.
Two weeks after the inquiry indicted, Ruchika was expelled from her school for no genuine reason. The school actively participated in plotting against her. It has been alleged that Ruchika was expelled from school to avoid embarrassing Rathore’s daughter who was her classmate. Ruchika’s expulsion from school was used later in the court to question her character.
After her expulsion, Ruchika confined herself indoors. Whenever she went out she was followed and abused by Rathore’s henchmen. Rathore deployed policemen in plainclothes in front of Ruchika’s house to keep an eye on the family.
False cases of theft, murder and civil defamation were charged on Ruchika’s father and her ten year old brother Ashu. Aradhana, Ruchika’s friend and sole witness in the molestation case had ten civil cases filed against her.
In 1993, Ashu, who was thirteen years by then, was picked up in the market place near his house by police in plain clothes. They drove him to the Crime Investigating Agency. His hands were tied on his back and he was made to bend. His feet were tied with a weight. He was kept in this uncomfortable position for an extended period of time. While still in illegal confinement, Ashu was taken to his house and beaten mercilessly in front of Ruchika by Rathore. Rathore then threatened her, saying that if she did not take back the complaint, her father, and then she herself, would face the same fate. Ashu was paraded in handcuffs in his neighbourhood.
Rathore tortured them and persisted to withdraw the case. On December 28, 1993, days after Ashu was paraded in handcuffs in his locality, Ruchika consumed poison. She died the next day. Rathore threw a party that night to celebrate.
Rathore refused to release Ruchika’s body to her father unless he signed blank sheets of paper. The blank papers were later used by the police to establish that the family had accepted Ruchika’s forged autopsy report. Rathore also threatened to kill Ashu, who was still in illegal police custody. At this time, Ashu was allegedly unconscious in lock-up. He had been stripped naked and beaten the previous night by drunken policemen. He was brought back to his house, still unconscious, after Ruchika’s last rites were over.
CBI after opposing Rathode’s plea asked for a six month’s sentence which was rejected by a CBI special court in Chandigarh. They finally enhanced his earlier six month sentence and he was immediately taken into custody and incarcerated at Burail prison.
What finally conspired was less than what was even expected out of the Indian judicial system. The maximum punishment prescribed under Section 354 of the Indian Penal Code is 2 years imprisonment and in addition it is a non bailable offence. His being acquitted on these charges with just a six month imprisonment and 1000 Rs. fine is symbolic of the inefficiency of the legal system in serving justice to the needy.
The final judgment in this case which was delivered after 19 years of the actual incident is too little too late. His being imprisoned for one and half years after such a long time does not serve the purpose of eliminating crime from daily lives of our citizens. His playing with the judicial system is just another example for other criminals who can mislead our judicial system for their own selfish interests whenever they want. Not just him but our own judicial system’s lack of a proper mechanism to check such crimes is a failure on the face of the largest democracy in the world.