VARNIKA KUNDU wrote on her Facebook page of her chilling ordeal on the night of August 4, words that could not be truer.
“I’m lucky, it seems, to not be the daughter of a common man, because what chance would they have against such VIPs? I’m also lucky, because I’m not lying raped and murdered in a ditch somewhere.”
Her presence of mind that made her dial 100, and her courage in not backing down from making a complaint and seeking a case against her tormentors that night, and the support of her family, are uncommon.
But women in most such cases are not fortunate enough to have this conjunction of circumstances.
Chandigarh has witnessed many other incidents that began as stalking and ended in gruesome crimes, including outraging the modesty of the victim in full public view, chemical attack and even a murderous attempt in recent times.
Most recently, a 15-year-old girl, who began attending a self-defence training course at Police Lines, Sector 26, narrated her horrific experience to her martial art trainer how she was stalked, chased and molested by her former house owner, Gurpreet Singh, for the last three months. The training course was specially designed for school students.
Inspector Gurjeet Kaur, incharge of Woman and Child Helpline, said, “We patiently listened to the plight of victim and were surprised to know that her tormentor, Gurpreet, had been stalking and harassing her for the last three months. When Gurpreet saw that girl did not raise her voice against him for stalking her, he got emboldened and went to the next level and molested her. We took the formal complaint from the victim and lodged an FIR at Sector 26 police station, and arrested Gurpreet, an employee of a leading jeweller of Chandigarh, in July 2017.”
Gurpreet was stalking the victim from her house to her school, at the market and whenever she took her younger brother out to a public park. The victim and her parents had been tenants of the accused for four years before they shifted to another house in Sector 28.
In another case, an estranged lover threw chemical on the two-wheeler of a female acquaintance, who had turned down his marriage request. But before that, Jatinder Singh of phase 11, Mohali, stalked his victim, an employee with a leading immigration firm for three months. Then he threw a chemical on her two-wheeler, which was parked outside her house in Sector 39, on April 19, damaging the paint on the scooter. Clearly, it was intended as a warning to the woman.
Inspector Rajdeep Singh, who interacted with the victim and interrogated the accused, said, “We slapped charges of stalking and damaging the property with the intention of creating scare in the mind of victim against Jatinder. The victim informed us that he had been stalking her for the last two months.”
This matter is under investigation and shortly a chargesheet will be submitted in a local court.
A woman police officer, who was part of the counselling team that interacted with Varnika Kundu, said, “It is a set procedure that whenever we received a complaint of stalking, molestation and other women-related crime, we always interact and counsel the victims. In a majority of cases, we observe that victims ignored the stalkers in the beginning and this emboldened the culprits to commit the crime again and in a more violent way.”
The woman police officer said that Ashok Kumar, 25, son of an ex-sarpanch of Hallomajra village near Sector 31, was arrested for molesting a student of Dev Samaj College, Sector 45, at a bus stop in full public view in February this year. After the counselling, the victim revealed that Kumar had been stalking her for 15 days from her house to college. When she finally protested, Kumar had already been emboldened enough to grab her hand and hug her at the bus stop.
Advocate Shweta Sharma practising at the district courts, Sector 43, said, “Women should not ignore stalking in the first instance. They should raise their voice at the very moment when they see they are being stalked. By doing that, they decrease the chances of further harassment in the future. A woman can easily understand someone’s bad intentions.”
Contrary to these incidents, in which victims initially ignored the stalking and later became the victims of more heinous crimes, there are many cases of women complaining immediately to the police.
SSP (UT) Eish Singhal said, “Ideally, the victims should not tolerate such behaviour and must lodge complaints in the first instance. Ignoring such behaviour of people can prove very harmful for women.”
Chandigarh has recorded about 50 cases of stalking in the last six months. As many as 95 cases were reported in 2016.
Instances of cyber stalking are also being reported in Chandigarh. Cyber expert Manpreet Singh said, “Cyber stalking covers chasing the movements of someone through his/her online status, sending repeated messages, forcing someone to meet him and even chasing someone after putting some hidden devices in the belongings of victims and in the vehicles. This offence is also covered under Section 354-D of Indian Panel Code.” Sources in Chandigarh cyber cell said, “There are several complaints about stalking through social networking sites and we forwarded these complaints to the area police stations. Only a few cases were lodged by cyber crime cell on these complaints.”