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Stalking — physical or electronic via phone calls, text messages or emails — is now a criminal offence, punishable with one to three years in jail.
The provision is part of the law that came into force after President Pranab Mukherjee on February 3 signed an ordinance, which widened the scope and ambit of the laws dealing with sexual violence against women.
The ordinance included a number of recommendations of the Justice JS Verma panel, set up in the aftermath of the Delhi gang rape to suggest changes in the law for quicker trial and harsher punishment for offences against women.The panel said "offences such as stalking, voyeurism and eve-teasing are perceived as minor offences, but if not checked, these lead to a growing culture towards serious offences like rape".
The panel, which submitted its report on January 23, called for immediate curb on the misuse of technology for harassing women.
Stalking no longer means just causing distress to someone by following the person or forcibly interacting with them. It now also includes unwanted telephone calls, sending derogatory SMSes or emails that “disturb the peace of mind of any individual”.
Those guilty of these offences will also have to pay hefty fines.
"Whoever monitors the use by a person of the internet, email or any other form of electronic communication that results in a fear of violence, or interferes with the mental peace of such person, commits the offence of stalking," says the Indian Penal Code.
Misuse of electronic communication to harass someone and hacking into someone's email account would be a criminal offence as well, said a government official.