'Now the fight is for other Ruchikas'

7:55 PM | ,

Aradhna Gupta could have taken it easy after the hard-fought victory against her friend Ruchika’s tormentor. But she says her battle has just 

Aradhna, who lives in Sydney with her husband and children, and teaches Indian culture at a school there, says people have begun to expect newer battles from her. And she’s ready for it

begun. Her anti-abuse website will be launched on Valentine’s Day — for the love of her childhood pal — and on the drawing board are ambitious plans for a legal panel to help victims as well as a nationwide helpline...

The buzz inside Aradhna Prakash Gupta's head just won't go away. Earlier it was a deep sense of injustice and an unequal fight against a feckless system that kept her awake at night. Now it is the feeling of empowerment , of being vindicated, that makes her wait impatiently for day so that she can go out and do more for the thousands of Ruchikas quietly cowering in dark corners , praying desperately for someone to rescue them from their individual hells.

"We need to speak less and do more,'' says Aradhna, whom the country now knows as the woman who two decades ago saw her 14-year-old friend Ruchika Girhotra being molested by a top Haryana police officer, vowing to bring the guilty to book - something that finally happened on December 21 last year. "That day changed a lot of things for me,'' says the 31-yearold , talking about the time when the CBI special court convicted SPS Rathore in the molestation case. "It took 19 years for justice to come, but when it did, the response of the people was just so overwhelming . I think the only way to return this affection is by fighting for the rights of children, women and scared witnesses, those who are violated and bullied into silence in various parts of the world."

Aradhna, who lives in Sydney with her husband Aman and their two children - she teaches Indian culture in a school in Sydney - is all set for her next big crusade. "We are not done yet," she says with a steely resolve as she goes through the scores of fan mails that she receives everyday from acquaintances and complete strangers congratulating her on the courage and fortitude she has shown.

She has just drafted a plan, with help from friends and family, to fight abuse of all kinds, but especially that of women and children. With the blueprint of activities to be undertaken in order to achieve her desired goals in place, she is certain what her weapon will be as she carries on the battles for helpless victims - her new-found celebrity status. "When I started my journey, I was alone. But now the world is with me. And I want to use my power for the betterment of children and society at large."

There's a website, Justice4Ruchika.com, that she's launching on February 14. "What better day than Valentine's Day to commence my next battle,'' she says. "It is a symbol of love and friendship and it is on this day that I'll start my social campaign, which will be dedicated to my friend. The website is a platform where people from all walks of society can come together to create awareness, educate and eventually help prevent child abuse."

Then there is a law panel (a collective of lawyers and legal experts who will give advice to victims of exploitation and fight their cases for free), an anti-child abuse forum, helplines that'll connect with NGOs across India, books and petitions for a fast track justice system that she is seriously thinking about. The 'harbinger of hope' , as many call her on internet sites, says her platter is full.

"The idea behind the legal panel and my organisation is that victims, their families and witnesses - who want to depose, but can't - don't go through what we had to,'' she says, talking softly, the tenor of her voice hiding the fire in her belly. "They should feel protected and confident enough to face the system, have faith in it. There will be regular seminars and lectures in schools and institutes to educate children, teenagers and youth about their rights."

What about the book? Will it be an autobiography? "The plan is to author a series of books about my entire journey and other issues,'' Aradhna says. "The titles have been zeroed in on and soon I'll script my nearly two decades-long journey since the time I was a 13-year-old subjected to the harrowing experience of seeing a friend first violated, tortured and then pushed to suicide.''

Since the time she came for the latest series of hearings on her friend's case, Aradhna's life has turned on its head. These days there is no respite for her from an endless run of press conferences, interviews, seminars, lectures, book releases and the odd felicitation.

Aradhna says she knew her life had changed when a young boy recently asked for her autograph. "When I landed here in October 2009, I had decided I would go back to Australia and dedicate all my time to the family. But then the verdict came, sweeping me and the entire nation in its wake. For now, though, the family has taken a back seat. There is so much to do and achieve. And I feel I can," she smiles. "Hope, you know, is such a thing.''

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