Varnika Kundu, daughter of an IAS officer, was terrorised and almost kidnapped, in Chandigarh, by Vikas Barala, son of BJP Haryana chief. Our New Delhi-based columnist, Payal says that nobody has a right to shame a woman because she drinks, or drives out late at night, is independent, or does not have a protector. As long as a woman needs a man – a father, a brother, and a husband to justify her actions and defend her – we are still in the Dark Ages. A Different Truths exclusive.
On August 5th, Varnika Kundu wrote a chilling FB post in which she narrated how she was almost kidnapped in Chandigarh. She was driving home at 12:15 am and talking to her friend on the phone when she noticed a car following her. The car swerved close to her, drove alongside her and tried to stop her. Finally, the two men in the car, who had been enjoying the chase and terrorising her, drove in front of her and blocked the road. One of them got out and walked to towards her. He banged on the door and window, tried the handle of the car. Luckily, she had alerted the cops and help reached her in time, as Chandigarh Police raced to her rescue.
What made the perpetrators feel safe in harassing the girl? Was it that fact that one of them was Vikas Barala, the son of BJP Haryana chief, Subhash Barala? Was it the fact that they were men and she a girl? Was it just years of entitlement and male privilege that surfaced after a couple of drinks?
It is no surprise that the reactions were a true reflection of our chauvinistic society. What was Varnika doing out at 12:15 am? That is nobody’s business except her own. She has every right to go where she will, at whatever time, and expect to stay safe or is that a right denied to the women of India? True to type Ramveer Bhatti, VP of the BJP in Haryana was the first to cast aspersions on the girl being out at night. He admonished parents, “…that girls should not be seen roaming on roads after a certain hour in the evening.” How about advising Mr. Barala to keep his goonda son off the roads forever so that women could be safe? Obviously, this was not the solution that even occurred to Ramveer Bhatti, whose insinuation was clear, the same old ‘good girls stay at home’ story. This is the classical chauvinistic side step – deflect from the real problem by questioning the girl’s right to be where she was.
Of course, Varnika got trolled. Lawyer Prashant Patel decided it was his job to point out that Varnika should be fined for talking on the phone, while she was driving. One Manav Hriday posted ugly comments and wrangled long and hard with Varnika’s mother and sister, claiming that since the matter was public, people should know whether Varnika ‘knew Vikas Barnala from before or not’. Another picture of Varnika with glasses of alcohol in front of her surfaced, trying to shame her and question her character.
Getting into the act of victim blaming and shaming was Shaina NC, BJP spokesperson who tweeted a picture of Varnika supposedly with Vikas Barala calling her a “so-called victim beti”. Right. That proved to be fake and false as Varnika’s mother clarified that it was definitely not a photo of Vikas Barala and that he was not known to Varnika. In yet another twist, with egg on her face, Ms. Shaina later claimed that her account had been ‘hacked’ and that it was not her who had posted the tweet but a ‘hacker’. She further said that a (woman’s) “modesty should be respected,” and that “any act of indignity against women is highly looked down upon.”
Well, Ms. Shaina, please explain, what on earth is a ‘woman’s modesty’ and how does it differ from a ‘man’s decency’? What are you trying to say – I don’t understand it at all, but it seems like old wine in new bottles, modesty aka ‘honour’ and ‘izzat’. And how about castration, Ms. Shaina, instead of merely “looking down upon” depraved perpetrators of crimes against women? Do try harder, as a woman and a spokesperson of the BJP you can do better than that.
The heat is on with Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal demanding strict action against the Haryana BJP chief’s son and the National Commission for Women seeking a free and fair probe in the case. Now for the BJP’s brilliant stance – they have not accepted Mr. Barala’s resignation as they consider this an ‘individual’ matter. It is difficult to imagine that they do not understand that a fair enquiry by the police is difficult due to Mr. Barala’s position in the BJP ranks and that justice will be impossible. Were he to resign, it would greatly increase the chances of a free and fair enquiry, But no – it’s the ‘Men’s Club’ in action again. The ranks close, in order to protect one of them.
As Varnika has pointed out – was her father, not an IAS officer, this case would have been shushed and not even played up in the media. The Kundu Khap has called for an agitation, in protest, if justice is not meted out. Rajesh participating in the Khap protest said, “It is not about a girl belonging to a particular community or a clan, it concerns all girls and women. So the members of all the communities came out in her support. We too have girls, who go to schools and colleges. It can happen to them as well. If the accused go scot-free, it will set a wrong precedent,” he said.
The Khaps, which have gained notoriety for their oppressive and dangerous stance towards love marriages, are now turning champion of women’s rights?
I suspect not. It is the ‘samaj ki beti’ (society’s daughter) syndrome and the protection of the ‘beti’s honour’ that has brought them on the warpath. I see no hope in this – as long as a woman bears the burden of a society or community’s ‘honour’, we shall not be free. I suspect Varnika has little choice now but to play out the ‘victim beti’ in order to bring the ‘perpetrator beta’ to justice.
Varnika is ‘somebody’ because of her father’s power and position.
I would like to see justice because we care for what is right – as men and women. Because we cannot let crime and criminals flourish in our society. Because women deserve justice in their own right, not because they are someone’s daughter or sister or wife. Because our streets need to be safe, for us, at all times. Because nobody has a right to shame a woman because she drinks, or drives out late at night, is independent, or does not have a protector. As long as a woman needs a man – a father, a brother, and a husband to justify her actions and defend her – we are still in the Dark Ages.
Subhash Barnala made the only statement that is possible for a politician in our deeply patriarchal society, “Varnika is like a daughter to me,” he said, addressing the press.
And so it shall go on – the Victim daughter vs. the Perpetrator son– unless we change our thinking.
Photos from the Internet.
Our New Delhi-based columnist, Payal Talreja, is in the midst of travelling. She wrote this scathing piece on the Varnika Kundu case for her regular column on Tuesday (Aug 15). We are releasing it immediately as this is dated. ~ Managing Editor
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