New Delhi: The Chandigarh stalking has received more than usual attention, some of it because one of the two men accused, Vikas Barala, is the son of the state’s BJP chief.
But much of it is also is to do with what happened afterwards and the unflinching quest for justice by the woman they allegedly targeted.
Varnika Kundu stood her ground as assorted politicians, lawyers and unclejis asked the usual questions — why was she driving so late at night? Was she drunk? She stood her ground through fake photographs, lost and found CCTV footage and speedy bail. She stood her ground right until the eventual arrest of Barala and his friend, Ashish Kumar.
Sure, MPs like Kirron Kher and Harsimrat Badal in a brave display of decency spoke up for her. Media channels were for once united in supporting her. And her fight on social media inspired at least one hashtag #AintNoCinderella as women posted selfies of themselves after midnight. “We are independent and we don’t need you to curb our freedom,” tweeted Rekha Navani.
But, supported by an articulate and calm father, it has been one woman’s fight, and this is the unexpected twist to an otherwise routine crime story.
Stalking is only one of the many forms of violence faced by 48.5% of the country – the statistic itself a rebuke. In 2016, 7,132 cases of stalking were registered and just this past week, a 17-year-old girl on her way to school was stalked by five men who, after she rebuffed them, slit her throat and killed her.
As per report, the dominance of public spaces by men makes women less-than-equal citizens, unable to participate fully in education and employment. It goes against the grain of our Constitutional rights to equality and dignity. You cannot celebrate 70 years of Independence if half your citizens are too scared to be out on the street, parks or the metro.
It’s time to reclaim this space. It won’t be easy. Not many women have Varnika’s resilience.
And public support remains ranged against the free movement of women.
But a fight-back has begun. Whether it’s Varnika Kundu or Gurmehar Kaur, a new generation of women is speaking up and saying ‘enough’. These women are unwilling to be victims. They are saying, ‘you cannot wish us away’.
In his first Independence Day address as prime minister, Narendra Modi had asked parents to control their sons. Perhaps it’s time for him to call for a second freedom movement – for daughters. To enable their full participation in civil society. To be able to go out. To study. To work. To have fun. To just live their lives.
It’s time for all of us to be truly free.