M A I N   N E W S

How her world came apart bit by bit...
Geetanjali Gayatri
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, December 24
The sillhouette of a girl against the light peeping in through the classroom windows, sitting on the wooden bench with her head buried in her arms on the desk, sobbing painfully in the last row — that was Ruchika Girhotra’s last memory for me.

After the conviction and sentencing of former Director-General of Police SPS Rathore, the only picture that comes to my mind when I think of my school, then Sacred Heart Secondary School, Sector 26, is that of a girl — lonely, traumatised and very aloof.

As I travel back in time to the year 1990, my memory zooms in to the last classroom next to the library on the second floor of the building, announcing Class X A. It was here that Ruchika Girhotra and I had sat together, studied together, and may have, at some time, even been punished together.

Despite this, she and I were never friends, only classmates. During her last days in school, however, I particularly noticed her, sad and somber and always in tears, every time I walked into the class with my friends after a break.

I felt her pain in an odd-sort of a way across the rows of students who separated us but never tried to reach out to her, never had the courage to ask her the what, where, when and how of things. And, then, there was Puja Harjai, seemingly the only friend she had in school, to comfort her, talk to her and be with her, always.

During that time the molestation must have just happened. Though I don’t recall the month, I vividly remember that the news spread like wildfire. Like the rest of my classmates, I, too, had heard the “rumours” doing the rounds in the school.

After the morning assembly was over, while we marched up to our classrooms, we, the tailenders in the line, managed to catch up on a thing or two before reaching the class and Ruchika, invariably, ended up being the topic of discussion.

We had also heard that the father of another batchmate of ours was the culprit and we were aghast at the man’s audacity, especially since he had a daughter of the same age in the very same class. As days went by, in that very classroom I saw Ruchika change from an upfront student who had stepped into Class X to a scared, scarred and introverted girl as the rumours gained ground. Classmates huddled together to deliberate in whispers what might have transpired during the sordid episode every time an opportunity presented itself.

All the time, Ruchika, motherless (her mother had died a couple of years prior) and friendless, watched everybody rip her apart through her tears but never uttered a word. Ever. Since that fateful August of 1990 which turned her world upside down.

A few weeks later, Ruchika, faded into oblivion for us — her classmates of the batch of 1991. We heard that she was never coming back to school again and that was the end. A loner, she was conveniently forgotten. Then, one day, just like that, a couple of years later, she re-appeared in newspapers — as a suicide story. In her end, I think, was the beginning of much more to come.

I also saw Rathore’s daughter, a bright, hardworking student to her teachers, slip a little, away from the limelight to lie low, very low. We often exchanged pleasantries on our way home, in the school bus, but she, too, like Ruchika, chose to keep to herself. School ended and everything became a memory up until now when the “connection” between two batchmates came gushing back as I read through newspaper reports.



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