When Enakshi Kotwal, 25, got a job at an office that was a 15-minute drive from her Andheri home in July, she was elated. That is, until she started finding love notes and flowers stuck under her car’s windshield wiper.
When the amorous deliveries continued for more than a month, Kotwal knew it was not a prank. “The notes used to have descriptions of the clothes I was wearing and how I looked. I felt I was being watched all the time,” said Kotwal, a creative producer at Balaji films.
The police identified that Kotwal was being stalked by a worker at a food stall opposite her office. He was let off with a warning. Four months after the man’s arrest, Kotwal continues to feel insecure. For days, she suffered from inability to concentrate, and constant fear. “He knows me and I have seen him near my office few times after the police caught him,” said Kotwal.
Stalking, defined as a crime of obsession, is a grave concern for women. According to the Hindustan Times-Akshara survey conducted in November, 21 % of the 4,225 women interviewed said stalking was a safety concern for them.
Realising the gravity of stalking offences, countries such as the US and Australia have enacted specific anti-stalking laws (see box). In India, however, there is no specific law for stalking and such offences are filed under sections covering obscenity, outraging modesty of a woman, or criminal intimidation.
Stalking involves persistently following a person, harassing them with constant phone calls, text messages or letters. Additionally, the internet has given birth to cyber stalking, where one hounds another person with anonymous e-mails, hacking personal e-mails or creating faking profiles of a person.
Psychologists said stalkers are usually men who get obsessed about a girl, cannot take no for an answer and do not see their acts as a violation of the girl’s rights. “It is an obsessive trait where they believe that if they pursue long enough the girl will say yes,” said Dr Rajat Mitra, director of Swanchetan Society for Mental Health, New Delhi. Dr Mitra, who has studied behavioral patterns of stalkers, said that stalkers take the pursuit to a pathological level.
Nisha (name changed), 32, has been hounded by repeated calls on her cell phone from different public phones for several months now. “I do not want to change my number but I fume when he calls and says perverse things,” said Nisha, who works in a multinational company.
“When my office shifted from south Mumbai to central Mumbai, the calls started coming from local phone booths. He is somewhere around my office.” The police’s efforts to track the offender person led to a wild goose chase and despite several ‘suspects’ being questioned, the calls continue.
Apart from the fear of moving around alone, stalking victims suffer from other anxieties too. While Kotwal is still contemplating changing jobs, Nisha refuses to answer phone calls from unidentified landline numbers.
“A stalking victim is very anxious and may suffer from palpitations, headaches, lack of concentration and sleep,” said Dr Harish Shetty. “The person may feel vulnerable and that the world is watching them constantly.”
According to lawyer Veena Gowda, it is important to for families to initiate open discussions about such security threats. “When girls are not confident about sharing their experience, it isolates them making them more vulnerable.” It is advisable to contact the parents or relatives of the stalkers and take it up at that level along with police complaints, she said.
Dr. Harish Shetty said women should seek help from employers and travel in groups. “Groups of women have known to confront stalkers well,” he said.