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8 Aug 2017

At stake: women's right to be free citizens

TT, Aug. 7: The father of Varnika Kundu has said the issue is not about his daughter being assaulted or punishment for specific criminals but about whether the country allows a woman to live as a free and equal citizen.
"And if she is wronged, does it give her enough confidence to even claim justice? If not, we are no better than a lawless, barbaric society," Virender Kundu, an IAS officer, said in a Facebook post that stood out for its measured as well as objective tone in an atmosphere of lynch-mob clamour for retribution.
Kundu, the additional chief secretary in the tourism department of the Haryana government, made it clear at the outset that the family would not "back out or stand down".
"We promise all the people and the groups supporting us that WE SHALL NOT, EVER, BACK OUT OR STAND DOWN, irrespective of hardships or pressures," he said.
The father then added that the family would "not interfere with the investigation or the prosecution, just as we do not want the accused to influence the investigation in any way. The police and prosecution should be allowed to do their job. We will join investigation whenever required by the police."
Amid hair-splitting over whether CCTV footage on the stalking of his daughter was available, Kundu sought to put matters in perspective.
"In a cut and dried case like this, where there is nothing hazy or unclear in terms of actions or identities, if the system fails to deliver justice, then there is something deeply rotten in our society, our government and our country. Then we all need to look into ourselves, question our honesty as well as patriotism, and see where we have led our country to," he said in the post.
Kundu pointed to the legal recourse available in case it was found that law-enforcement agencies were not doing their job. "We will contest in the court if we feel the charges are diluted or inadequately framed," Kundu added in the post.
He explained why the family was pursuing the complaint.
"Our target is to ensure that the guilty are brought to book. They are adult men, students of law, who are fully aware of the consequences of their actions, and hence must be appropriately punished."
But he cautioned against what might snowball into a disproportionate response. "We want them to be punished for the offences they have actually committed, and awarded punishment commensurate with their culpability. Not over-punished, but definitely not under-punished either."
Against the backdrop of calls for action against Subhash Barala, the Haryana BJP president and the father of key accused Vikas, Kundu wrote: "It is unfortunate that the families of the accused have to face hardship. We do not hold them responsible for the crimes of these men."
In what appeared a plea to let the law take its course, Kundu said in the post: "We firmly believe that after 70 years of independence and democracy, the legal system of our country is mature and geared up to deliver justice.
"Dispensation of justice should not require anything from the complainant except that she speak the truth at all times, and does not back out. We promise that. The protection and prevention system of Chandigarh police works, and Varnika is alive and safe today as a proof of its working. We expect the judicial system to work just as well."
In New Delhi, an association of IAS officers described as "absolutely shocking" the stalking and demanded "exemplary and timely punishment", reports PTI.
The Indian Administrative Service (Central) Association tweeted: "Absolutely shocking. Time we made our nation a safe place for all women. Exemplary and timely punishment for offences a must."

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