Thursday, December 24, 2009

RUCHIKA CASE: CHILLING LESSON

In 1975, Nishant, a Bollywood masterpiece directed by Shyam Benegal, showed how the powerful elite could do anything they wanted in a feudal society, including abducting and exploiting wives of ordinary citizens, without any fear of the law. Little it seems has changed, despite education, awareness and modernisation. The new 'zamindars' of India have happily inherited that feudal mindset and become the new exploiters, not in remote villages but in India's modern cities.

As by now the whole of India knows, Ruchika Gehrotra, a 14 year old child, was not only molested by an Inspector General of Police, but was driven to suicide by the harassment that she and her family was subjected to by him because they chose to not keep their mouths shut and let him get away. Molester SPS Rathore, who effectively killed Ruchika and destroyed her family, not only continued to serve in the police but was even elevated to the rank of Director General of Police, Haryana, backed as he was by powerful politicians.

19 long years after the incident, Rathore, supported by feudal mindsets in the top echelons of many wings of the system, has walked off with a with a victorious smirk. Thanks to his 'zamindarni' lawyer wife and a judge who was more concerned about of the age of the accused than the offence committed by him, Rathore has been not only got just six months imprisonment and a Rs 1000 fine but has been granted bail too.

The Ruchika case is another of the innumerable examples of what the aam admi has to face whenever he crosses swords with any instrument of the state. In perhaps 99% cases, he chooses to keep quiet and bear the humiliation and harassment because there is nowhere else that he can go to, without facing the same, even worse, treatment. Our police, in particular, has an anachronistic colonial-feudal organisational structure that is tailor-made to enforce its writ through force and exploitation, right from the constable upwards. The higher the rank, the greater the protection and force available to an exploiter.

When someone asks for a bribe to do what he is paid to, you just pay up. When someone feels a minor up, you just keep shut. The price to be paid for taking the system on can be very high, even fatal, and the one who makes you pay that price does not think twice before making you pay it and then release a smile far worse than the dirty one Rathore sported on walking free. All colonial instruments of state, including the police, are above and superior to you. Democracy does not touch them. Worse, they insulate even elected political leaders from democracy and help them become the new colonial emperors. The king-slave equation continues unbroken.

It is not an individual police officer's crime that is involved in the Ruchika case; it is the relative status of the instruments of state and the ordinary citizen that is being disturbed by it. That is not acceptable. If the Maharaja of Patiala, as revealed by Diwan Jarmani Dass, could pick any girl/woman he liked on the street, if zamindars could do so too, if the British did it when they were here, then how can you and I question the right of the new royals of today to perpetuate that tradition? We have to be told that as graphically as possible, and as often as necessary, so that others do not even think about throwing a pebble into that exclusive pool.

That is why when a Ruchika decides to fight, the system closes ranks and fights back harder.

In Nishant, the villagers eventually mustered courage and slaughtered the zamindar and his family. In Ruchika's case too, thanks to the huge outcry, Rathore may get much harsher punishment than he has. But will this change the equation between the rulers and the ruled? Will it alter colonial-feudal mindsets? That will not happen till the whole architecture is replaced by a people's-up edifice.

Till that happens, notwithstanding what happens to Rathore, what do you think I will do if something similar were to happen to my daughter? Whatever I have to, to ensure that she does not lose the smile on her face, even if that helps the criminal gets away. That's the chilling lesson for me. If that makes me a coward and makes the system mock at my helplessness, so be it. It is the society that must feel ashamed, not me. Will you risk your child's life?
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