Indian streets are not known for being the safest for women. However, there are some cities which are considered safer than others. Chandigarh is one such city. But a woman’s recent ordeal with stalkers has left the country, and Chandigarh residents, in shock.
A 29-year-old woman was stalked and harassed on Saturday night by two men in an SUV - one of them the son of a BJP leader.
Varnika Kundu recounted on Facebook the harrowing experience on the streets of Chandigarh when she was driving back home from a market, and she noticed that a white SUV was following her.
“There were 2 guys inside the SUV, and they seemed to really be enjoying harassing a lone girl in the middle of the night, judging by how often their car swerved, just enough to scare me that it might hit me,” Varnika wrote.
Thankfully for Varnika, a police van was nearby when the SUV tried to block her way, and the two men were nabbed the same night. She later filed an official complaint on the matter as well. Initially, the two men had been charged with IPC Section 354 D (stalking) and Section 185 of the Motor Vehicle Act, and also IPC sections 341 (wrongful restraint), 365 (kidnapping or abducting with intent secretly and wrongfully to confine person) and 511 (punishment for attempting to commit offences punishable with imprisonment for life or other imprisonment).
However, the two stalkers were released on bail soon after, and latter three charges dropped, allegedly because one of them - Vikas Barala - is the son of Subhash Barala, the head of BJP’s Haryana unit. In fact, the two were allegedly granted bail before they were even produced in court.
While Varnika’s experience is scary to say the least, it is heartening to see her father, an IAS officer, completely supporting his daughter publicly to hold the alleged harassers accountable.
In a Facebook post he wrote on Sunday, Virender Kundu said that he was proud of his daughter. “You have chosen to take on the worst form of chauvinism manifested in our society,” he wrote. “My difficulties on account of this decision are nothing compared to yours. We will not let criminals or their stooges affect your value system, or the quality of the life you have chosen for your selves,” he added.
He had put up a Facebook post on Saturday as well, lauding Varnika’s presence of mind. He wrote that the incident had left her traumatised and it would probably take a long time for her to “to go back to a normal life.”
He asserted even then that the men who allegedly stalked and harassed his daughter needed to be brought to book.
“The goons must be punished, and the law must take its course. As would be expected, the goons are from influential families. We all know most such cases of harassment go unpunished and even unreported. Most people would not want or dare to take on goons from influential families. I feel if people with some privileges like us cannot stand up to such criminals, nobody in India can. More importantly, I will be failing in my duty as a father to my daughter if I did not stand with her completely in this matter,” he wrote.
The incident has also elicited severe criticism for the BJP, with many opposition parties asking for Subhash Barala to be sacked. However, Haryana Chief Minister ML Khattar stated on Sunday that Subhash had “nothing to do with the incident.”
The Wire reported that a member of the Barala family had even resorted to victim-blaming Varnika after the complaint was filed. Kuldeep Barala had reportedly posted pictures of Varnika on Facebook, where she is with two men, and implied that she was drunk at the time of the incident. Kuldeep claimed in another post that the incident was being blown out of proportion by Opposition to malign Subhash Barala’s image. The posts have now been deleted.