In one of the best scenes in Shoojit Sircar’s new film PINK, lawyer Deepak Sehgal (played by Amitabh Bachchan) tells a court that most men in this patriarchal country don’t understand that when a woman says ‘no’ to any sexual overture, she means ‘no’, and a man — a friend, boyfriend or husband — must respect that decision. On Tuesday, India got a rude reminder of this inability to take ‘no’ for an answer: A man stabbed a 22-year-old schoolteacher more than 20 times on a busy road in north Delhi. Police said the assailant claimed to be in love with the woman for more than a year but she had turned down his marriage proposals. The ‘No’ enraged the man, who began to stalk the woman. The victim had informed her family about the harassment and a complaint was lodged. Both were called to the police station and advised to “compromise” as her family members did not want to file an FIR after the man promised to mend his ways.
That stalking is not a crime and can be brushed under the carpet is evident from the fact that since 2015 the National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) has started recording it separately after the law was changed two years ago. Delhi ranks second among the states in terms of the number of stalking cases registered. Of the 6,266 complaints under stalking — Section 354D of the Indian Penal Code — 1,124 were from the Union Territory of Delhi. In August, Delhi Commission for Women chief Swati Maliwal wrote a letter to the Union home ministry, pointing out the high rate of stalking crimes. Though Delhi is right there on the top of the heap on gender crimes, stalking-related violence is a pan-Indian phenomenon. In June, a 24-year-old woman working for Infosys was hacked to death on a railway platform in Chennai, allegedly by a man who had followed her for months. But data always does not reveal the full story because many stalking cases go unreported since many perceive stalking as a harmless activity, and not a crime that can lead to a jail term.
This view that stalking is harmless is gaining ground due to inaction on the part of society and the police. Parents often don’t want to lodge a complaint against a harasser due to shame, social pressure and a long-winded legal process; and policemen often think a “compromise” is the solution. Sometimes such cases are hushed up till they end in a fatality. It’s time both realised that stalking is not a ‘petty’ crime. It is a form of gender violence and cannot be resolved through mere compromises. An FIR needs to be filed against a stalker when a complaint is lodged.