"I'm lucky because I'm not lying raped and murdered in a ditch," said Varnika Kundu, a DJ, who accused Vikas Barala, son of Haryana BJP chief Subhash Barala, and his friend Ashish Kumar, of stalking her through the streets of Chandigarh on Saturday.
Her stand since the incident has given birth to a national sentiment and has brought the dangers of stalking to the fore. Though stalking may be listed as a criminal offence under Section 354D of the Indian Penal Code, it rarely, if ever, comes to the rescue of a woman subjected to harassment in the form of stalking.
Normalised by Bollywood, routinised by Facebook, stalking seems to have seeped into the collective mindset of Indians. The 29-year-old Varnika spoke to Firstpost about her fight for justice.
"It’s not like a woman of a certain age gets stalked. I dare anybody to find me a woman in India who has never been stalked. Stalking starts when we're nine, 10, 11 and doesn’t stop till we die. It's become a normal thing in our lives and we don't take it seriously. When I used to walk from my house to go play tennis as a nine or 10-year-old, I would be stalked," she said. Varnika said that her fight is against those men who think they can get away with whatever they want.
On the night of the incident, the police promptly appeared on the scene and registered an FIR. However, once the identity of the accused was revealed, the police diluted the charges down to bailable offences. The 23-year-old accused Vikas, and his 27-year-old friend Ashish, who were chasing Varnika's car in their SUV, were booked under sections 354D (stalking), 341 of IPC (punishment for wrongful restraint) and also section 185 of the Motor Vehicles Act (driving by a drunken person or by a person under the influence of drugs). Both were earlier charged with kidnapping charges but were released on bail subsequently.
Excerpts from the interview:
Do you feel anger towards the police? You've expressed gratitude towards the police but there are inconsistencies with the FIR.
I've not wanted to comment on what's been happening. I am grateful to the police to show up there (at the scene)... I would not have survived this. I haven't interfered with the investigations and I don’t know anything about the law. I am going to keep my faith in the system and wait for this to reach a logical conclusion.
Portions of the missing CCTV footage of nine spots between Sector 7 and Sector 26 have been retrieved. Has this brought in a sense of relief?
Honestly, I’m just tired. I am not someone who talks this much. The thing I'm happiest about today is the #AintNoCinderella hashtag (a social media trend where women are posting pictures of themselves going out at night). That is the ultimate aim of what I'm doing now.
But isn’t there an inconsistency in declaring yourself empowered on social media and being safe on the streets?
I think this is at least a beginning. When before has a woman ever been able to openly say that she is out alone? We need to fight the mindset that reflects on my character – like why I'm out or who I'm out with. If all women, and the families that raise them, start to think like this, things will change.
Because Vikas has a strong political backing, the case is being politicised and has attracted reactions from the political class. Is the shift in emphasis diluting the real problem at hand?
Honestly, it's been a blessing in disguise that he is who he is. If he had just been a regular guy, I wouldn't have had the support of the media and the entire country. It's because of who he is that I now have a platform to say things that can maybe make an actual change... maybe the status of women in this country can change – from being second class citizens to getting equal rights.
Given the fact that your father is a senior IAS officer, do you think this fight has turned into a power clash between a bureaucrat's daughter and a politician's son?
Whatever angle those people have to take is up to them. I don't think it's about me being my father's daughter anymore, it's about me having survived something that a lot of people would not have survived and then lived to tell the tale.
Today, the media glare is on you, but tomorrow, when the flashlights and security aren't around, do you think this public outrage will empower you or make you more vulnerable?
Coming out and talking to the media wasn't a choice I made. The Facebook post I put up after the incident was to educate my friends and family and my circle and possibly people in Chandigarh that something like this can happen even in a major city like Chandigarh. How the post became viral, I have no idea. I am as vulnerable now as I was when the FIR was lodged.
The accused family attempted to victim shame you by sharing pictures of you drinking and partying. How do you see such attempts to malign a victim's character?
They (Baralas' aides) were counting on my fear and were trying to intimidate me to back off. Even though I am not well versed in the law, I know that everything that the woman is shamed for – whether it's being out at night, consuming alcohol or having male friends – are not illegal practices.
There is no use of having a dialogue with stalkers... they will only change once the woman decides to take them on. It is up to the women and the parents who raise them to change this attitude. I was raised as a person and not just as a girl. This is the attitudinal shifts that is needed in a young India. An India where, in the spirit of equal rights, a woman isn't viewed differently than a man.
Published Date: Aug 09, 2017 03:07 pm | Updated Date: Aug 09, 2017 03:12 pm