‘It seemed wrong to live when Ruchika was dead’

Aradhana Gupta has been fighting for 19 years. She won’t stop till the man who, she says, drove her best friend, Ruchika Girhotra, to suicide is severely punished. She tells Anindita Ghosh about the day she first met Ruchika, their childhood friendship and why she wasn’t even told about her friend’s death till later

“Initially, everyone I met wondered why I was fighting Ruchika’s battle-especially since the incident took place so long ago and Ruchika is no longer here to see her tormentor punished, but backing out was never an option. I can’t turn away and pretend it never happened.”

Friends for life
“A chance meeting at a grocery store in 1989 brought Ruchika and me together. We were both there to buy chocolates. We soon got talking and there was an instant connection between us. We were giggly 13-year-olds, full of life. By the time we returned home, it was as if we had always been friends and we exchanged our chocolates to seal the bond.”

“After that day, we started meeting after school and would walk around the colony, discussing everything-music, magazines, movies, fashion, zodiac signs, etc. It was Ruchika who introduced me to accessorising. Ruchika was determined to make me more feminine, so she would experiment different hairstyles on me and make me wear stylish earrings.”

Innocence interrupted
“I always wanted to do my MBA and maybe become a businesswoman; Ruchika wanted to be a tennis player. On August 11, 1990, a Saturday, Ruchika came over to my house.She was very excited because the then inspector general of police and president of the Haryana Lawn Tennis Association (HLTA), SPS Rathore, had come to her house.He told her father that he’d heard how talented Ruchika was and that he wanted to arrange special coaching for her. Rathore was a respected man and we thought it was wonderful that he was taking special interest in Ruchika’s career.”

“So the next day, when we went to play at HLTA and Rathore called Ruchika to his room, there was no reason to suspect anything. However, Ruchika insisted that I accompany her. On seeing me with Ruchika, Rathore sent me off to look for the coach. I couldn’t find him, so I went back. And met with the most horrifying sight. Rathore had overpowered Ruchika and she was struggling to free herself. I could not believe what I was seeing. Here was this seemingly respectable middle-aged man, whose daughter studied in the same school as Ruchika, groping and pawing at her. It was awful.”

“The moment Rathore saw me, he fell back into his chair in shock and Ruchika took this opportunity to run from the room. I was too stunned to move and Rathore told me calmly, as if nothing had happened, ‘Tell her to cool down. I will do anything she wants.’ I was too disgusted to react and simply fled. Later, both of us talked for hours about what had happened. We didn’t know what to do, so we decided that it would be best to ignore the incident since Rathore was a powerful man.”

“The next day, Ruchika was restless. So I suggested that we go to HLTA for a game of tennis since that was the only thing that helped her relax. After much persuasion, she agreed. We had just started practising our strokes when the ball boy said that Rathore was calling us. We didn’t wait to hear any further and just ran from there.”

The nightmare begins
“After that day, we realised that we were dealing with a seasoned player who would not stop till he got Ruchika. We had to confide in an adult. Since Ruchika was a little shy of revealing all the sordid details to her dad (her mother had died of an illness a year earlier), she decided to talk to my mother. My mother was outraged and said that a complaint should immediately be filed against Rathore. So, after consulting Ruchika’s father and asking us if we had the courage to see the case through, a presentation was made to the chief minister and later a complaint was lodged at the Panchkula police station.”

“However, Ruchika was completely shattered. She was scared, dejected and depressed.The cheerful, bold girl we knew had vanished overnight. But what really broke Ruchika, was her unfair expulsion from school. She never recovered from the injustice of it.Her schoolmates and acquaintances started to shun her. To make things worse, Rathore started sending his goons after Ruchika to harass her, so it was almost as if she was placed under house arrest.”

“On some days, she would call to say that there were goons outside her house throwing stones or that a group of men had followed her back from the market and tormented her with lewd comments.”
“Even I lived in constant fear. I could never be sure if the group of men passing lecherous comments near my school were simply roadside louts or Rathore’s men. I started doubting anyone who looked at me. Rides on my Vespa were no longer fun. So it was goodbye to our carefree evening walks, our tennis lessons and our childhood.”

Goodbye Ruchika
“After the incident, Rathore kept harassing Ruchika’s family and threatening my parents. He was relentless. The next three years were a blur during which time my father was forced to take a demotion from chief engineer to superintendent engineer and had false cases of corruption filed against him. Ruchika’s father had civil cases filed against him and her brother, Ashu, was arrested on false car theft charges. But no matter how depressed we were, we knew that we wanted this man punished.”

“However, on December 28, 1993, Ruchika called to say that Ashu had been paraded in front of her house, handcuffed and half-naked, with bruises all over his body. She was crying hysterically and she said that the goons had threatened to do the same to her father. I didn’t know what to do other than offer consolation. I could not even go to her house because my exams were on at that time. I could never have imagined that Ruchika would commit suicide that night.”

“I did not even know that Ruchika had died till the cremation three days later, because my parents were afraid that I’d do something rash. And they were right (to worry) because when they broke the news to me, taking my life seemed a terribly tempting option. We had been through the ordeal together and it just didn’t seem right that I should live when she was dead. I could not believe that after sharing every bit of her life with me, Ruchika would take such a huge decision without consulting me even once. The only thing that got me through that terrible time was the support of my parents. They assured me that if I had the courage to stand up to Rathore, they would be there beside me. My father has been to the courts more than 450 times.”

Life goes on
“When you have someone like Rathore haunting your every living moment, looking over your shoulder becomes second nature. For instance, college was fun because I had a new set of friends. I loved the anonymity. But I could never forget that my circumstances were hardly normal. I could never go out in the evenings with my friends or step out to watch a movie.”

Fight to the finish
“In my final year in college I met my husband, Aman. We became friends, but it took me a long time to open up to him because subconsciously, I had become distrustful of all men. Initially, he had no clue about my involvement in the case, but I had to go to the court often and soon he found out. He was naturally very worried about my security, but once I explained to him my commitment to see Rathore behind bars, he understood my position and has supported me ever since. After the wedding, we moved to Andhra Pradesh and Chennai, and finally to Australia four years ago.”

“At this point of my life, I have everything I could ever need, but there are still scars from having my dearest friend snatched away from me. I want Rathore to suffer some of the trauma that we have been going through for the last 19 years. He drove Ruchika to her death and made life miserable for those of us who survived. He must pay.”

Timeline of the Ruchika Girhotra case

August 12, 1990: SPS Rathore allegedly molests Ruchika in his office
September 3, 1990: An inquiry report indicts Rathore
September 20, 1990: Ruchika wrongfully expelled from school on grounds of indiscipline
October 23, 1993: Ruchika’s brother Ashu is arrested in several car theft cases that are later found to be false
December 28, 1993: Ruchika commits suicide by consuming a poisonous substance
November 1994: Rathore gets promoted
August 21, 1998: High court directs CBI to conduct inquiry
November 17, 2000: CBI files charge sheet against Rathore
December 21, 2009: Court convicts Rathore, gives him six months rigorous imprisonment
December 29, 2009: Two fresh FIRs filed against Rathore for tampering with Ruchika’s post-mortem report and torturing Ashu. and a PIL is filed pushing for death sentence for Rathore
January 1, 2010: Rathore granted interim bail
January 5, 2010: A fresh FIR is filed for abetment of suicide against Rathore, following complaint from Ashu
January 5, 2010: Haryana government also seeks transfer of case to the CBI


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