When a Reputed Journalist Defends Vikas Barala, We Must Ask Ourselves Where We Stand.

Varnika Kundu Vikas Barala

Written by: SMIW editorial | Image: thewire.in

The image below is a screen grab of a LinkedIn post made by Haresh Kumar, a Senior Sub-Editor from reputed national daily Dainik Bhaskar arguing that the #ChandigarhStalking case should not be treated as an attempt to kidnap and sexually assault the survivor:

Haresh's full LinkedIn Post

Haresh’s full LinkedIn Post

Haresh is of course referring to the case where DJ Varnika Kundu was stalked, chased in an SUV and cornered by two men on streets of Chandigarh while driving home around midnight earlier this week. One of the accused even tried to forcibly open Varnika’s car door and enter her vehicle before the police arrived, just in time to prevent further assault.

Varnika posted a first person account of the entire incident on her timeline.

In the immediate aftermath, both accused were let off on bail. It needs to be mentioned that one of the accused, named Vikas, is the son of Haryana BJP Chief Subhash Barala.

Following their release, Varnika and her family demanded that charges for attempt to abduction be brought against the men under Indian Penal Code Section 365 and Section 511. This seems to have upset many deshbhakt MRA types on the Indian interwebz, including Haresh, and brought on posts like the one above, demanding to treat the accused ‘fairly’.

Here’s an English translation of Haresh’s post:

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Demands by Varnika Kundu’s father to charge Vikas Barala under Sections 365 / 511 which mean (sic) attempt to kidnap and attempt to rape reminds me of a story by Asghar Wajahat. In the story, a wage labourer carrying a weighing scale, matchbox and utensils is detained by police for carrying equipment to potentially manufacture fake liquor. At this, the labourer asks the policeman to charge him with rape too because in his words, “he is also carrying the equipment to potentially rape someone”.

Is it okay to file charges based on assumptions when it didn’t happen?

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Now, not only is this view problematic as a base mentality, but also worrying because Haresh’s occupation has a direct impact on publishing news consumed by millions of Indians on a daily basis.

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Admittedly, I was unable to find a link to the story by Asghar Wajahat which Haresh references in his post, nor have I any other way to verify that such a story exists. However, even without those references, it’s troubling to see how over-simplified and appropriated that story is.

The protagonist in the story is a daily wage labourer. The exchange between the protagonist and the antagonist (police officer) of course, is a fictional one that makes a rape-joke like casual reference as the punchline. Last, but not the least, I’m no expert, but the equipment detailed in the story – a weighing scale, matchbox and utensils, just by themselves – are not even the right (or complete) materials needed to produce country made liquor.

Clearly, the whole account – or at least the version re-posted by Haresh – is a not-very-good attempt to digress from an extremely important issue like sexual assault and women’s safety through use of a strawman argument, based on a fictional account which, in itself seems to have factual inconsistencies.

Perhaps the sole similarity between the story and the incident in question is that in both cases, Haresh is no position to understand the lived experiences of the subjects – whether it be the fictional daily wage labourer or the very real Varnika Kundu.

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It’s almost as if the entire story came as an afterthought to the author once they had already made up the rape-reference punchline and thought it was not only clever but also OK to use in a story.

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To compare a fictional account like that to an actual incident of sexual harassment which, had the police not arrived, was bound to take an even more serious turn is, Kettle Logic at best.

Also, I wonder what dramatic ‘assumptions’ Haresh finds in this incident.

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Is aggressively pursuing a woman and intimidating her by repeatedly swerving an SUV in her moving car’s direction, during a high speed chase not grounds for attempt to cause bodily harm and / or sexual violence?

Can Haresh and those who support a similar mindset also explain what the accused were trying to achieve by blocking Varnika’s path on a deserted street at midnight and attempting to break into her car?

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An even bigger question is, why would a sub-editor from a national publication, who holds a position of influence and responsibility towards his readers, go to such lengths to discredit a sexual harassment survivor and her family’s appeal for proper legal recourse?

Could it be his possible affinity or sympathy towards the two alleged perpetrators?

Or, could it be political affiliation / support for BJP, the party whose Haryana chief is father to one of the two accused?

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Or maybe, Haresh is one of many influential but ignorant people in our internet-ruled lives who unknowingly subscribe to rape-culture mentality and are conditioned to belittle and slight accusations of sexual harassment?

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But whatever the reason, there is something really important men need to consider. It is irresponsible and irrevocably damaging to speak casually / carelessly on matters related to sexual assault and gender violence while being in the position of privilege we constantly enjoy.

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Without diminishing struggles of male survivors, it needs to be said that men face sexual violence remarkably lesser in comparison to women. Men also constitute a vast majority of sexual offenders.

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Based on data, women are much more likely to be experience sexual violence than men.

As a matter of fact, figures suggest that 4 out every 5 women in India have faced a form of sexual harassment at some point in their lives.

On the other hand, while men get sexually abused too, not only is the prevalence a lot lesser, but the oppressors in cases of male sexual assault are also more likely to be male than female.

When you look at those facts, it is almost outrageous to think that men would speak from a position of authority on sexual assault related maters, especially on behalf of women survivors. When a man not only assumes such a position, but uses that position to belittle, besmirch and question a woman’s lived experience of harassment – then it is entitlement and victim shaming at its finest (most horrible).

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As responsible men, we need to consciously and constantly check our privilege to become more responsible allies who can stand up in support and solidarity with strong and fearless women like Varnika. Not against them.

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As for Haresh and others like him, maybe they should learn from Chandigarh Police, who have finally charged Vikas and Ashish with non-bailable offenses under Sections 365 and 511 and arrested them, to let better sense prevail.

Although, it would seem that Mr. Kumar regrets making that post in hindsight. Because as of this afternoon, his LinkedIn profile appears to be no longer available.

 

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