Editorial: July 2010
It took 10 years for an FIR to be registered and 19 years for the culprit to be convicted. Ruchika, the victim, was not yet 15 and was a student in class X in a public school, when her life fell apart on August 12, 1990. FIR was registered six years after the teenager committed suicide.
The culprit was Rathore, then a Deputy Inspector General of Police. It was with mixed emotions that on December 21, 2009 the public welcomed the verdict of the Chief Judicial Magistrate sentencing Rathore to six months' rigorous imprisonment and a fine of Rs.1000. The punishment has since been enhanced to 18 months. The charge of assault, with intent to outrage Ruchika's modesty, was established after protracted litigation by those who kept their hopes of justice alive.
When Rathore got bail soon after the pronouncement of the verdict, the public, political parties and women's organisations were outraged and they demanded that the bail be cancelled. "A good cause will fear no judge." If public anger helps other victims to come forward, it is a positive step. After some initial prevarication, the police registered three fresh FIRs based on complaints by the victim's father and her brother against Rathore. The helplessness of a victim is something that should sear the soul of any civilised society.
Initially the police refused to register the molestation complaint. Rathore was protected by notoriously corrupt politicians. False cases were filed against Ruchika's brother, who was repeatedly tortured by the police. Rathore arranged for goondas to abuse Ruchika each time she left her house. He forced the school to throw her out on a flimsy pretext. The case took many years to come to any conclusion. Justice has still not been done as Rathore is still free. However, the government has stripped him of his police medal. How are women treated in our country? How can the wide gap between the ground realities and what is delivered in the name of justice be bridged?
Rathore is merely a symptom of the systemic rot, depravity and corruption that led to Ruchika's death and to the hounding of her family. The system preys on the weak and works to the benefit of those in authority. Efforts should be directed to revamp the system so that such abuses of power cannot recur.
Procedural delays and obstructive legal tactics often derail criminal proceedings. Justice V. V. S. Rao of the Andhra High Court recently made the staggering admission that it would take 320 years to clear the 31.28 million pending cases in our judicial system. Every one of the 14,576 judges (against the sanctioned strength of 17,641) will have an average load of 2146 cases. To restore public faith in the judiciary, the judiciary itself should accept that rot has set in; only tough measures can improve matters. The ordinary citizen cannot expect justice from a system that is overloaded, complicated and subject to decade-long delays. "Justice delayed is justice denied." Delay of justice is injustice.
26 years after the Bhopal Gas Tragedy, the worst ever industiral disaster leading to the death of over 20,000 persons, the judgement has come-too little, too late.
The situation is further complicated by corruption. Thousands of Ruchikas are driven to suicide and many families are denied justice. As we see Rathore smirk, those in charge of the system are laughing their way to the bank. It is a matter of serious concern that some of the judges are also corrupt. The very fact that charges have been aired against a few of them has shaken public confidence in the higher judiciary-cash found at the door of a High Court judge, sitting judges allegedly involved in a provident fund scam, the Chief Justice writing to the Prime Minister to impeach Soumitra Sen, parliament moving to impeach Dinakaran. Chief Justice Mukhopadhya of the Gujarat High Court recently expressed concern over the future of the Gujarat judiciary. He said, "We are concerned about the future of the Gujarat judiciary, where money has become the main source and where you can buy anybody with the power of money." Some Fast Track Court judges were relieved from service last year with a remark in their termination letter that they were found 'unsuitable.' "Corn can't expect justice from a court composed of chickens," says an African proverb.
In this context, it is encouraging that the government has come forward to invest Rs. 5000 crore to improve the justice delivery system. It is to the credit of the Law Minister that he has announced his vision of reducing the life-span of a case to 3 years, a target to be achieved within a 3 year period.
Our Supreme Court has a reputation for being a 'People's Court' or the 'last resort for the oppressed and bewildered.' The Constitution provides all citizens the right to petition directly the Supreme Court if their fundamental rights are violated, and the right to appeal to it in many other cases. The judges have reached out to make access more egalitarian, even by treating letters complaining of injustices as petitions. However, the court is overwhelmed by petitions not from poor or ordinary people, but from those with money and resources. Fighting a case in the Supreme Court is also very expensive. With multiple hearings, delays and several trips to Delhi, the cost is prohibitive. Added to this is the cost of top advocates, who are among the most expensive in the world. "The fundamentals of justice are that no one shall suffer wrong, and that the public good be served."
The country does not have the number of police personnel necessary to ensure law and order in normal circumstances, let alone protracted insurgencies. The UN recommendation is to have 222 police officers for every 100,000 population; India has an average of just 125. Whereas New Delhi has 3953 police officers in every 100 sq.km., Bihar has 59, Jharkhand 50 and Chhatisgarh 22.
The remedy for this does not lie in any human authority. Above the powers that be, we should see Him who "will do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed, so that the man who is of the earth may strike terror no more" (Psa.10:18). God, the sovereign ruler of the universe, is perfect in justice. "All His ways are justice, a God of truth and without injustice; righteous and upright is He" (Deut.32:4). "God's mill grinds slow, but sure." "Justice travels with a leaden heel, but strikes with an iron hand." He is merciful. Sinful man can bring himself into a right relationship with a just and holy God only because of the perfect harmony of justice and mercy within the divine nature (Exo.34:6-7).
Justice should also be evident in the common affairs of human society. The perfect expression of justice in governing human society is seen in the authority exercised by Jesus, the Messiah (Jn.5:30). God desires justice in the operations of all earthly governments and in private dealings between individuals (Deut.16:18-20;25:13-16). "Justice is truth in action."
Since man is created in God's image (Gen.1:27), there is within him an awareness of things being right or wrong, good or bad, just or unjust. The law of God is written on man's heart (Rom.2:14-15). Though sin has hindered man's understanding and dulled his conscience, the law of God remains within him. It is this unwritten law that makes it possible for man to know what justice is and to draw up law-codes to administer justice in society. "Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith let us to the end dare to do our duty as we understand it," said Abraham Lincoln.
The law given by God through Moses sets out the type of justice that God requires (Deut.32:46-47). God established the rules for His covenant people after they were released from Egyptian bondage. Israelites were reminded that they had been slaves in Egypt and should deal justly with the underprivileged (Exo.22: 22-27; Lev. 19:9-10). "He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know Me," declares the Lord" (Jer.22:16).
God desires that His people affirm the supreme worth of every individual by fighting against injustice. Justice must be the same for all, rich and poor alike (Exo.23:3; Deut.1:15-17). Laws must not be just to suit those in power and influence, but must protect the rights of those who can be easily exploited, such as foreigners, widows, orphans, debtors, labourers and the poor (Exo.21:1-11; 22:21-27; 23:6-12; Deut.14:28-29; 15:11). In addition, the penalty must fit the crime, being neither too heavy nor too light (Exo.21:23-25).
Godly people were fearless in condemning injustice. The Bible clearly teaches that God is at work in history casting down the rich and exalting the poor because frequently the rich are wealthy precisely because they have oppressed the poor or have neglected to aid the needy. God also sides with the poor because of their special vulnerability.
God's way of dealing with sinful human society does not begin with changing the social order, but with transforming individuals. As they promote the values of life that they have come to learn through knowing God, those individuals will help change society. Genuine moral goodness includes within it a concern to correct social injustice. This involves not merely condemning evil, but positively doing good. "Only through an inner spiritual transformation do we gain the strength to fight vigorously the evils of the world in a humble and loving spirit. The transformed non-conformist, moreover, never yields to the passive sort of patience which is an excuse to do nothing," said Martin Luther King Jr. "Let justice run down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream" (Amos 5:24).
As we respond to injustice in a Christ-like way, our anxiety, insecurity and pessimism will be transformed into tranquility, stability and hope. The best way to respond to wrong is to do what is right.
It is natural to want to defend ourselves against injustice and to strike back. But, if we are quiet and peaceful, when others mistreat and persecute us, we are responding in a Christ-like way. "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay," says the Lord (Rom.12:19-21). God wants to develop in us qualities that are unnatural. Jesus told His followers not to demand 'an eye for an eye' (Matt.5:38). He was telling that the spirit ruling in their hearts must not be the same as that which operates in a code of legal justice. "God has told you what He wants, and this is all it is: to be fair and just and merciful, and to walk humbly with your God" (Mic. 6:8 TLV).
Life is not always fair, but God is faithful. "When you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God" (1Pet.2:20). "The Christian's goal is not power, but justice. We are to seek to make the institutions of power just, without being corrupted by the process necessary to do this."
"To sin by silence, when they should protest, make cowards of men." In a world filled with injustice, we can take the wrongs done to us, submit them to the Judge of all the earth, and trust Him for ultimate justice. God's people must always be prepared to sacrifice their rights and even do good to those who harm them (1Cor.6:7-8). It takes true strength to refuse to retaliate. "The imperfection of justice in this life is the strongest proof that in the next world justice and vengeance will be fulfilled to the utmost."