On eulogies and obituaries

I know it is not done to speak ill about the departed, yet I think I need to depart form this rule after reading several obituaries and eulogies for the late K P S Gill. My comments will be limited to matters of record.

What surprised me was that no mention in these eulogies and obituaries of his conviction for sexual harassment of Rupan Deol Bajaj, a former Senior IAS officer of the Punjab cadre. I represented her from the Magistrates court where he was convicted up to the Supreme Court of India where his conviction was upheld under Section 354 of the Indian Penal Code, outraging the modesty of a woman (this was before the introduction of Section 354A making sexual harassment a specific offence). The incident took place at the Chandigarh residence of the then Punjab Financial Commissioner, Surrinder Lal Kapoor. When Rupan took the case to court, the media was outraged, she was asked, why complain for a “pat on the back”. She persisted and after two rounds in the Supreme Court, she managed to get a trial in the Magistrate’s court.

Many famous personalities rose to his defense, she was told, after all, he is a man who has served the nation, freed Punjab of the terrorists, over look this incident. Siddhartha Shankar Ray, then the Governor of Punjab, with his towering personality and Mont Blanc pens tucked into his pocket came to the witness box to depose to his character. This did not help, since there was a memo on record authored by Julio Ribeiro, Senior Police officer and Civil Servant Punjab, warning him to not drink in public places.

He was convicted for 3 months simple imprisonment and a fine of 500. An appeal to the District Court resulted in the reduction of the sentence to one year on a probation period, so that he did not have to enter a prison. The condition of probation was that he would not drink in public for six months! On a chance occasion, when I met the judge and asked what motivated his to alter the sentence, his answer was that he did not want KPS Gill to be disqualified from serving the nation in the future. Rupan did not appeal the order, but KPS Gill did appeal and was represented by his friend KTS Tulsi. The conviction was upheld by the Supreme Court.

But public memory is short, his obituaries did not mention any of this, or perhaps, this too was due to the principle that we do not speak ill if the dead. But I tend to think it is more than that, it is about the trivialisation of sexual harassment generally, dismissed as “water cooler talk”, nothing more than a “friendly pat on the back”, not defining which part of the back is patted, of course.

During his lifetime, he was decorated with a Padma Shri for his distinguished service to the nation. I watched his interview by Shekhar Gupta telecasted about a week before he died in which, the answer to the question, “what did you think of the creation of the ‘Salwa Judum’ as a way of dealing with Maoists, he said “it was a good system”. There was not a trace of recognition of the fact that the Supreme Court had directed it to be disbanded, for being an extra constitutional police force.

We live in two worlds simultaneously, one of the rule of law, the law which is declared by the Supreme Court of India, and one of the Army –Police-politician nexus.

So I ask, who are our heroes in this country? Rupan Deol Bajaj stood her ground for ten long years and against all odds, she won her case. She is one of the first women in the country who took the issue of sexual harassment to the Court and she won, leading hugely to the awareness that powerful men have impunity for sexual harassment, not just for extra judicial killings, or perhaps, it would be better to say the two go together. Efforts made to get him to be stripped of his award were doomed to failure in the light of the media hype surrounding his career. Local Human Rights groups in Punjab have always condemned the fact that several people disappeared under his watch, all in the name of ending extremism. His stint in Assam was also marked by allegations of extra judicial killings.

But more importantly, how little do we care for the rights of women and their dignity at the work place? We pass laws, we pay lip sympathy to women, but deep down, it is the macho male police officer who is the role model for the country. Reel life for us has become real life.

I met Rupan ten years after her case had concluded. I asked her “looking back would you have done things differently?” Her answer to me was “what is the workplace? It is the 1000 strong officers who work under me, if I had not stood up against him then, every chaprasi would have thought, I too can do that to her. ”

Let us at least acknowledge the real heroes of this country.

The Leaflet