The recent case in Chandigarh has proved that not only does India remain unsafe for women, it also lies in a harrowing swamp of victim shaming and lack of justice for the affected.
The incident took place at about 12.35am on Saturday, August 5, when Ms. Varnika Kundu, a disc jockey, was stalked by two drunk men (Vikas, 23 and Ashish, 27) in a white SUV as they tried to block her way, follow her, force themselves onto her and try to hit her. The Chandigarh police responded to Varnika’s distress calls and intercepted the two males. In a Facebook post that has now gone viral, the victim’s father gave their account of the story, a harrowing and traumatizing experience.
Stalking, rape, and assault are violent crimes used to derive control and power. Power, as a symbol of the unoppressed, does not exist in a vacuum and permeates every societal system.
Vikas Barala, son of Haryana BJP chief Subhash Barala, in a questionable turn of events, has been granted bail. While initially, the police had filed the FIR under the following unbailable sections: 354D of the IPC (Stalking), Section 185 of the Motor Vehicle Act (Driving Under Influence), Section 341 (Wrongful Restraint), 365 (Kidnapping), and 511 (Attempt to commit offences punishable with imprisonment), the police has now dropped the Sections 354, 365 and 511 of the IPC which has then allowed them to grant bail to the suspects without producing them in court.
While Vikas Barala is out on bail now and incommunicado, the defence from his “faction” of supporters has been outrageous and a disturbing insight into how victim-blaming spearheads our communities and practices.
The Wire reports that Kuldeep Barala, a member of the Barala family, hit out at the victim in a now-deleted Facebook post by posting pictures of her drinking and questioning her character. He also said that the Opposition was blowing the case out of proportion in an attempt to deride the ruling BJP government in Haryana. Thus, in one single post, Kuldeep Barala managed to hit two mindless birds with one vapid stone of ignorance and prejudice. He not only drew an incredibly illogical and sexist conclusion, attempting to relate a person’s character to their alcohol consumption (which, again, to remind our readers: are not connected), he also reduced the victim’s trauma to a political conflict, thus erasing the victim’s personal narrative.
Further, in response to the now missing CCTV tapes, the BJP unit told News18 on Monday that the girl should not have been out so late at night as the “atmosphere” was not right (“atmosphere” here referring to the night time when drunk males may assault women). Vikas Barala’s deputy, Ramveer Bhatti has also come out with statements reiterating the same sentiments i.e. the woman should not have been out so late at night and why did her parents “allow” it (just a reminder to our readers: the woman is a legal adult and has been one, for a long time).
These statements have been called “shocking” by NDTV. If we were living in an ideal world or in a vacuum where cases of such kind were a rarity, we would have termed the statements shocking too. However, we live in the real India, where practices of victim blaming and shaming run rampant and where the system and mindset set out to beat the victim from the very start.
And victim shaming becomes progressively worse as other strata of society intersect. Both Ms. Kundu and her father recognize their position of relative privilege. Ms. Kundu, traumatized and shaken, said, “I’m lucky I am not the daughter of a common man, because what chance would they have against such VIPs” (VIP referring to the highly politically ranked Barala family). Similarly, in the Facebook post by Ms. Kundu’s father, Additional Chief Secretary to the Haryana Government, he reiterated that if privileged people do not stand up and fight, then nobody in India can seek support. Victims who do not have such platforms and the resources to fight for justice are thrown in a circle of victim blaming, shame and guilt.
Womenite condemns Ms. Kundu’s decision to publicly speak up and stand against harassment, even in the face of such senseless backlash and emotional trauma.
While Haryana CM Mr. Manohar Lal Khattar has assured the media that the law will take its course, it remains to be seen whether the police will be allowed to function impartially: without biases of power, be it political or gendered, and without the mindset of that points fingers at the victim for a crime the victim didn’t commit.