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7 Aug 2017

'Can't let fear take over us' - Woman who got pursuers caught speaks out

Left: Vikas Barala, son of BJP leader Subhash Barala; Right: Varnika Kundu
Nefertiti Biswas, TT, Aug. 6: Varnika Kundu, the 29-year-old music producer and disc jockey who showed the presence of mind to call police and thwart her pursuers in Chandigarh on Friday night, has said she and her family are not letting "fear take over us". 
The following are excerpts from a telephone interview on Sunday evening with Varnika, who said she had no problem being named in this article: 
Q: What happened on Friday night? 
Varnika: My car was parked in Sector 8. I just went from my home to take the car. Next morning, I was supposed to go to Delhi. I was talking to a friend over the phone when I found two drunk guys chasing me in a white SUV.
This started around 12.15am. I told my friend the number of the car and I hung up. After that, I called police while speeding away from them. The car tried to block me time and again. They followed me for 15 to 20 minutes for around 6km, constantly bullying me.
When my car stopped at a traffic signal, one of the men jumped out and tried to enter my car. I kept my cool but I had a paralysing fear at the back of my mind. Had this not been a question of life and death, I would not have been able to pull through.
(The police later identified the suspects as Vikas Barala, son of Haryana BJP chief Subhash Barala, and his friend Ashish Kumar. They were arrested and released on bail. Haryana chief minister and BJP leader Manohar Lal Khattar has said Subhash "Barala cannot be punished for his son's crime. Police investigation is on and if he [Vikas] is found guilty, he will be punished according to the provisions of law.")
Q: What happened once you reached home?
Varnika: I left the area as soon as the police caught them at the traffic signal. I had just reached home when I was called and told to reach the police station to lodge a complaint. I waited outside my home and called my father. He came and we reached the police station around 1.15am.
Q: How long were you there?
Varnika: We were there for around four hours till 5am.... We lodged our complaint. The police officers were extremely helpful.
Q: What are the charges against the duo?
Varnika: I have left it entirely to Chandigarh police to decide what charges they want to file and what charges they want to withdraw. I don't know much about the law and sections of the IPC. I have full faith in the system. I was called to the police station to narrate the incident and have done so. The rest, I have left it to them....
(The police said the two suspects had been charged with drunken driving and stalking, for which bail can be obtained from the police station. Some political parties and others have said the two should be charged with attempt to kidnap since Varnika had said one of them tried to enter the car. The charges invoked now carry a maximum punishment of three years in jail for first-time offenders while a kidnap attempt can attract seven years' imprisonment. "Investigation is still on. We are seeking legal opinion before slapping further charges," a police officer said.)
Q: Were you drunk? (This question was asked because a social media user who identified himself as Kuldeep Barala claimed that she was drunk, there was no harassment and it was a case of a minor collision.)
Varnika: No, I was not drunk. I was with the cops for almost four hours. Had they suspected that I was drunk, wouldn't they have sent me for medical tests? Moreover, if any woman is drunk, that doesn't give a right to these men to harass and do what they have done.
Q: Did you or your family have any hesitation in filing the police complaint?
Varnika: No, my family was very supportive. We felt that this should not go unreported.
Q: Did you expect to find out that it would be someone so influential?
Varnika: Not at all. We just thought that two drunken men were chasing and harassing me in the middle of the night. I didn't know who they were or what their background was.
Q: When did you get to know that it was the BJP chief's son?
Varnika: Only the next morning. From some WhatsApp messages and from the news.
Q: Did you see the two men or their families at the police station?
Varnika: The guys were there in the police station. They were sent for medical tests. Their families were not there.
Q: Has anyone in the BJP called to express regret?
Varnika: No. There was no official statement or call from anyone from the BJP expressing regret.
Q: What are your family and friends saying?
Varnika: My friends and family are glad that I have made it. All of us are surprised that the episode got so big and drew national attention.
When I wrote my Facebook post, I just wanted to share my experience with the people who are on my friend list.
I wanted to tell my friends what I had gone through in Chandigarh, which is considered one of the safer cities in India. I didn't even know then who the people behind it were or that the issue would become so big.
Q: How has the past one day been?
Varnika: I have spent the past one day in trauma. I have never been so afraid in my whole life. In the past few years since the Nirbhaya incident, we feel that women are not safe in our country.
Q: How do your mother and sister feel?
Varnika: My mother is in Chandigarh. My sister is in Delhi. They are as shocked as I am. But they are relieved that I could come out safe from that situation. We are not letting this fear take over us.
Much worse could have happened. My family is supportive. I cannot let the fear dictate my life and lead a traumatised life.
Q: Will it be tough for a government official to pursue charges against the son of a senior leader of the ruling party?
Varnika: It's tough to go against anyone. But I think being the daughter of an IAS officer makes it much easier. Had it been any common man, it would have been much more difficult. My father has not faced any pressure from anyone and has got support from his friends and colleagues.
Additional reporting by Arnab Ganguly in Chandigarh

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