EDITORIAL IN INDIAN EXPRESS
On August 12, 1990, police officer S.P.S. Rathore molested 14-year-old Ruchika Girhotra. That it has taken all of 19 years to be able to write that sentence without fear of libel tells us something of our criminal justice system. And in those 19 years Ruchika committed suicide, her family went through hell, Rathore rose up the ranks to become Haryana’s top police officer. When a beaming Rathore walked out of a Chandigarh court on Monday, convicted of molestation but sentenced to just six months in jail, the verdict mocked all that our law and justice system stands for.
In the 19 years between Ruchika’s first complaint to Monday’s judgment, the crime of molestation was compounded by many other horrors. First was the long delay in filing an FIR, despite the then Haryana DGP’s recommendation. Then there was the prolonged hounding of the Girhotra family. The many cases filed against Ruchika’s brother were finally halted only after the Punjab and Haryana high court stepped in. Meanwhile, the family went into hiding, and Ruchika killed herself. Even in death, she was besmirched. In court, the defence counsel’s lengthy arguments cast aspersions on her character and that of her father. Though no charges of abetment to suicide or criminal harassment have been successfully proved against Rathore, the travesty of justice that Ruchika and her family faced — over and above her molestation — is in plain sight.
In this context, it is still some consolation that Rathore’s crime has been confirmed by a court of law — even if the sentence seems paltry for such a crime and other accusations remain unresolved. The case shows once again how inept the system can be, by design or otherwise, in speedily processing cases. Prompt registering of an FIR, a speedy trial and swift conviction might have prevented the many horrors that followed Rathore’s original crime. Besides, when there is clear power asymmetry between the perpetrator and the victim, the judicial process must be extra-sensitive to protecting the victim and complainants against retribution. S.P.S. Rathore was even at the time of the crime a powerful officer; in a shocking act of political indifference, he was promoted all the way to eventually become Haryana’s DGP. As the higher judiciary and law ministry ponder ways to speed up justice delivery, the many injustices inflicted on Ruchika Girhotra during the agonisingly long wait for justice provides a salutary, if sobering, lesson.