An old, unrelated photograph of the complainant in the Chandigarh stalking case was widely circulated on social media on Monday, creating a false narrative around the attempted abduction. A Bharatiya Janata Party spokesperson was among several others who shared and later deleted the image after their faux pas was pointed out.
The photograph – first shared by Supreme Court advocate Prashant P Umrao on Twitter – shows Varnika Kundu with two men. In his tweet, Umrao implied that the men in the photograph are Vikas Barala and Ashish Kumar, the two accused in the case who were arrested and released on bail on Saturday after Kundu alleged that they had tried to abduct her on Friday night while she was driving to Panchkula from Chandigarh.
Vikas Barala is the son of Suresh Barala, the president of the BJP’s Haryana unit.
Kundu’s photograph was also shared from Maharashtra BJP spokesperson Shaina NC’s (pictured above) Twitter account, though she later claimed that it had been hacked by “some mischievous folks”. In her earlier tweet, which has been deleted, she had called Kundu a “so-called victim” and said there should be justice for Vikas Barala.
She later said that a woman’s “modesty should be respected”, and that “any act of indignity against women is highly looked down upon”.
The photograph was met with instant and widespread victim-shaming, with many believing that Supreme Court advocate’s claim that Kundu knew the men accused of stalking and trying to abduct her.
The woman, however, has clarified that it was a “very old picture”, and that the two men in it were her friends and not the accused. “It is sad that they are being branded as perpetrators,” Kundu told Scroll.in. “Some people are spreading blatant lies.”
Despite the victim-shaming, some, including another BJP spokesperson, came to Kundu’s defence. Tajinder Bagga, the party’s Delhi unit spokesperson, said there was nothing wrong with the picture. “People should change their mentality instead of blaming the girl,” he said on Twitter, quoting another tweet that shared other photographs of Kundu.
Bagga also criticised Ramveer Bhatti, Haryana BJP’s deputy president, for blaming the woman for staying out late at night. BJP MP Kirron Kher also voiced her support for the complainant. “As a mother, I can understand the sentiments of the victim’s family at this time. Whatever is legal and correct in this case, will be done,” she told PTI.