Women in India are sharing photos of themselves out after midnight in protest against a male politician who blamed a young female stalking victim for being out "late in the night”.
Varnika Kundu said in a Facebook post that two men chased and almost kidnapped her after midnight on Saturday while she was driving home in Chandigarh, northern India. The two men followed her in their vehicle before blocking her off, approaching her car on foot and banging on her windows with the aim of getting inside.
“They seemed to really be enjoying harassing a lone girl in the middle of the night, judging by how often their car swerved, just enough to scare me that it might hit me,” she wrote in the post, adding that the men drove alongside her for around five or six kilometres while "bullying" her to stop.
Kundu said she was "in a full-blown panic attack... because they would keep trying to corner me". "My hands shaking, my back spasming from fear, half in tears, half bewildered, because I didn't know if I'd make it home tonight. Who knew when, or if, the cops would show up." She said she felt lucky she wasn't "lying raped and murdered in a ditch somewhere”.
Responding to the incident, Ramveer Bhatti, the area vice president of the Bharatiya Janata party (BJP), claimed it wouldn't have happened if Kundu hadn't been out so late at night, The Times of India reported. “The girl should not have gone out at 12 in the night,” he opined. “Why was she driving so late in the night? The atmosphere is not right. We need to take care of ourselves.”
He then took Kundu's parents to task. “Parents must take care of their children. They shouldn’t allow them to roam at night. Children should come home on time, why stay out at night?” he added.
Bhatti's victim-blaming comments sparked understandable fury in women on social media and they began sharing defiant photos of themselves out late at night under the hashtag #AintNoCinderella.
Kundu and her father defended themselves after Bhatti's rebuke, telling news broadcaster NDTV that his claims were evidence of a “well-established tactic” designed to intimidate and prevent her from pursuing justice.
“I’m supposed to be wondering about what this is going to do to my image and my life. But what would those guys have done to my life if they had caught me?" she asked. “What I do and where I go and at what time I do it is my business.”
Sexual violence against women is a huge problem in India, with several devastating cases of rape and sexual assault gaining worldwide attention in recent years. Around 40,000 incidents of rape occur in the country every year, but the real figure is thought to be much higher due to victims' fears over reporting the crime.