Varnika Kundu can be considered as a representative of the collective struggle of women who have faced the worst form of patriarchy and chauvinism in India and stood up to it. This paradigm shift in her role from being an individual to becoming a symbol of a collective struggle was obviously not easy.
The nerve chilling experience she had, the survival tactics she employed under those adverse conditions and the post incidence fight she put up for the sake of justice, earned her a lot of praise and honour. This case, as all other cases do, deserves a detailed analysis to come to an evidence based conclusion on what should be done to enhance the safety and security of women in India. A detailed study of this case brings to light certain stark facts, which will help to achieve conclusive evidence to showcase the fact that certain innovative and proactive approaches are needed to solve this problem. We have to realise that mere conventional and reactive approaches will not work at all.
On August 4, 2017, Varnika was driving home at around 12:15 am. Soon a white SUV started following her and started driving alongside her vehicle. They chased her and drove in a zig-zag manner to scare her. The motive of the men inside the SUV was quite clear. First, they blocked her way when she tried to drive towards a safer road and then tried to stop her completely. She managed to reverse and drive away and then called the cops. Within minutes the men caught up with her again and chased her for about 5-6 kms. She kept manoeuvring and somehow found a way to prevent herself from falling prey to these chauvinist bullies. Sadly, they succeeded in blocking her completely at a traffic light and a man then came out of the SUV and banged on her window pane trying to open the doors of her vehicle. This showed that these boys were quite serious in their motives. Luckily, the police arrived just in time to stop the perpetrators.
Initially, these men were arrested under Sec 354D IPC-Stalking, Sec 341 IPC-Wrongful restraint, Sec 34 IPC-common intention, Sec 365 IPC-Kidnapping, Sec 511 IPC-punishment for attempting to commit offences punishable with imprisonment for life or other imprisonment and Sec 185 Motor Vehicle Act-drunken driving. The men have also been sent to judicial custody.
1) Non-hesitancy in approaching the cops turns out to be a big factor:
Most people hesitate to approach cops because of an inherent fear of getting entangled in the legal process. Apart from this, the lack of sensitisation among cops towards this issue further aggravates the situation. So this issue needs to be addressed from both the sides by making people aware and sensitising our police force. Recruiting more women in the force can help women approach them easily. We need to build a system where people in distress are non-hesitant in taking the timely help of the police.
2) Family support matters:
There is no denying the fact that her father is a senior IAS officer, and that helped him get justice for his child faster. This might not have been the same for other people as the system makes it difficult for them to provide the same type of support for their child. But the point worth noting here is the difference which can be created if everyone who gets harassed or stalked gets the same family support. This would embolden them to report the crime so that the perpetrators could be brought to justice.
3) The bigger question still remains that what would have happened if she had not been the daughter of an IAS officer:
Varnika being a Chandigarh girl with a strong family background is empowered enough to fight for the cause of justice. She will win this battle given her unmatched determination but this will not prove that everyone would have reclaimed their independence in the public space. What about hundreds of others who are not at all in a position to stage such a fight for justice? They will remain helpless until and unless our police force is competent enough to guarantee a safe and secure environment. The force also needs to be sensitive enough to help them fight for justice without bias. It is quite important to ask the question – would the police response have been the same had she not been an IAS officer’s daughter? Efficient policing needs to be complemented by an efficient criminal justice system because justice delayed is justice denied. The present system of justice delivery leads to further harassment of the victim.
4) The role of the media, in this case, is a matter of debate:
The harsh reality is that not all cases get the same media coverage which Varnika’s case got. This is where media houses need to introspect. They provide a detailed coverage only to the cases which happen in Delhi or nearby regions while somewhat neglecting other rural cases. In this case, the electronic and print media played a very important role in mobilising the mass support. The public opinion which got created pressurised the law enforcement agencies to act efficiently. Therefore, we need to put a more robust system in place.
5) Even the presence of cameras at each traffic light and the presence of cops at every 200 metres could not deter the perpetrators. This further strengthens the case for evidence-based policing as against the untested conventional way of policing:
The outdated thinking that mere random police patrols, rapid response systems (like dial 100) and reactive investigation would deter the criminals was proved to fall flat in this case. Its high time that the topic is scientifically discussed. The new emerging approach of targeting, testing and tracking has proved to be a more proactive form of policing. It needs to be imbibed at all levels in the police force so that it could work more efficiently. The proactiveness involved in this new emerging approach helps policemen identify well in advance, the potent sites for criminal activities and the people who could possibly commit a crime. Thus, instead of spending time in random patrols and then in a reactive investigation, the policemen would get involved in preventing the crimes, thus decreasing the need for reactive investigations. We need to understand that an efficient police force and well-equipped police stations are the panaceas of all pains.
6) Social Media is a tactful tool to get people to mobilise people and speak up:
In a democracy, public opinion is of the utmost importance. The peaceful protests and demonstrations do create impacts but when it comes to women related crimes, the protests have been more of a reactive nature. A more proactive involvement would be more appreciative. Why wait for such horrible incidents to happen?
Another aspect of this protest is that they never ever demand police reforms. This shows that public is still unable to grasp the fact that until and unless the police force as an institution strengthens, the pain will continue. Actually what should have ideally happened, is that these protests must be coupled with strong demands for police reforms. We will have to develop a sense of belongingness towards the police force.
7) Media should not have targeted the family members of the accused:
The accused are not juveniles. They are the one responsible for their crime. No one should have said anything against their families unless they tried to sabotage the investigation and the subsequent trial process. They are not guilty of the crime committed by the accused. The media should not have dragged their name in the first place. The fact that the accused is the son of a politician does not give media the freedom to harass them.
8) The neutral filing of the complaint, in this case, is another point worth noting:
While I keep pitching for police reforms to reduce the political and bureaucratic influence, at the same time I would take the policemen to task for not treating commoners properly. Many people report of harassment at police stations and that policemen do not even register their complaints in the first place. What kind of political order is needed to register a complaint? In this
In this case, the victim was the daughter of an IAS officer so the police had certain compulsions, but still, they deserve appreciation for a neutral filing of the complaint. It highlights to a great extent the importance of complaint registration because it is the basis on which the police could prepare a strong charge sheet to ensure the conviction of the culprits. All the more this would increase the number of cases being reported.
Varnika Kundu has shown immense courage. Now it is our duty to rise up and adopt a proactive approach on all fronts to make our society safer. It will not be easy to bring change, but then it will surely happen as the wind of change has blown. Now the challenge is to keep the momentum sustained and bring about a conclusive and progressive change.