The prevalence and physical and mental ramifications of stalking have prompted activists to demand a specific law to deal with the same. Lawyers said that in the absence of such a law, the crime often goes unpunished and unreported.
This is particularly worrying given that there is already an apprehension about registering police complaints, even with regard to street sexual harassment. According to the HT-Akshara survey, only 4% of the women surveyed reported sexual harassment to police, and only 3% reported it on a help line.
“We need stronger laws on stalking. The Indian Penal Code is 150 years old and certain laws have not kept up with the changing times,” said Himanshu Roy, joint commissioner of police (crime). He added that the more recent Information Technology Act makes cyber stalking a punishable offence.
Currently, sections such as outraging modesty of a woman (section 354), criminal intimidation (sections 507, 509) of the Indian Penal Code and certain sections of the Bombay Police Act and Indian Railways Act pertaining to obscenity in public places are used to deal with stalking. These are all bailable offences.
“Stalking is not seen as serious offence though it can have a serious psychological impact on the victim,” said Vijay Raghavan, a criminologist from Tata Institute of Social Sciences.
In 2008, in a petition involving the then joint commissioner of police Meeran Borwankar and an alleged woman stalker, the Bombay high court had observed the need for an anti stalking law. “…We agree with the learned advocate general that if a person is continuously harassed by SMSs and letters, … there should be some law against such behavior,” said a division bench of justice Bilal Nazki and justice A Kumbhakoni.
However, not everyone supports this demand. “Instead of asking for more laws one should implement the existing laws better,” said Shirish Inamdar, retired additional municipal commissioner of Mumbai police. “Social evils such as male chauvinism and reluctance of families to come forward to register complaints are making women weaker,” he said.