Last month, a Delhi toddler was kidnapped, doused in acid and dumped in a bin by a man who his mother claims was stalking her. Most of us remember the case of Priyadarshini Mattoo, a law student who was found dead at her uncle’s house. Her senior, Santosh Kumar Singh, who had been stalking her for years, was the main accused. Later, it was revealed Santosh, the son of an IPS officer, strangled her with a wire around her neck. He smacked her face many times with a helmet making her face unrecognisable. Of late incidents of stalking and crimes against women are on the rise across the country.
More recently Bengaluru has seen a spate of molestations. Jyothi Kumari, a 27-year-old advocate was killed last week. Two months ago, she had complained to the police about B .Madhu, who had been stalking her for the last four years before he finally ended her life.
Stalking — the obsessive pursuit of an indifferent object — has been dangerously palmed off as undying love in the popular imagination. Many Bollywood heroes have married the women they have stalked and followed obsessively on the screen. Great literature has collaborated in confusing the categories for us. Robert Browning’s poem “Porphyria’s Lover” — a telling misnomer — is a case in point. Women who have been stalked have sometimes been known to admit that although it was frightening, there was a way in which they felt indispensable to the stalker, something they had never experienced. There is something compelling about this act that so successfully masquerades hate as love.
The stalker as we see it, is someone who persists in the face of rejection; unable to accept humiliating reality. Stalking is then sustained through a delusion that persistence is the virtue that will get its reward; not an unusual delusion in itself. Much proverbial wisdom relies upon such delusions! But what stalking does is that it erases otherness, it strips the ‘pursued’ of subjectivity and renders the ‘desired’ to a mere object. But while this is the effect, in the imagination this stalked object is a potent and even dangerous, titillating object: whose mastery makes ungovernable desire more governable. We only need to recall Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho to revive this connection between unmanageable emotions and psychopathic behaviour.
But not all these stalkers are crazed, lonely figures. Some of these incidents from Bengaluru were group assaults on women. Between 2 to 5 men collaborated in some of these incidents. There is a thrill in group crime which seems to promise safety. There is also a homoerotic bond here that takes violent delight in inflicting pain on women. It is in fact the ultimate act of misogyny that seals the male bond: it refutes the possibility of heterosexual love by splitting the sexual so frighteningly from tenderness.
This particular kind of sadism is really brought home in the case of the Bengaluru stalker who assaulted a woman and bit her tongue in the Koramangala area of the city. He also allegedly grabbed her, biting her lips and tongue. This vicious, oral attack is so primitive that we can no longer pretend that this is about love or desire; it is in fact an unmistakable regression to an even earlier state than that of the group described earlier. However both forms of regression identify women as dangerous carriers of otherness and if - consumed, bitten, destroyed, or burned- can allow these endangered men to survive.
So is there a sudden spurt in these incidents? It is difficult to tell whether these are more visible or whether violence itself has gone up. It seems dubious to argue that people are more vicious, but perhaps there is more ready access to both instruments and reports of violence. It seems reasonable to conjecture that since women are more visible in the public domain, our rigidly binarised culture makes them more convenient carriers of hate.
Nilofer Kaul is a teacher and a psychoanalystViews expressed are personal