BY VIR SANGHVI IN HINDUSTAN TIMES
Such is the reality of today’s India that there is never a shortage of cases that leave us moved and indignant. But every now and then, there is a case that also makes us thoughtful. The Ruchika case is one such instance. In case you haven’t been following the details of the case, here’s what happened.
Ruchika was a happy, school-going 14-year-old with a passion for tennis. As often as she could, she would practise at the state tennis association’s courts. At that time, a police officer called S.P.S. Rathore was president of the Haryana Lawn Tennis Association. In August, 1990, Rathore called Ruchika to his office and molested her. Ruchika was traumatised, told family friends and eventually her father found out. Nine days later, on August 21, 1990, she recorded a statement before the then DG of Haryana, R.R. Singh. That should have been enough to finish off Rathore’s career. Instead, it finished off Ruchika — and eventually, nearly finished off her family.
Rathore contacted Ruchika’s father and said that if she did not withdraw the complaint, he would destroy the family. He proved as good as his word. When the complaint was not withdrawn, he sent policemen to Ruchika’s house to threaten the family. They would be thrown out of the house and arrested, they were told. Then, goondas began turning up at night and throwing stones at the house. During the day, they would scream filthy abuse at Ruchika. The family could not complain because the goondas appeared to have police protection. Next, false cases of auto-theft were registered against Ashu, Ruchika’s brother. When the family still did not buckle under, Ruchika was thrown out of one of Chandigarh’s top schools where she had studied since she was a child — and where Rathore’s daughter was also a student. She had to give up tennis, her great passion. She began to live like a prisoner in her house.
Then, the police arrested Ashu and began torturing him. He was beaten up again and again, often in the presence of Rathore who threatened him even as his policemen tortured the boy. In October, 1993, Ashu was picked up by the police and according to his own statement, was handcuffed and paraded around the neighbourhood. “The police officers were abusing my sister and father. I was like an animal in a cage…my father begged the police to be afraid of God and not to inflict this torture on me.” Ashu was beaten up again in jail. He was denied food and water. When eventually, he was released on December 23, 1993, he had another shock waiting for him. Unable to live this way, Ruchika had committed suicide.
The false cases against Ashu were thrown out by the courts. But the family’s torture did not end there. When Ruchika’s father tried to get justice for his dead daughter, he was threatened again and driven out of his home. He went underground to avoid a vengeful Rathore and spent several years in Himachal. But thanks to his courage and the bravery of his friend Anand Prakash, and his daughter Aradhana, the case of molestation against Rathore remained alive.
A few days ago, nearly two decades after the incident had occurred, a court finally held Rathore guilty. He was sentenced to a mere six months in jail and walked out of the courtroom smirking. Anybody who saw Ruchika’s father on TV will sympathise with the grief and helplessness of a good man who has lost nearly everything. And I can entirely understand why so many people feel the urge to pick up a gun and see that vigilante justice is done at once, given that the system has failed. (Though, of course, this would be wrong, etc. etc.) But it’s not enough to be angry. We need to focus on the lessons of this sad and tragic tale.
First of all, why did Rathore get away with the molestation in 1990 when Ruchika filed a complaint before the then DGP, R.R. Singh? It was because he was close to Haryana politicians. R.R. Singh now says that political pressure ensured that no action was taken. The then Home Secretary also says that he was unable to move against Rathore because of political pressure.
Ruchika’s father says that the politician in question was O.P. Chautala. Of course Chautala denies this and his supporters blame other politicians. But nobody denies that Ruchika died because politicians protected Rathore. What does this say about our system? It has become a knee-jerk reaction for the middle class to blame politicians for everything. But the truth is that politicians can only function if officials help them. The real problem is not that politicians are venal but that members of the educated middle class — IAS and IPS officers — either help them in return for protection and advancement (as Rathore clearly did) or refuse to speak out when injustice is committed. It is all very well for various Haryana officials to now blame politicians. But where were they when Ashu was being tortured? Where were they when Ruchika was driven to suicide?
Secondly, why is the judicial system so slow and infirm? Even if we accept that the police were unwilling to file charges or take action, the case did eventually go to court. Even then, it took till 2009 for Ruchika’s father to achieve any kind of justice — however inadequate — for his daughter. If the legal system had moved faster, Ruchika’s father would not have been forced to go underground and his family would not have been destroyed.
Lawyers will tell you that everybody knows what needs to be done to fix the judicial system: more courts, more judges etc. But no government does it. No electorate demands it. It never becomes an issue. And millions are denied justice in India every day. Thirdly, the reason we are so angry about the Ruchika case is because we can see her father on TV and hear his story. But let’s not forget that each year there are thousands of Ruchikas. India’s policemen, officials and politicians mistreat, torture, molest, rob and rape poor people all the time. Because the victims are not middle-class, we never get to hear of these cases. Look at it logically. If Rathore could destroy a respectable, middle-class family, how do you suppose he would treat a poor, helpless family? And do you really believe that Ruchika was the first girl he molested? How many other cases have gone unreported because the parents did not have the guts or the resources to fight for justice?
So, let’s punish Rathore.
But let’s not stop there. Let’s find the cops who tortured Ashu. They knew what they were doing. They should be, first, thrown out of service and then should face legal proceedings. If cops feel that there is no accountability — which, frankly, there isn’t — they will continue to harass and torture citizens. It is time the present Chief Minister of Haryana took a stand to make up for the sins of his fellow politicians. And as for us, in the middle class and media, I am sure our pressure will yield results. But we need to go beyond our class and our interests.
Millions of Indians face injustice that is even worse. It is our duty to fight for them, as well.