Justice Delayed is Justice Denied

Nineteen years, a fourteen year old girl molested, a top cop involved and the end verdict- six months of imprisonment and a meager sum of 1000 Rupees.  However, the accused in this case got away on bail by paying a few thousands, hereby making a mockery of the justice.  The Justice in India has yet again chosen the nasty path by humbly succumbing to the rich and the powerful.  Has the verdict not shamed the entire nation?

Ruchika Girhotra, a fourteen year old budding tennis player was molested in 1990 by the then Inspector General of Police, Shambhu Pratap Singh Rathore, in Haryana, India.  A tenth class student at the Sacred Heart School for girls in Chandigarh, Ruchika along with her friend Aradhana Prakash enrolled as a trainee at the Haryana Lawn Tennis Association (HLTA) for which Rathore was the founding President.   It was during one of the practice sessions, Rathore molested Ruchika in his garage.  Both Ruchika and Aradhana’s parents lodged a formal complaint against Rathore.

Rathore, making use of his power and authority tried to scuttle the investigation by many not so legal means.  He even influenced the school authorities to expel Ruchika.  Such was his clout in the political circles.  On September 20th, 1990, two weeks after the investigation indicted Rathore, the school expelled Ruchika on the grounds of non-payment fees.  Ridiculous as it sounds, but it was true, non-payment of fees led to Ruchika’s expulsion.  However, the truth was the school expelled Ruchika only to avoid embarrassment to Priyanjali, Rathore’s daughter who was Ruchika’s classmate.

After her expulsion, Ruchika mostly confined indoors and even when she went out Rathore’s henchmen followed her and abused her.  Rathore even filed false cases of theft, murder and civil defamation against Ruchika’s father, her younger sibling Ashu and also on Aradhana Prakash and her parents.

However, Ruchika lost the last straw of patience, when on September 23rd 1993; police picked her 13-year-old brother Ashu from a market place near his house on the charges of stealing almost a dozen cars.  Rathore also had him paraded in the neighborhood with his hands cuffed and also beat him black and blue in front of Ruchika asking her to withdraw the complaint.  Unable to bear this humiliation any further, Ruchika committed suicide on December 28th 1993 by consuming poison.

Failure at every step so far did not deter Aradhana’s father and he made every possible attempt to get a copy of the inquiry report on Rathore and eventually he succeeded in obtaining a copy in 1997.

On August 21st 1998, the Punjab and Haryana High court directed the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to conduct an inquiry expeditiously, preferably within six months but it was almost a year before CBI could file a chargesheet.  On November 16th 2000, the CBI filed a chargesheet against Rathore.

Nineteen years, 40 adjournments and 400 hearings later, all Rathore got was six months of imprisonment and a 1000 Rupees fine.   However, he obtained bail within 10 minutes of the verdict after furnishing a bail bond of 10,000 Rupees.  This seriously demonstrates a miscarriage of the Indian judicial system.  Apart from the verdict, what outraged the public is Rathore’s beaming smiles as he was exiting the court with not an iota of remorse showing up on his face.  The worst part is cases like Ruchika’s are stunningly common in India.  A nineteen year delay is nothing short of shame for a country which rules by law.  In fact it is just not a delay of the justice but rather murder of the justice itself.

Member of Parliament and Vice President of All India Democratic Women’s Association, Brinda Karat, rightly quoted this as “The System’s failure”.

This trial follows close on the heels of the breakdown of the judicial system involving the murder of the fashion model Jessica Lall and the law student Priyadarshini Matoo.

Jessica Lall’s killer, Siddharth Vashisht alias Manu Sharma, son of Venod Sharma, a wealthy congress politician from Haryana was acquitted of all the charges on February 21, 2006.  However, he was retried and sentenced to life imprisonment owing to intense media and public pressure.  Priyadarshini Matoo, a 25-year-old law student was found raped and murdered at her house in New Delhi on January 23, 1996.  The accused in Priyadarshini’s case, Santosh Kumar Singh, son of a Police Inspector-General was earlier acquitted by a trial court in 1999.  This decision however led to a massive public outcry and the CBI, under tremendous pressure challenged the judgment in Delhi high court on February 29, 2000 and much to the respite of Priyadarshini’s family members and the public, the court sentenced Santosh to death on October 30, 2006.

According to sources, there are around 4 million cases pending in India’s 21 high courts, a figure which even few folks fail to understand the number of zeroes in it.  For the fairer sex, the matters are only worse.  Official statistics point out that the crimes against women are increasing at an alarming rate and the police continue to go slow in their investigation.  On an average the high courts in India take around 20 years to deliver a justice and it is heartening to think a common man has to spend his life savings and fortune to see to that a justice is meted to him.

Attempts  to reform India’s justice and policing laws and to move it away from the autocracy have always been shunned by certain (in)famous and corrupt set of people.  There was even a directive made by the Supreme court in 1996 to make sure the appointments to the job of director general are merit-based and made in a transparent way.

The question here is do we really need a huge public outcry and demonstration for every case that is meted out with a wrong verdict?  How many cases like Ruchika’s do enter into the court’s bone at all?  The change should come from the grass-root level.  What we need is stronger law enforcements and cleaner judicial system free from any sort of corruptions.  The judicial system should stop being biased to the wealthy lot and the politicians.  Not until the there is an end to the nexus between the criminals, politicians and the police and bureaucrats, cases like Ruchika or Jessica Lall would become fewer.  Probably because of the crusading media and the huge public outburst, Ruchika’s case might get justice of some sorts in the end but if we take a moment to think-Is this the way we want to get justice?

Balaji Anathanpillai