Ranjona Banerji: Women, interrupted. Again

Aug 09, 2017, 06:08 IST | Ranjona Banerji

Tie a string around my wrist and I’ll look after you is a sweet message, but in reality, of little consequence when female victims are shamed

Vikas Barala, son of a Haryana BJP leader, stalked Varnika Kundu as she was driving home at midnight. Instead of questioning the accused, people are trying to shame her. Imaging/Ravi Jadhav
Vikas Barala, son of a Haryana BJP leader, stalked Varnika Kundu as she was driving home at midnight. Instead of questioning the accused, people are trying to shame her. Imaging/Ravi Jadhav

Why was she out alone at night? Why was she wearing what she was wearing? Was she "drunked"? Did she know the men who did this to her? Women should know their limits.

That's the basic message to women in India from the protectorate of men. Tie a string around my wrist and I'll look after you is a sweet little message, but in actual terms, of little consequence. Because when push comes to shove, you have Vikas Barala, son of Haryana BJP leader Subhash Barala and a male friend, following DJ Varnika Kundu as she was driving home at midnight, trying to stop her car, attempting to pull open her car door in a clear attempt to harass or worse, kidnap.

Change names and religions aro­und or add a cow or two to the mix and the BJP would be yelling "love jihad", and its affiliate or friendly organisations would try a little mob violence and lynching. But since those tactics won't work here, why not shame the victim? So a whole range of BJP spokespersons, pro-BJP Supreme Court lawyers and pro-BJP online fans have started to ask questions about Kundu.

The first act was to put a picture of Kundu with two men and claim that one of them was Vikas Barala. It was not. The second is to claim that Kundu was "drunked" because by Indian law, it is perfectly acceptable for men to stalk "drunked" women. The third act is to claim that Kundu was talking on the phone while she was driving, which is against the law. The fourth act is to find old photographs of her surrounded by glasses that could contain alcohol and, thus, malign her image as an ideal Bharatiya female.

Kundu filed a complaint with the police, the two men apparently apologised to her and asked her not to file a complaint and then promptly both were out on bail. The young woman and her family are determined not to be intimidated by the political connections of the alleged stalkers.

But the vicious lies and slant of the social media against her points to the mindset of the supporters of the party that the accused man is connected with. Let's run with presumption of innocence until proven guilty, and the right to defence. Let's accept that weak cliché trotted out every time someone important, influential or political is accused of wrongdoing, whether murder, corruption, rape, violence, cheating or stalking: "The law will take its course."

But if we are so generous with the accused, there is obviously no such leeway for the accuser, especially if she is female and more especially if she is accusing an influential person. There is the "boys will be boys" response of the likes of Mulayam Singh Yadav. And, immediately, all the vicious knives come out.

Some people find it remarkable that the shamers are women themselves. But I am not surprised. The scourge of patriarchy affects both men and women and there are women who find shelter in prejudice against their own gender.

The pattern of shaming also points to a particular sort of bias - the "bad woman" syndrome so well-encapsulated by films and popular culture. If you go out at night, drink alcohol and have male friends, are you not asking for trouble? Do you not deserve whatever happens to you? Should you not limit yourself to the behaviour that men of this sort find acceptable? Even when Jyoti Singh was so brutally gang-raped and, subsequently, she died from her wounds in December 2012, people like the BJP's Kailash Vijayavargiya reminded us that women need to know their limits. Why was she out at night with a man? When, soon after that incident, a young journalist on assignment was gang-raped in Worli, similar questions were thrown at her.

The victim must be responsible for what happened to her is the standard political response. And as we see from our ruling dispensation and its supporters - the man who is connected to the ruling party must be protected at all and any cost.

Think again about that hot air and big talk about the girl child and education for girls and all the rest of the claptrap that we get from politicians all the time. Then contrast that with the deafening silence when one of their own is accused of assaulting a woman. Yes. Let's fool ourselves once again.

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist. You can follow her on Twitter @ranjona. Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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