Why We Need a Zero Tolerance Policy for Stalking as a Society
The year was 1992, I was doing my masters in English Literature from Mumbai University, located at Kalina campus. Every morning, I got off at Santacruz railway station, on the east side and went to the bus stop that would take me to the university. Sometimes I would meet other students, at others I wouldn’t.
The first time I noticed him was when he sat next to me on a bus that was empty. He was hefty, huge and must have been in his late twenties or early thirties. He spread himself out as I shrank into the seat, squashing myself up against the window. I got off at the university, he got off too. When I emerged from class, he was at the gate, waiting. I jumped into a waiting auto rickshaw and went home, terrified.
When I emerged from class, he was at the gate, waiting. I jumped into a waiting auto rickshaw and went home, terrified.
The next morning he was there again, standing behind me, muttering obscenities, touching me, on a crowded bus. I screamed for help. No one said a word. And he was there the next day. I changed my timings, got off at another railway station, had friends walk with me, but he was always there. I was terrified. I couldn’t tell my mother, it would worry her. I did what I think most girls end up doing in such a situation, I dropped out of my masters a few months before my exams, found a job in a small advertising agency as a copywriter and never went back to formal education again.
Whether this was a good thing or a bad one, I will never know. Thankfully, advertising bored the socks off me and condensing my words to fit into a box allocated by the design team was not what I felt chuffed about and I moved to journalism.
I read in the news today that the Delhi government plans to bring in an amendment to make stalking a non-bailable offence. On Women’s Day this year, Member of Parliament Shashi Tharoor proposed a bill in the Lok Sabha to make stalking a non-bailable offence.
What is stalking? According to Section 354D of Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance 2013, stalking is “To follow a woman and contact or attempt to contact such woman to foster personal interaction repeatedly despite a clear indication of disinterest by such woman or monitor the use by a woman of the internet, email or any other form of electronic communication.”
The fear of being seen as a person of ‘easy virtue’ having done something to encourage the stalker deters them from doing so.
Currently stalking is bailable on the first complaint. Under Section 354D of the IPC, there is imprisonment of up to three years for stalkers. At the ground level, many victims don’t complain, either to their families, nor to the police. The fear of being seen as a person of ‘easy virtue’ having done something to encourage the stalker deters them from doing so. Often, the stalker is let off with just a warning, if at all the victim and her family do indeed go to the police. If a stalker is arrested and let off on bail, he more often than not physically harms the girl for daring to complain about him. Often, the girl pays with her life. Sometimes, fed up with the harassment, the girl takes her own life.
The other day I read about a girl, aged 17, who committed suicide fed up of being stalked by a 20 year old from the same locality. She was in Class 12 and she wanted to join the IPS. On March 9, a 20 year old from Chennai had her throat slit by her stalker who wanted to marry her and had been turned down. She had complained to the police on Feb 16, he was let off after a warning. No FIR was filed. A little less than a month later, he killed her, slitting her throat in a public place filled with bystanders, who thankfully thrashed him and handed him over to the police. As I write this, a news channel feed on Twitter informs me that a minor girl has been set ablaze by a stalker. Nothing has changed from 1996, where Priyadarshini Muttoo was raped and killed by her stalker, or from 2012 when Geetika Sharma committed suicide, fed up of the stalking and harassment by politician Gopal Kanda.
For most stalkers, the territory of stalking comes with the impunity of knowing that they will get away with it. Most girls don’t complain when it begins. The fear is that they will be harmed if they escalate it, that they will be blamed for somehow inviting the attention, that it will cause trouble. The stalker gets bolder, the mindset assumes that their decision of wanting a girl’s affection is the full and final of it all, as they say, and that the girl has completely no agency of her own to refuse their attentions. And dare a girl refuse to entertain the man, or even a boy as the cases seem to show these days with the ages of the perpetrators sometimes not even over 18, he does not even pause to think before attacking her with a weapon, killing her, or maiming her for life with an acid attack. For years, we’ve had a steady spate of news reports of countless anonymous girls, and some who are named in the reports, who have been attacked, burnt, hacked to death, had acid flung on them, raped, killed, all because they have had the temerity to reject the proclamations of ‘love’ from an unwanted suitor. All relegated to anonymous statistics in a nation where gender violence against women is more the norm than the exception.
For years, we’ve had a steady spate of news reports of countless anonymous girls, and some who are named in the reports, who have been attacked, burnt, hacked to death, had acid flung on them, raped, killed, all because they have had the temerity to reject the proclamations of ‘love’ from an unwanted suitor.
Stalking is dangerous. It comes from the dark, dank place where men have no concept of what romance entails, which should begin with consent. The entitlement which the patriarchy endows these men means they do not even consider that a woman might not want their attentions, they delude themselves into believing that a woman, or a girl, has no right to refuse their ‘love’. Only in a culture that promotes the ‘hansi toh phansi’ model of wooing, will stalking be seen as a legitimate form of courtship.
Stalking though, is not something that only women undergo, to be fair. Men, too, have been victims of stalking, the online space making it even easier to access and harass a person. There have been instances of men being stalked as well, cases that make it into the media and lesser known cases where the men deal with it the best they can.
Stalking sadly, has been glorified in popular culture. In movies like Darr and Anjaam, Shah Rukh Khan played a demented stalker who would go to extremes in order to get the woman he is fixated on. In Fatal Attraction, Glenn Close made Michael Douglas’s life a living hell. A later movie, Obsessed had Idris Elba play the victim of an obsessed female stalker. In popular Indian cinema, stalking is normalised as an integral part of wooing and romance, making it the only way some men think they can woo a woman. Will popular culture and cinema take a good hard look at what it portrays and accept the kind of damage it does?
Stalking needs to get recognised for what it is, a dangerous form of violence against women, which compels girls and women to renegotiate how they must navigate the world outside the home, and have perpetrators draw punishment from law enough to prove a deterrent to anyone who might think he would escape any severity of punishment. We owe this to all the girls who have dropped out of school to avoid their stalkers, the girls who have taken their lives to end the harassment, and those who have been attacked, raped and killed by their stalkers, because they feel entitled to enforce their unwanted attentions.
Kiran Manral is Ideas Editor at SheThePeople.TV