The Big Story: No complaints
The message from the Chandigarh stalking case is clear: if you are a woman harassed by a politically powerful man, do not bother to go looking for justice. Not only are the law enforcement systems skewed in his favour, the social and political environment in which they operate is also against you. Long before the case reaches the courts, if it ever does, social media trials will have established your guilt and their innocence.
On Friday night, 29-year-old Varnika Kundu made a distress call to the police, saying two men were following her in a car and had attempted to abduct her as she drove from Chandigarh to nearby Panchkula. One of the men was Vikas Barala, 23, son of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Haryana unit chief president, Subhash Barala. Both men, believed to be drunk at the time of the incident, were duly arrested on Saturday but released on bail within hours. CCTV cameras that could have captured evidence were allegedly not working at five places along the route. The police also dropped more serious charges against the accused men, booking them only for bailable offences. By Monday, the police were facing accusations of diluting the case under political pressure.
Indeed, it did not take long for political defences to kick in. Harayana Chief Minister Manhohar Lal Khattar, also of the BJP, said “appropriate action” would be taken but his party colleague could not be punished for the alleged offences of his son. Most of the party closed ranks behind the Haryana chief, saying there was no question of him resigning. While one leader insisted she should not have been out at night, the senior BJP leadership in Delhi maintained a studied silence.
Soon, the offences themselves were called into question and the tide of accusation turned towards the woman. In this, the BJP was ably helped by a brigade of the moral police. A picture surfaced on social media, claiming to show Kundu show her posing cheerily with the accused. It went viral after a Supreme Court advocate posted it on Twitter, calling her a “so-called victim”. If she had known the accused, the narrative ran, they could not have tried to abduct her. The suggestion of seaminess was unmistakeable: what kind of woman went out late at night and associated freely with men?
Kundu later clarified that the picture was an old one, and the people in it were her friends, not the accused men. Maharashtra’s BJP spokesperson Shania NC, who appeared to have tweeted the picture, took it down soon after, claiming somewhat weakly that her account had been hacked. On Monday evening, after Kundu had spoken to television channels, the Chandigarh police claimed that they had finally retrieved incriminating CCTV footage.
Kundu, the daughter of an Indian Administrative Service officer, has been brave enough to make demands of the justice system, undaunted by victim shaming or political pressure. But as she herself observed, she is “lucky to not be the daughter of a common man”, because what chance would she have had against “VIPs” then? Across the country, there are many such common women, for whom the paces of justice stop much earlier, who must bear such crimes without complaint.
The Big Scroll
Abhishek Dey reports on how the Chandigarh police face charges of diluting the case.
Scroll.in staff take note of the fake story circulated on social media.
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Rineeta Naik writes on the National Human Rights Commission, a “toothless tiger” that does not even growl:
“The commission is also mandated by the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993 to ‘spread human rights literacy...and promote awareness of the safeguards available for the protection of these rights through publications, the media, seminars and other available means’. It must also ‘study treaties and other international instruments on human rights and make recommendations for their effective implementation’.
Nothing, therefore, prevents the commission from relaying – and reiterating – its views, for example, on India’s failure to ratify the United Nations Convention Against Torture, which was signed as far back as 1997. It should, in fact, demand that New Delhi go further and also ratify the Option Protocol to the Convention, which establishes a system of regular visits by independent national and international bodies to where people are deprived of their liberty – an important safeguard against custodial torture.”