A young woman who had been relentlessly stalked was killed in broad daylight in a crowded metro station on Gurgaon. In another case a teacher was stabbed with a pair of scissors in full public view by her stalker. It was not as though she did not act when the stalking assumed threatening proportions, her family had caught hold of the stalker and even complained to the police. No one did anything, and the family concluded that the man was after harmless, that he would stop. In the metro station killing the victim had complained about the stalker. He backed off for a while only to come back with renewed vengeance and killed the woman, stabbing her over 30 times until someone hit him over the head. It was too late by then.
In Madhya Pradesh, a man pulled a tribal girl off a bus, doused her in petrol and then stabbed her to death as passengers watched , unable or unwilling to help. These are just incidents that have taken place recently. Stalking, as I mentioned last week, is a crime which is not taken seriously by the police even though the Indian Penal Code has been amended to include stalking in crimes against women. The fact that it is taken as a harmless male pastime is seen from the remark made by JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav in the Lok Sabha in 2013 during a debate on the anti-rape bill. He said, “We have all stalked women. You have to take the first step when you want to speak to a woman. A woman will never approach you. Men have to try on our own and have to talk to her with love. This is the story of the entire country. We have experienced it ourselves. We all have gone through that age, don’t forget…Romance will die out now. If a boy doesn’t look at a girl or follow her, how can romance happen?”
Popular culture, mainly Hindi cinema, romanticises stalking. The premise in such sequences is that no means yes. And this is validated when the heroine after valiantly fending off the hero’s attentions which may include songs, pulling at her clothes, embarrassing her in public places and macho talk on the phone, gives in and falls in love with the offender. Regional cinema is no better, the hero often following the heroine, peeping into aspects of her life like a voyeur. Some of the most vulgar language and creepy stalking passing off as romance I have ever seen have been in southern films.
It is passing strange that the censors are loath to show any intimacy but seem quite content with such practices been seen as legitimate pursuit of a women even though there is a strong element of coercion and violence in it.
Stalking should never be mistaken as a sign of flattery, it is a serious crime and the offender cannot be taken lightly. Most often, the stalker does not back off, instead he is offended by any rejection by the woman and he extracts revenge. In the Gurgaon murder, the killer was offended that the woman in question did not leave her husband and marry him. Cyber stalking is also becoming a problem with men who feel thwarted trying to publicly shame the victim or threaten her in various ways. There have been instances of women committing suicide over cyber stalkers putting out information or pictures of them on the Net.
The problem is that as long as the stalker is making a nuisance of himself but not actually committing any violent act, the police tend to dismiss this as a case of unrequited love or just the usual ‘boys will be boys’. While the punishment can go up to 10 years for stalking, look at what a former home minister, the irrepressible Sushil Kumar Shinde, said about stalking. “Mistakes can happen. We will forgive you the first time, but we will punish you the second time.” What is the message the stalker gets? That he is not committing a terrible crime. He will be given a second chance.
But the good news is that now there are helplines to counsel stalked women and also to collaborate with the police to trace numbers from which offenders call. But there only a small number of women in urban areas who either know about these or can access them. The cases of stalking are going up. In 2015 there were 1,124 reported cases of stalking in Delhi, topped only by Maharashtra with 1,399. Poor law enforcement is to blame but so is public apathy. A stalked woman is often seen as somehow responsible for her plight and in the case of those who lost their lives in public attacks, people chose not to intervene until it was too late.