If the 14-year-old were molested in the #MeToo era, her convicted tormentor would be in jail for a long time. But he was a VIP invitee at the R-Day function in Panchkula.

I told you this story a long time ago, and will be failing in my duty as a journalist to not bring it back to you, especially the younger generations more sensitised on the issue of gender harassment. So read on, and reflect on the dire consequences of a mere child taking on the most powerful cop in her state by complaining that he “felt her up” at the tennis court. How it devastated her, her brother, and their parents.

The tragic story of Ruchika Girhotra goes back to 12 August 1990. She, then just 14, went to play at the Haryana Lawn Tennis Association (HLTA) courts at Panchkula, near Chandigarh. She complained to her parents that S.P.S. Rathore, an Inspector-General of Police and founding president of the HLTA, felt her up. After some deliberation, her parents, and those of her friend who used to go play with her, made a formal complaint to the then Haryana home secretary J.K. Duggal. He asked the then Director-General of Police (DGP) R.R. Singh to investigate. Singh concluded after inquiries that an FIR should be filed against Rathore.

The very next day, on 4 September 1990, the state financial commissioner accepted the DGP’s report and asked for a case to be registered under Sections 342 and 354 of the IPC. For one-and-a-half years, nothing happened. Nothing. Until 13 June 1992, when the state law department woke up again and recommended that an FIR be registered against Rathore. Now some action began but still no FIR.

Ruchika was thrown out of the HLTA a day after the incident “for indiscipline”, and from her school within a month for “non-payment of fees”. And when her brother Ashu turned 14, boy, wasn’t he going to be made to pay for his sister’s “sins”. Between 6 April 1992 and 4 September 1993, the Haryana Police, instead of moving against Rathore for molesting Ruchika, registered six FIRs against her 14-year-old brother for auto thefts. All cases went to court. In each, he was fully acquitted. But the harassment, the humiliation, the expense of litigation claimed their victim.

Three months after the sixth FIR was filed against her brother, Ruchika, then 17, committed suicide.

In early 1994, the Haryana chief secretary again recommended action against Rathore. Again nothing happened. Ruchika’s family went to pieces, even into hiding. In July 1997, Ruchika’s friends’ parents gathered the courage to file a petition in the Punjab and Haryana High Court asking for an FIR and CBI probe. On the court’s orders, an FIR was finally lodged in December 1999, nine years after the incident. On 16 November 2000, the CBI filed a chargesheet accusing Rathore of molesting Ruchika.

If the story doesn’t sicken you to the point of nausea already, if it doesn’t make you bristle with anger, indignation — and fright in case you happen to be the parent of a teenaged girl — read on. Ruchika’s father – who had been in hiding for fear of police harassment, kept on asking how come Rathore was charged only with molestation, not for making his little daughter commit suicide – got no hearing. The brother’s life, after the humiliation, the torture and the litigation at such a young age, became a mess. Remember, under today’s more civilised laws and awareness, he’d be treated very differently as a juvenile. But not in the 1990s.

And Rathore? He was the DGP of Haryana (when I wrote my first piece) and continued to be in that job despite the chargesheet. Here, Advaniji, I had written, is a first in your long and distinguished political career — someone charged in a court with molesting a 14-year-old child commanding the police force next door to Delhi. Surely, Sardar Patel wouldn’t have approved of this.

Had Ruchika survived the trauma, she would have been a woman in the prime of her life at 42. She would, by now, have voted in six elections, may have even raised a family of her own. But she chose to complain when she felt humiliated, and paid for it.

What lesson does her fate hold out for other young women in our schools and colleges, work-places, playgrounds? Shut up and suffer silently if some old uncleji feels you up? Particularly if he happens to be powerful, even more so if he is a cop? And mind you, this did not happen in some impenetrable political jungle of western Bihar. This happened in an upper middle class suburb, the kind of place people like us inhabit.

The then Haryana chief minister Om Prakash Chautala’s reasoning for not removing or suspending Rathore was typically ludicrous. The CBI, he said, is famous for framing people with fictional chargesheets — he should know now, serving a 10-year sentence, convicted in a corruption case filed by the CBI. He wasn’t then willing to answer any of the questions we raised: in which civilised society would you expect as your DGP a man accused of molesting a 14-year-old who eventually committed suicide, whose brother’s life was devastated with trumped up cases, whose father went into hiding? Which parent, and which child, would feel safe in that state anymore? What view would that state’s police sub-inspectors and station house officers take of all the reforms the courts and the human rights bodies have brought about in the police’s treatment of women? As such, Haryana is not a state known to possess the most polite policemen in the country. Now, when they see their government toss aside the National Human Rights Commission’s strong suggestions to remove the DGP — based on a series of reports then in The Indian Express — or the Central Vigilance Commission’s advice to do so, they would draw obvious inferences.

Who was to tell Chautala any of this? The BJP, which then supported his government in the state, demanded Rathore’s removal, but he couldn’t care less. Following his chargesheet in 2000, Rathore proceeded on long leave and two years later, he retired. For him, it was life as usual. It still is.

This wasn’t merely one more case of police highhandedness and political protectionism. It raised some very special — and interesting — questions. First of all, why wasn’t there, in the media and Parliament, the kind of outrage that would have erupted had Rathore been a politician instead of a senior IPS officer? The Supreme Court and Narasimha Rao had in the same period, made an entire legion of ministers resign because they had been chargesheeted in the hawala case, which was like a minor traffic offence compared to child molestation. Why should the same principle not apply to senior civil servants and policemen, we asked. Innocent until proven guilty, but step aside from authority or a position of power where you could influence the case, and damage the credibility of institutions.

The second question was an even nastier one, but more relevant in the context of Chandigarh. This case dragged on for a decade-and-a-half. Why did it not evoke one-hundredth of the kind of protest that the Rupan Deol Bajaj-K.P.S. Gill case did?

It is nobody’s case that one kind of sexual harassment is different, or lesser or greater, in its severity than any other. But Rupan was a senior IAS officer and more capable of defending herself against a DGP than a 14-year-old child on the tennis courts at Panchkula. We didn’t see any women’s organisations, civil libertarians, legal luminaries that hit the streets on the Rupan case come out for Ruchika. Much of the initial impetus in the Rupan case had come from members of the civil service in Chandigarh, so outraged at so blatant a case of sexual harassment. They were all silent for four years while the file on Rathore’s prosecution was put in deep freeze, while Ruchika’s kid brother was being tortured and buried under false cases. Some may have been going out to play tennis with Rathore. If they had shown even a fraction of the outrage they had in the Rupan case, Ruchika would likely have been alive today.

We had then said that for Vajpayee and Advani (prime minister and home minister then), honourable, middle-class people with sound family values and great personal integrity, the facts were clear enough. They needed to only look at a mere chronology of events. If, after that, they did not find enough reason to force Chautala to move his DGP aside, or at least dissociate from him if he refused to listen, it could only mean that, as politicians, they were no different from the others. They could, I had written, go and see, along with their families, Mahesh Manjrekar’s Kurukshetra, which is all about a chief minister fighting to save his rapist son, killing his victim in the hospital, destroying her family. Bollywood is not particularly known for political understatement, but when you go home and review the facts of the Panchkula story, you would wonder how fast real life is catching up with cinema. And you would feel ashamed.

Epilogue: The case went through many phases of dilution after Ruchika’s suicide. Her brother never recovered from repeated police “treatment” in the fake cases. But because some in the media persisted and shamed the “system” enough so it wouldn’t let Rathore go scot-free, he was finally convicted in 2009 under the lightest IPC sections (then) of molestation and handed a six-month jail sentence with a minor fine.

It was this man whose picture you saw on the Republic Day stage at Panchkula as a VIP guest. I know Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar to be a most decent human being. I cannot see why this won’t outrage a man as upright and proper as Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh. The least they can do is call to account whoever not merely normalised a molestation convict like this, but put him on the VIP pedestal on the day we celebrate the founding of the Republic, the adoption of its great Constitution, and the system of laws and decencies rooted in it. And make sure this doesn’t happen again.

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25 COMMENTS

  1. Congratulation to bring the incident in public. Really this is unfortunate that such a criminal got VIP treatment on republic day. Govt should be ashamed of this.

  2. Dear Mr. Shekhar Gupta,

    Thanks for highlighting the plight of Girhotras.
    If this was US any other developed democracy, even today this rouge could have been prosecuted and jailed for life in a months time. (refer to Larry Nassar) for crimes committed decades ago.
    Unfortunately, our Govt. and Courts wants proof, an eyewitness to prosecute as if for every breaking of law, there is a witness standing.
    Our common citizens will continue to live this way for generations to come

  3. Yes, Shekharji. Whoever did this should account for it, at the least. And will some one in BJP, HM or many lady ministers or office bearers or the lofty PM himself, take personal interest? I, for one, admire you for bringing this up like this.

  4. I don’t believe that these type of accident will never happen in future as long as present system of court proceedings continues. And if you categorize the criminals, the police will be at the top of the table. With these police and system the Ruchikas will have to suffer more! Sorry to comment like this.

  5. May devils harshest curse befall the beast Sps Rathore ,May people wince at his pathetic state and spit on him,may part of his body putrify emanating unbearable stench.

  6. This is the Era where we glorify Jauhar in the name of creativity and 8 month old baby girls are raped by 28 year old cousins.
    I applaud u for bringing this to our notice but until we wake up to the fact that our thinking has to undergo a radical change and molestation is not a part of growing boys mentality (as per a prominent leader,)… We are not the country we need to be.

  7. Have been hearing this for so many years…. during congress and during BJP as well… but none of the government’s seem to be doing anything about it… it’s my personal experience that all the netas are hands in glove when in it comes to taking action on some high rank official and especially when he knows how the game works

  8. This is more heinous than Rupan Deol Bajaj case and more cruel act than a murder case. An IG rank police officer was molesting 14 years old girl who was just at the age of his daughter. More cruel than a murder case because this act has completely finished Gilhotra family, his minor brother’s life and other families who were supporting the victim family. I have no word to explain my anguish, distress and pain. How can this person be called on such an important occasion who was raping the provisions of constitution of India. How can we expect such a mild judgement from Honorable Supreme Court? There should be more stringent punishment for such crimes and criminals, such people should be hanged publicly to send a strong message among community.
    Really pathetic, only six months punishment.

  9. Horrified by this write-up. Shame on the system that protects goons in uniforms, such injustice done to the family repeatedly.
    My heart goes out to the family.
    This could have happened to any of us would we sit quite…?

  10. Shame on our system but we are so busy fighting for long dead Queens and so called honour . Real living people are of no sequence what so ever . Jungle raj prevails everywhere only a brave few come forward and they are so harassed in the name of law that reality becomes more like a bollywood plot gone bad . Shame .

  11. can you expose the various courts of India for delaying the justice for rape victims & lenient views & punishments to the offenders/criminals. Today’s shocking news of rape of 8 months old baby – Can media people put all pressure through various forums to decide it by hearing it out of turn by various courts & ensure that the culprit is hanged in public or thrashed & put behind bars till their natural death? No one will dare. We all are hypocrites & will discuss 24 hours on various channels. We are not a matured democracy like western countries. People need to be made disciplined, may be through danda. Don’t shout democracy is at stake. We need sacrifice of one generation to fight against all such things, including the nationals & stone pelters. Let there be military rule/dictatorship for 5 years to have fear of law & rules.

  12. Dear Shekher Sir , It’s really ashamed for us , it make me speechless ,there are so much anger pop – up after reading this criminal act ,which was done by the system ,we often read about police political nexus ,now a days indian police service becomes indian political service,then what we expect , I remember Lt Gen Brar Words ‘state Machinery becomes defunct ‘. Sir i heard your lecture on KPS MEMORIAL , where you pointing on lobbyism ,it’s not the matter of nexus ,its all about us ,is we are become so ‘khaamosh’ this is happening because of our silent behaviour .
    Thank you sir for this thought provoking ,noteworthy ,poignant article.
    I salute the girl and her family ,now time is ours …

  13. Wondering why Shekhar Gupta thought about writing this only when BJP is in power again. Propaganda again?
    I feel sick to know about the Lil girl and the DGP, if guilty should be punished. I can totally relate to the kind of harassment that the family must have gone through. A police post doesn’t entitle an officer of a good character. There are criminals dressed as cops at times.

    • भाजपा गव्हर्नमेंट रिपब्लिक डे पर राठोर को VIP गेस्ट के तौर पर बुलाती है, तो आपको आपत्ती नही है, लेकिन शेखर गुप्ता के राठोर से जुडे केस को फिरसे उजागर करने में है… मानसिक रूप सै बीमार हो तुम लोग!!!

  14. I run a public movement named Kaydyane Waga (kanoon se chalo), but sometimes when fed up with such types of incident, think to run a movement Kanoon se thoko… afterall my concious do not allow me to so… and to be constutional i again start believing our system.

  15. Unfortunate and heart breaking but nothing new. Police officers involved in the 1984 Sikh pogrom also have not faced any action till date and kept getting promoted!!!

  16. Politician are all same, whether, Mayawati, Mulayam, Mamta, Lalu, Congress or BJP etc. More than half Police people particularly Senior officers are corrupt and character less and when it is Haryana, Punjab, UP or Bihar police the percentage of corrupt/character less will be 75%. I pray to God to save India from these politicians and police, though I know even God can not help.

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