A 48-year-old senior police officer is accused of molesting a 14-year-old. His chief finds substance in the complaint, and recommends the filing of an FIR. The state’s senior-most bureaucrat okays his prosecution. Yet, it takes a decade for the FIR to be filed because successive chief ministers promote him and he becomes the state’s director general of police.
His victim, meanwhile, has committed suicide, having been expelled from school and seen false cases filed against her father and brother. The 13-year-old brother is tortured, with the threat that the same would be done to the victim and her father if they don’t withdraw their complaint against the officer. Yet, when the molester is finally charged, it is only with “using criminal force to outrage the modesty of a woman”, not with abetment to suicide. The former attracts a maximum of two years’ imprisonment and fine, the latter a maximum 10-year sentence and fine.
It takes another nine years for the trial to end, largely because of the number of applications filed by the accused. He is initially sentenced to six months and a fine of Rs 1,000 which is later enhanced to 18 months. After five months in jail, the molester is granted bail by the Supreme Court, which takes into account the time he has already spent in jail.
Six years later, these five months are considered punishment enough by the same court. His conviction is upheld, but he, now 74 years old, walks out a free man. Moved by his “very advanced’’ age, his physical condition, the prolonged trial (because of his own actions), the responsibility of an unmarried daughter who suffers from heart problems, and his “meritorious service’’, the Supreme Court decides justice would be served if his sentence is reduced to what he has already served.
The SC’s benevolence to ex-Haryana DGP S.P.S. Rathore some weeks ago is mystifying indeed. Just last year, it had rejected the curative petition of a 71-year-old cancer survivor, Zaibunnisa Kazi. Kazi had been sentenced to five years under sections 3 (3) and 6 of the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA) for the March 12, 1993, Mumbai bomb blasts. When she filed her curative petition, she had served two years.
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Drafted by senior counsel Kamini Jaiswal, Kazi’s curative petition was accompanied by a certificate from well-known lawyer Shanti Bhushan, which stated that her conviction was “based on no evidence and suffered from an inherent contradiction’’. Kazi was convicted for knowingly facilitating a terrorist act by storing a bag containing AK-56 rifles. Yet, at the same time, she was acquitted of the charge of possessing AK-56 rifles under the Arms Act.
Like Rathore, the old, ailing convict had faced prolonged legal proceedings — arrested in 1993, convicted in 2006. Unlike the ex-DGP, the delay hadn’t been of her doing. Yet, the top cop walked; Kazi did not. It is not even as if the old woman’s crime ruled out mercy. Neither a bag nor AK-56 rifles were recovered from Kazi’s possession.
The only basis of her conviction was a retracted confession by a co-accused, who had so obviously been tortured that the judge sent him to hospital when he appeared in court. But the more glaring injustice to Kazi was that Bollywood celebrities convicted of deeper involvement in the blasts, had been shown leniency by the Supreme Court.
Just three months before it showed its compassionate side to Rathore, the Supreme Court refused to do so to a 92-year-old convict. Convicted in 1982 for an honour killing, Putti’s conviction and life sentence were upheld by the Allahabad High Court in February this year. He appealed against this judgment, and pleaded that he be exempted from imprisonment, citing his age. The Supreme Court refused to exempt him.
Rathore’s case brings to mind another case where a high-profile accused was granted a light sentence in view of his age. Shiv Sena ex-MP Madhukar Sarpotdar was 72 when he was convicted under section 153 A for having made an inflammatory speech during Mumbai’s post-Babri Masjid demolition riots. The maximum sentence was five years. Fifteen years after his crime, Sarpotdar got just one year and a fine of Rs 5,000. Sarpotdar didn’t spend a moment in jail because he appealed against the conviction. By the time the appeal was heard, he had died. Sarpotdar’s was the only conviction of a senior Shiv Sena leader for the Mumbai riots. Indeed, this was the first time anyone from the party was convicted for hate speech, the party’s trademark.
But the upholding of Rathore’s conviction by the Supreme Court is not a cause for rejoicing. Thanks to the media, everyone knows about the police officer’s vendetta against 14-year-old Ruchika Girhotra and her family; and against Aradhana Parkash, eye-witness to the molestation, and her parents, who pursued the case. Forget abetment to suicide. Just going by the charge against Rathore, can the sentence of a senior police officer who abused his position to molest a schoolgirl be reduced on any ground? Are policemen a special category of criminals?