"The BJP supports the freedom of daughters. Varnika Kundu is like my daughter."
Haryana state BJP president Subhash Barala has broken his silence about the alleged stalking of Varnika Kundu by his son Vikas and his friend Ashish Kumar.
Senior Barala thinks that his statement will defuse the political row over the case, with police flip-flopping all over the place. But Barala betrayed the essential problem we just cannot seem to dodge.
Women do not deserve freedom/rights/protection under the law/fair treatment because they are daughters/mothers/sisters. She deserves fair treatment as a person who feels she has been wronged. She does not need to be Barala's daughter or "like" Barala's daughter to expect justice from the law.
Women do not deserve freedom/rights/protection under the law/fair treatment because they are daughters/mothers/sisters. She deserves fair treatment as a person who feels she has been wronged.
She is a person first with rights under the Constitution. Whether he regards her as his daughter or not should really be utterly irrelevant to her standing, her complaint and her treatment under the law.
Barala does not have to play benevolent father either to her or his son. The best thing he could do was get out of the way and truly let the law take its course.
Barala was probably being well-meaning even if it comes across as patronizing. Perhaps he was under pressure from his party to speak up. Perhaps he was speaking from his heart. But as Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay points out in The Wire "He has not taken moral responsibility for the incident, suggesting little remorse."
But perhaps he was being more honest than many realize. It's in fact quite well-known what kind of moral policing some of his family and colleagues want for their daughters. Barala might say that his part supports "the freedom of daughters" but it's a very limited form of freedom.
'The girl shouldn't have gone out at 12 in the night'
1. It limits the kind of clothes they can wear. His state's own chief minister Manhoar Lal Khattar has said: "If a girl is dressed decently, a boy will not look at her in the wrong way... if you want freedom, why don't they just roam naked? Freedom has to be limited. These short clothes are western influences. Our country's tradition asks girls to dress decently..." It's not just Khattar. Abu Azmi of the Samajwadai Party also said, "when few women in half-dress come out on streets at late night with their friends, such incidents do occur."
2. It limits at what time of the day or night they can be out on the streets. BJP state vice-president Ranveer Bhatti said, "The girl should not have gone out at 12 in the night. The atmosphere is not right. We need to take care of ourselves." Back in 2012 after a gang-rape case in Gurgaon, the administration came up with an ingenious solution. Women should not work after 8 pm and if they do they needed to tell the labour department in advance.
3. It limits what she chooses to drink. A member of the Barala family posted a picture of the woman holding a glass to imply that she drinks and was thus of questionable character. Incidentally the two young men are charged with drunk driving. No family member has condemned that as of yet.
4. It limits who she associates with. A picture was posted of Kundu with two young men and was passed off as a picture of her with Vikas Barala. It was tweeted out by the verified account of Shaina NC, treasurer of the BJP in Maharashtra. Later Shaina claimed her account had been "hacked" by unnamed mischievous folks. She tweeted #IStandWithVarnika. Supreme Court advocate Prashant P Umrao tweeted that image and when asked if he knew for sure it was Vikas Barala, said blithely, "I got it from somewhere, I posted it. It's social media, anyone can post things." Asked if he even knew which of the two men was Vikas Barala, he retorted "I don't know. It's your job to find out. You find out."
5. It limits what she looks like. Congress MP Abhijit Mukherjee colourfully told us to disregard the "highly dented-painted" ladies protesting the 2013 Delhi gang rape. He dismissed the students going to candlelight protests saying, "I know very well what kind of character students should have."
If a woman does not play within these limits of her freedom she is bringing her fate upon herself. Of course this is only a subset of the many ways a woman can bring harassment upon herself. When Suzette Jordan was raped in Kolkata, she was accused of being a bad mother for having gone to a nightclub when she had young daughters at home. "She has two children, and so far as I know, she is separated from her husband. What was she doing in a nightclub so late at night," said then sports minister Madan Mitra. Another politician said it was a prostitution case gone wrong as if it is okay to rape sex workers. She was accused of having asked for her fate for having accepted a ride from a man in the nightclub.
But this narrative of victim shaming aims to make us think that perhaps she is lying. If she is lying about drinking might she lying about knowing the men?
The strategy is simple. Our first reaction to a story of rape/harassment/stalking could be one of shock. But this narrative of victim shaming aims to make us think that perhaps she is lying. If she is lying about drinking might she lying about knowing the men? If she is lying about knowing the men might she be lying about the assault?
All these statements, all these limits just reinforce the idea about what good girls don't do. And the price they pay for leaving the Lakshmanrekha. Barala might have been sincere. But what he can also be saying is that no daughter of his would disregard these limits either.
Does that mean women should disregard common sense and "roam naked" just to make a point as Khattar says? Of course, not. For that matter would men "roam naked" just to make a point either? And therein lies the crux. All of these rules and all of these limits are imposed on women because the onus of their safety seems to lie with them in the minds of politicians.
But none of these limits seem to apply when it comes to the freedom of sons.
No one says my son should not have gone out joyriding at 12 at night. No politician says we'd be a safer country if there was a curfew on men rather than women. No one says my son should not have been drinking and driving. When a picture like that surfaces they say he might have had a drink but he was not drunk.
No one says a picture of a young man with two women on Facebook raises doubts about his moral character. That's just boys being boys. As Babul Supriyo, union minister reminded us on Twitter, "Like it's not AT ALL that I am supporting such act but we all went 2 college & knw, like Reel, 'Boy Chase Girl' exists in Real life 2. Agree?" As in boys will be boys.