Page last updated at 11:04 GMT, Thursday, 24 December 2009

India outrage over girl molestation sentence

By Geeta Pandey
BBC News, Delhi

Ruchika Girhotra
Ruchika was a budding tennis player

Outrage is growing in India over a six-month jail sentence handed out to a former senior police officer convicted for molesting a 14-year-old girl.

Ruchika Girhotra complained in 1990 that she was assaulted by SPS Rathore.

After Mr Rathore used his influence to harass the Girhotra family, Ruchika committed suicide three years later.

Earlier this week, a court found Mr Rathore guilty, but Ruchika's family and activists say he has got away with a "very light punishment".

Mr Rathore sentenced in jail for six months and ordered to pay a fine of 1,000 rupees ($20).

He is currently on bail and has said he would appeal against the order.

'Living in fear'

"This six-month punishment is not enough, it has hurt us, what kind of justice is this?" Ruchika's father Subhas Chander Girhotra asked reporters in the northern Indian city of Chandigarh on Thursday.

"We want exemplary punishment for him so that Indian children can be safe in future. My daughter is dead, but at least no other girl should meet the same fate," he said, sobbing.

"All these years, we have stayed underground due to harassment. We would got knocks in the middle of the night. He was the director general of police - who could we turn to for help?

"We are still living in fear."

Television footage, showing a laughing and unrepentant Mr Rathore following the court order, has angered many civil rights groups.

This six-month punishment is not enough, it has hurt us, what kind of justice is this?
Subhas Chander Girhotra

Campaigners say he should be tried for "abetment of suicide" which carries a much longer jail sentence.

Analysts say Ruchika's case is a classic example of misuse of official power by a police officer who used his influence and contacts to escape punishment for nearly two decades for his crime.

Ruchika was a budding tennis player when she was assaulted by Mr Rathore, a senior police officer and president of Haryana state Lawn Tennis Association.

After her family lodged a complaint with the Haryana chief minister, the state police chief RR Singh was asked to investigate the case.

In his report, Mr Singh said there was credible evidence in the allegations and ordered the police to file a case against Mr Rathore.

This was just the beginning of nightmares for Girhotra family as Mr Rathore used his influence to harass them.

She was thrown out of school for "late fee payment" and her 14-year-old brother Ashu was falsely charged with theft several times until the Punjab and Haryana high court intervened and ordered an end to his harassment.

Unable to deal with the trauma, Ruchika committed suicide in December 1993 and her family went into hiding.

In 1997, the case was handed over to the federal police, Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which concluded Mr Rathore was guilty and formally pressed charges in court in 2000.

In the meantime, Mr Rathore was promoted to the head of Haryana police.

In a case that took 19 years to reach a conclusion, Ruchika's family and friends say they are disappointed by the verdict and will continue campaigning to get justice.

A candle-lit march will be held in Delhi on Thursday in a bid to mobilise support for their campaign.

Anand Prakash, father of the sole witness, says, "We will see to it that justice is done."

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