Stalking cases on the rise, conviction isn’t | india-news | Hindustan Times
Today in New Delhi, India
Sep 19, 2017-Tuesday
-°C
New Delhi
  • Humidity
    -
  • Wind
    -

Stalking cases on the rise, conviction isn’t

The number of stalking cases have risen from the time it was acknowledged as a crime in 2013. Their delayed trial and the attitude of treating it as a minor crime, however, demoralises its already traumatised victims.

india Updated: Oct 02, 2016 10:22 IST
According to the annual National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) report for 2015  released this week, Maharashtra has the highest number of stalking complaints in the country. Delhi is second.
According to the annual National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) report for 2015 released this week, Maharashtra has the highest number of stalking complaints in the country. Delhi is second. (Illustration: Sudhir Shetty)

When she came home to find a neatly-wrapped box at her apartment door, Nidhi*, a lawyer by profession, thought a close friend had sent an early birthday present. The card read, “Jaanu, you’ll enjoy this,” and the box contained bath salts from Forest Essentials, a brand she regularly used.

“It looked like the work of someone who knew me,” she says. But, neither her parents nor her best friend had sent it. This was scary for Nidhi, who had moved from Pune to New Delhi in 2013 after graduating from Symbiosis University. “It frightened me that someone knew intimate details like my bath products.”

According to the annual National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) report for 2015 released this week, Maharashtra has the highest number of stalking complaints in the country (see graph). Delhi is second.

A 34 year-old man was arrested in northern Mumbai in September for allegedly stalking a minor and pressuring her to marry him. The accused, Avinash Borgues, is unemployed and had allegedly been stalking the 17 year-old since January. He would follow her from her school to her house in Bhayander every day, in an attempt to convince her to marry him. Borgues would follow her around on a motorcycle and would intercept her even when she was with a group of friends. The harassment went on for months. The family even shifted homes to shake him off. But he traced her and stopped her on the road threatening to abduct her if she continued rejecting his advances. The matter ended with his arrest.

Nidhi wasn’t so lucky. The trauma continues for victims who face police apathy. After she started receiving text messages on her phone (“Jaanu, kya kar rahe ho,” “Meri Jaan, thinking of u,”), Nidhi approached the police. The matter was serious – the stalker had her mobile number. “I thought he has sent me his number, the police will catch him now,” she says. Cops registered her complaint, but “one officer said, ‘yeh toh hota rehta hai. Koi Romeo hoga, ignore kardo. (This keeps happening. It must be some Romeo, just ignore him.)”

Since 2013, when the offence of stalking was introduced in the Criminal Amendment Act, the number of FIRs being filed has been rising. Though the NCRB did not report data for Section 354D Indian Penal Code in 2013, it said 346 FIRs were pending investigation by cops in the beginning of 2014. Thereafter, 4,699 stalking cases were registered in that year, and 6,266 FIRs were registered in 2015. This number is just the tip of the iceberg, say experts.

On the defensive

“Most women do not come forward. To avoid a stalker, they may change their route of travel or they may change jobs,” says advocate Vrinda Grover. That the stalker picked Nidhi was not a coincidence, says Grover. “The targets are picked for their vulnerability. The accused will see if you are a non-resident of the city, if you’re living by yourself, or you don’t have roots in the community, as these things help in creating protective buffers.”

For seven months after registering her FIR, Nidhi took “chakkars” of the police station. The situation worsened after she replied “F**K YOU* to one message. “Maa-bahen ki gaalis starting coming,” she recalls. Nidhi changed her number. “I had peace for two weeks,” she says. More packages arrived at her apartment. This time they were filled with faeces. Nidhi became withdrawn and depressed during that period, her friends recall.

Eight months after she filed a complaint, Nidhi was jumped from behind inside her apartment complex. She screamed. Residents from the complex came to her rescue. They got the man off Nidhi after some struggle. The assailant was the guard himself. “It made sense then: that’s how he knew me so well,” she says.

Someone you know

Most victims know their stalkers, says Pune-based advocate Shilpi Jain. “In many cases, the relationship has ended but the man won’t move on, or the accused is someone the victim could identify but doesn’t necessarily know well,” she says.

For 24-year-old HR executive Shreya*, it all started when she was 13. Rohan,* a couple of years older than her, lived in the same housing society in the western suburbs of Mumbai. They even went to the same school. The two would end up walking back from the bus stop to their homes at the same time, and Rohan would try to strike up a friendship. “I was naive, but I tried to give him clear signals that I wasn’t interested,” says Shreya. “One day, weeks later, I found him was standing on the parapet of the school balcony, threatening to jump if I did not talk to him. School teachers got involved and he was let off with a warning.” Rohan got off the balcony but that didn’t end his infatuation with Shreya. He continued to follow her around for almost four years. He would be at the colony gate when she stepped out of her home and when she got back. “He once carved my name on his hand with a sharp instrument,” she recalls. Then the lies began. “He would cook up stories about a traumatic childhood to gain my sympathy,” Shreya says.

Read: Infosys employee stabbed to death by ‘stalker’

By the time she turned 16, the harassment had got out of hand. Rohan had started threatening Shreya’s boyfriend at the time. He also gave her an obscene card for Valentine’s Day. Shreya eventually confided in her mother, who immediately approached Rohan’s parents. Although Rohan did stop lurking, he was back to stalking her again a year ago after his mother died. “This time I told him I would not tolerate another round of harassment and file a case against him. He has not tried to contact me since,” she says.

Arrests are a deterrent for sure, but in many cases, stalkers get bail right away. According to NCRB data, over 80 per cent of the people accused under Section 354D Indian Penal Code are given bail before the chargesheet is filed. While experts agree that bail is a right, many say the offence of stalking needs to be seen in a different light. “There should be a psyche evaluation of the accused or an objective method of deciding if his behaviour can escalate,” points out Jain.

Delhi-based criminal lawyer Ashish Dixit, who is currently representing ex-TERI chief RK Pachauri in the stalking and molestation case against him, says that stalking almost always escalates. “I have not come across a single FIR dealing just with stalking. It is always a composite allegation.”

Police are required to register complaints of stalking. Chargesheets are filed in court for over 95 per cent of the stalking complaints, NCRB data shows. But, Delhi Police Public Relations Officer Taj Hassan says, “Many cases are pending before courts waiting to be tried.”

On an average, 88 per cent of stalking cases are pending for longer than a year, as per NCRB data. In 2014, 91 per cent of cases were awaiting hearing and 84 per cent cases were pending in 2015.

The conviction rate for stalking cases continues to fall across India. In 2015, 26 per cent of stalking cases ended in a conviction, which is even lower than the previous year when only 35 per cent of cases ended in a conviction. Hassan says the number will improve once the court starts disposing cases faster. He adds, “Many of the victims turn hostile, even after giving their statement before the magistrate and then the whole case unravels.” Asked if this was related to the high number of stalking accused who get bail, or the lack of victim protection, the PRO refused to comment further.

Read: Woman stabbed to death over 20 times on busy street

A year and half into fighting what she describes as “pure mental torture,” Nidhi is considering reaching a compromise and moving back to Pune. The September 20 incident in Delhi’s Burari district plays on her mind too (A 21-year-old woman was stabbed 28 times by a stalker. In that case, police said a previous complaint by the deceased against her assailant had ended in a compromise). Nidhi’s stalker is out on bail. “I came to know recently that he is working nearby... I don’t know if I can fight more. It might be safer to go home.”

Grover says that stalking cases should finish within two months of the charges being filed. “Until this is done and there is speedy justice, we will not see an improvement in the conviction figures,” Grover says. She adds, “It’s seen as a minor offence because we don’t hear the voice of the woman and what it meant to her and whether its effect will be long lasting.”

BOX

The Law on Stalking

What is the law?

The offence of stalking was added to the Indian Penal Code in 2013 along with a host of laws to curb violence against women.

According to the law, any man who follows, contacts, tries to foster an interaction with, or monitors a woman could be charged with stalking. A single incident of such behaviour, once the woman has clearly expressed her disinterest, can result in the aggressor being charged under section 354D IPC, ie stalking.

The accused must prove their conduct was justified.

The statute’s wording, which specifies “man” instead of a gender neutral accused for the offence of stalking, has come under heavy fire. However, National Crime Records Bureau data shows that law enforcement is also charging women, thus broadening the scope of the section. In 2015, 78 women were charged with stalking.

What is the punishment?

Stalking attracts a maximum of five years jail time. The court can also fine the accused.

Do not ignore stalking. It often escalates into heinous crimes such as rape, murder and acid attacks. Some recent cases:

Bhopal, May 2015: A 20-year-old college gym teacher was attacked with acid by a stalker. The victim and accused were known to each other and she was being harassed by the accused, her family said.

Mumbai, May 2013: A 23-year-old nurse was stalked, attacked with acid and murdered by a 45-year-old man at the Bandra terminus. The motive, police said, was that the woman had rejected the man’s marriage proposal.

Chennai, June, 2016: A 24- year-old Infosys employee was stabbed to death in Chennai in broad daylight in a crowded train station. The accused had been stalking her on social media.

New Delhi, September 2016: In September 2016, in Burari, a 21-year-old woman was stabbed 28 times by a stalker who was known to her. Earlier this year, she had filed a complaint against the accused, but that ended in a compromise at the time.

New Delhi, September 2016: A 16-year-old girl from the capital’s Jahangipuri district was threatened with an acid attack by her neighbour against whom she had filed a stalking complaint.

Mumbai, May 2013: A 23-year-old nurse was stalked, attacked with acid and murdered by a 45-year-old man at the Bandra terminus. The motive, police said, was that the woman had rejected the man’s marriage proposal.

Chennai, June, 2016: A 24- year-old Infosys employee was stabbed to death in Chennai in broad daylight in a crowded train station. The accused had been stalking her on social media.

New Delhi, September 2016: In September 2016, in Burari, a 21-year-old woman was stabbed 28 times by a stalker who was known to her. Earlier this year, she had filed a complaint against the accused, but that ended in a compromise at the time.

New Delhi, September 2016: A 16-year-old girl from the capital’s Jahangipuri district was threatened with an acid attack by her neighbour against whom she had filed a stalking complaint.

(With Inputs from Anesha George)
* Names changed on request