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'What happened was highly dangerous and foolish'

By Savera R Someshwar
Last updated on: August 10, 2017 15:19 IST
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'I've answered all those people who are tweeting nonsense about Varnika Kundu and trying to shame her.'
'Shame her for what? For being a young girl at a party with friends? For enjoying herself?'
'I think it is ridiculous for somebody to say that she should not be out at night.'
'Why should a girl not step out at night?'
'What does that mean?'
'Does it mean that something happens to the boys at night and they change into monsters?'
'If so, then the problem lies with the boys, not with the girls.'
'Please keep your sons at home at night.'
'Why are you telling girls where to go and what to do?'

Heading home on a Friday night, driving her car, little did Varnika Kundu -- a woman in her late twenties -- believe she would be hounded by two young men in an SUV, trying to forcefully nudge her into stopping.

What followed was no less than a scene that could have been in a movie, with Varnika keeping control over her car for over half an hour to frustrate her pursuers.

Towards the end, she called the police, who quickly turned up and ensured her safety.

Only, the young men -- Vikas Barala, son of the Bharatiya Janata Party's Haryana President Subhash Barala, and his friend Ashish Kumar -- had chosen to meddle with the wrong woman.

Not only did Varnika take to Facebook where she wrote about the incident, she also filed a case against the duo, a case she promises to pursue to its logical end.

The young men were arrested and -- no surprises here -- released on bail.

After national outrage ensued, the two men were arrested again, without bail.

The fact that the case is now the focus of media attention proved too tempting for many political parties who have jumped onto the bandwagon.

Kirron Kher, the BJP MP who represents Chandigarh in the Lok Sabha, who had -- on August 1, three days before this incident which took place in the early morning of August 4 -- raised the issue of stalking during Zero Hour in Parliament, believes the case is being unnecessarily politicised.

She is angry at the way Varnika has been targeted and at the archaic viewpoint of certain members of her own party who believe that the best way to ensure a woman's safety is not to let her step out of the house after dusk.

The incident, the actress-MP tells's Savera R Someshwar, manifests India's medieval mindset, which is what needs to change.

Vikas Barala and Ashish Kumar were re-arrested on August 9.

IMAGE: Vikas Barala and Ashish Kumar were re-arrested on August 9.
This time, they have also been charged with the non-bailable charge of 'attempt of abduction' under Sections 365 and 511 of the Indian Penal Code.
Photograph: ANI/Twitter

As a woman, and as the MP representing Chandigarh, do you feel Chandigarh is a safe place for women today?


It has always been very safe.

In fact, Varnika Kundu has been saying on TV that Chandigarh is a very safe place.

Chandigarh is a city of institutions and there are so many working women here -- nurses, doctors, teachers, professors...

There are people taking part in extracurricular activities in colleges, in university, people travelling late at night for one reason or the other.

It is very well policed.

We have a lot of PCR (police control room) vans and a police app was launched three years ago.

I don't know how many people are using it, but the fact remains that this young girl called the police and they came to her aid within minutes.

Has there been an increase in incidents of eve-teasing, harassment of women and sexual assault in Chandigarh?

I don't think so.

The girls in Chandigarh are quite bold; I don't think they will give in very easily to eve-teasing.

This is the first such case I've heard of in which somebody has been chased like this in Chandigarh.

This is an issue related to women, to their safety, to the mindsets of men in this country... it needs to be dealt with on that level.

Unfortunately, we tend to politicise everything. That's very wrong.

We should all stand united against something like this and make sure our children don't grow up with a sense of entitlement or a sense of disrespect towards women and girls.

We need to change this medieval mindset where there are rules for how women should, or should not, behave.

Varnika Kundu

IMAGE: Varnika Kundu with her father. 'She is a brave girl and has done a good thing. Her father is a brave gentleman who is standing by his daughter.' says Kher. Photograph: PTI Photo

What do you think about the way Varnika handled the situation? Is there anything else she needs to do to ensure that she gets justice?

She is a brave girl and has done a good thing. She has spoken about it. She has made a police complaint.

And she has stopped covering her face, which I liked very much.

She has not done anything to be ashamed of, so why should she cover her face?

Her father is a brave gentleman (Varinder Singh Kundu, additional chief secretary, Haryana Tourism) who is standing by his daughter.

Has she approached you?

No, why should she?

Everyone knows I am a straight forward person.

Even without her approaching me, main toh seedha bol rahi hoon (I am not mincing words).

I've answered all those people who are tweeting nonsense about her and trying to shame her.

Shame her for what? For being a young girl at a party with friends? For enjoying herself?

It's nobody's damn business. She has every right to do so.

I think it is ridiculous for somebody to say that she should not be out at night.

That person is from your own party (In an interview given to the Times Now channel, the Haryana BJP's Vice President Ramveer Bhatti made statements like Varnika Kundu should not have 'stayed out so late in the night' and that 'Such cases tend to occur and the probability is higher for girls being stalked if they are out at odd hours.'
Bhatti added that it was the responsibility of the parents to ensure 'that girls should not be seen roaming on roads after a certain hour in the evening').

(angrily) Exactly. It's such a ridiculous statement.

People across party lines made such comments over the years; it's a sad mindset.

As I've said before, why should a girl not step out at night?

Din ko bahar jaana toh theek hai, lekin raat ko bahar nahi jaana chahiye (It's okay to step out during the day, but not at night).

What does that mean? Does it mean that something happens to the boys at night and they change into monsters?

If so, then the problem lies with the boys, not with the girls.

Please keep your sons at home at night.

Why are you telling girls where to go and what to do?

SEE: Varnika Kundu recalls her night of horror.

You have also talked about not playing politics with a woman's dignity. Are you referring to your own party here?

I am referring to all politicians.

This particular instance was a reply. The Indian Express sent me a message asking for a reaction about something (Congress leader) Manish Tewari had said.

Mr Tewari has to drag my name into anything that happens in Chandigarh and politicise it.

My reply to him was that we should never play politics with a woman's dignity -- whether it is the young girl, Varnika Kundu, or the MP of Chandigarh.

Don't all parties politicise any, and every, incident that they feel will give them mileage?

I don't think everybody does it.

When somebody is out of power, they tend to do it more.

That's why I find the Congress, which is losing its foothold everywhere, latching on to every possible issue.

In this case, it was someone's son who was driving and someone's daughter who was driving.

How does it matter which political party the parents belong to or don't belong to?

This has nothing to do with politics.

It can happen to anybody. And I am sure it does.

But it gets highlighted when you are either a political bigwig or you happen to be a celebrity.

This does not mean such incidents are not perpetrated by children from families who do not have political clout or who are not celebrities.

Such cases are happening all across India.

We need to focus on the problem and find a solution.

The only solution, in this matter, is a change of mindset.

What is the point in making new laws if we cannot implement the ones that already exist?

Kirron Kher

IMAGE: 'We should all stand united against something like this and make sure our children don't grow up with a sense of entitlement or a sense of disrespect towards women and girls.' Photograph: Kind courtesy Kirron Kher/Facebook

Don't you think there is a huge sense of entitlement when you are related to powerful political leader or come from a rich family or a political family?
There are cases of 'Do you know who I am?' and 'Do you know who my father/brother/uncle is?' threats that are issued in the country every day.

Don't you think there is a sense of entitlement anyway in every Indian who's peeing and spitting everywhere they want to?

Who is throwing kachra (garbage) everywhere they want to?

What about the interiors of India, they are 'punishing' women, or covering them up, or doing goodagardi (bullying), or standing at nukkads (street corners) and whistling, or killing workers in Kerala or Basirhat in West Bengal... you don't think they have a sense of entitlement?

This epidemic is genetically there all over the country, in every strata of society -- be it rich or poor, political or non-political.

Nobody wants to follow rules, even if they are as simple as traffic rules or pedestrian rules or tax rules.

Laws, they think, are meant to be broken.

That is everyone's downfall.

That is the tragedy of the nation.

Does it make you angry to be put in a position where you have to answer for the actions/comments of narrow-minded people because you belong to the same party?

I was very angry and very upset that he (BJP's Haryana Vice President Ramveer Bhatti) could talk like this in this century and actually come on every TV channel and proudly proclaim it.

At the same time, that's something I've known for years... that there are people of this mindset everywhere.

I don't want to judge anyone's societal norms.

Maybe his societal norms are different from this girl's societal norms or my societal norms.

But that does not give us a right to judge each other.

If I don't judge them for making their wives wear a ghoongat, or a burkha, if I don't judge someone for wearing jeans or a swimming costume, then why should they judge anybody?

Also, it's silly to think stalking only happens at night; it happens during the day as well.

Just a few days ago (four days before the Varnika Kundu incident), I made a very strong statement about stalking during Zero Hour in Parliament.

I brought it up because I believe this form of violence against women needs to be dealt with much more strongly than it is at present.

As of now, it is a bailable offence so people can get out, keep stalking these women and possibly harm them; we've all heard of cases of acid attacks, murders and other forms of harm these women face.

It is a frightening scenario.

I am not saying this with reference to what happened in Chandigarh only.

What happened there was a highly dangerous and foolish thing.

There could have been an accident. Anything could have happened.

Thank God, this girl is safe.

I am sure the parents of the boy must -- as any other parent would -- be really angry with him.

I refuse to judge the parents and I refuse to judge the girl.

SEE: Vikas Barala and Ashish Kumar were arrested for the second time on August 9, 2017.

Do you believe Vikas Barala and his friend Ashish Kumar were initially booked under lenient provisions and able to get bail because he is BJP Haryana President Subhash Barala's son?

No. The matter has been blown out of proportion.

When the girl initially went to the police station, she explained what had happened and said they were trying to kidnap her.

Later, when she gave a statement before a magistrate, she did not mention the kidnap bit.

The police acted on the basis of that statement.

Is the fact that Vikas and Ashish have now been arrested, and their bail cancelled, the result of the media mileage the case has got?
Do you believe the missing CCTV visuals that corroborated Varnika's statement surfaced due to public pressure?

No, no, no...

When I had spoken to the DGP (director general of police) that night he had told me hum ko mil gaya hai CCTV footage (we have got the CCTV footage).

The same night?

No, the night after the CCTV footage ki baat hui thi in the media (after reports of the missing CCTV footage appeared in the media).

Should Vikas' father resign as the BJP Haryana president?
Shouldn't he be taking moral responsibility for his son's behaviour?

I don't agree.

Firstly, he is in no position to influence the investigation just because he is the president of the BJP in Haryana.

What is his resigning from that post got to do with the case in Chandigarh? Nothing at all.

He is not a judge on a bench that is going to decide on the case.

He is not a police officer.

He is not a minister in Chandigarh nor is he the governor.

He is not holding any official post in government.

Secondly, how does he lose his political clout -- if that is what you are worried about -- just because he resigns from his post?

Thirdly, the father is not to blame for what the child has done.

You can't blame the parents for their child's delinquent behaviour.

I feel very bad for the parents when something like this happens.

I am sure his father never brought his son up saying you must stalk girls in the evening, you know.

What kind of support will the BJP, and you as an MP, offer Varnika?

I have already supported her in the media.

And the home ministry and the Chandigarh administration are very much on board that all lawful and legal steps will be taken.

SEE: 'Keep boys at home, not girls,' says Kirron Kher. 

Why have we not heard Maneka Gandhi, who is the Union minister for women and child development, speak about the attack on Varnika?

I have no idea.

I think maybe she has other things on her plate and I am not sure one speaks unless one is spoken to or asked a question.

There are so many things to do and she is running a ministry.

I am sure her response would be exactly the same as mine.

Have you ever had the opportunity to speak to Prime Minister Modi about the rising incidents of assault against women in India?

I have never ever spoken to him about it, but he has spoken about it on his own very often and in his speeches from the Lal Quila (Red Fort) as well.

I believe Mr Modi would be strongly against something like this.

At the same time, I don't think it is a case of rising incidents of assaults against women, I think more women are reporting them now, which is a good thing.

It is not that rape has not been happening all these years, that assault has not been happening all these years.

It has been happening quite a lot, maybe more than what is happening now.

Today, of course, the media is very active. Everybody has a smartphone which they can take videos... so such incidents come out into the open much faster.

That is probably why you feel there is a rise in assault cases.

As a representative of the film industry, do you feel films contribute/inspire these kinds of incidents?

I would not say that films actually give rise to this.

I think Art imitates Life, Life does not imitate Art.

I agree with you that some films tend to romanticise it, but I doubt that something like what happened in Chandigarh was a romantic adventure.

Aur films mein toh bahut kuch dikhate hain (There are a lot of things shown in the movies). People don't follow all of that, do they?

If they are imitating the bad things, they would be imitating the good things too.

There are so many wonderful things being shown in films... how to tell the truth, how not to do wrong things, how to treat people... they show kindness, they show love, they show family togetherness.

There are movies being made now which are very realistic. I don't think they, in any way, glamorise goonda-ism because, even if the main protagonist is a goonda, he is shown getting his just desserts.

SEE: 'Overwhelmed by public support, confident of getting justice,' says Varnika.

Besides classes on sex education, do you believe the young Indian male needs to be taught how to woo, deal with and respect the opposite sex?

How can you teach somebody that?

Children learn by example. They learn what they see.

If they hear all this in the house, and they hear people discussing women in a way, or the father treating the mother in a certain way, or the mother treating somebody a certain way, or passing an opinion about somebody... that's how they learn. Or they are influenced by their peers and their friends.

It's the parents you need to educate; it's the medieval mindset that you need to change.

India is a country of large divides.

You have cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Chandigarh, Chennai, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Bengaluru... which are very, very progressive.

And then you have the hinterlands of India, where people live a completely different life.

And then you have the media and the movies and the smart phones and the Internet showing you all kinds of different things.

Imagine the clash of values and what all this does to the mind of a man or a woman who has been brought up in a completely different, restricted environment.

That is why we are at this stage, in this country.

There is a medieval rural India and a modern progressive India all linked together and all exposed to, and bombarded by, similar kinds of stimuli.

But the reaction to that stimulus is very different. Which, I think, is possibly the quandary faced by the censor board because what you will view in a certain way may not be viewed in the same way by someone working in your house.

You might dismiss a romantic scene where the hero and heroine run around a tree and feel it would be much more realistic if they kissed, but how would the other India feel?

Their mindset is so different; they have been brought up differently; they have a different background.

How do you balance these two?

It is very difficult.

You can't pull back people who are progressive. At the same time, you can't pull up people who are not by giving them a few lectures.

It does not work like that.

In TV shows where we speak about such issues -- and even in this interview that you will write -- we are only preaching to the converted.

They already think like you. They believe it is important for us to have our independence and all of that.

So what difference is it making? It is not making a difference where it needs to be made.

That's the problem.

Go to a place where people are not reading what you are writing and the mindset is completely different.

But it is changing.

SEE: Everything under the sun will be done to ensure justice, says Chandigarh DGP.

Varnika was brave enough to get her case registered. However, many women in our country feel intimidated and prefer to keep quiet; else, they are forced to keep quiet by their loved ones and well-wishers.
How practical is it for women to raise their voices against abuse, ill-treatment and harassment in this country today and how can that situation be changed?

There are so many more cases of everything being reported now.

People are coming out and reporting it.

The problem is that they don't want to be harassed by the legal system... kaun jaaye police mein, udhar time lagega... (Who'll go to the police? It will take so much time).

Uske baad jab woh court mein jayega... maamla toh lambi kichegi (If it goes to court, the matter will drag on).

Hiring lawyers is an expensive proposition.

Some of them might fear retribution.

People need to get on with their lives.

I don't blame the people who do not come out and report such crimes.

All this needs to change.

This is an ideal state we are talk about.

Let's hope we get there one day.

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Savera R Someshwar /