If the appalling facts surrounding the case of sexual molestation of a 14-year-old girl by a senior Haryana police officer, S.P.S. Rathore, have transfixed the nation, this is because of the blatant manner in which the accused was able to use his position to subvert the course of justice. Even in a country inured to the rich, powerful, and shameless getting away, the full spectrum dominance unleashed on the helpless girl’s family by Rathore set a new low. And yet, the instant case is not just a morality play about the criminality of one man. It is a cautionary tale about the multiple layers of protection that well-connected offenders enjoy in the Indian criminal justice system by design and default. Subversion begins right after the offence is committed, when the victim finds it impossible to get the local police to register a first information report. Despite numerous court rulings and official guidelines on this matter, police stations around the country routinely refuse to file FIRs against police officers, politicians, and other influential notables. And even if a case is filed, the police often join hands with the accused person’s lawyers to ensure the matter gets delayed for years on end. The foisting of false cases on the family of Rathore’s victim was another old trick the police officer resorted to.
Rathore and men like him are able to get away with such abuses of authority because they are ever ready to commit similar illegalities for their political masters. Unless meaningful police reforms are introduced, this problem will not go away. The Indian system is also surprisingly lenient towards law enforcement officers who try and frame innocent citizens. In the Shopian case involving the suspicious death of two Kashmiri women, the Central Bureau of Investigation, which investigated the circumstances of their death, went a step further and filed criminal charges against a number of individuals who had allegedly sought to incriminate the security forces in the incident. But the same CBI, which took up the Rathore case and came across indisputable evidence of police vendetta against his victim’s brother, did not see fit to file charges against Rathore and all the subordinate policemen involved in the malicious prosecution of the young man on bogus accusations of auto theft. Even at this late stage, it is essential that the CBI be tasked with unearthing the identity of the dozens of bureaucrats, policemen, and politicians who conspired with Rathore to pervert the course of justice. Haryana’s former DGP must get his legal comeuppance; but those who helped him all these years must also get their due.