• Social evil: Stalking is a ‘menace’

    “When I was in college, a guy wanted to talk to me. When I showed my disinterest, he traced my number from somewhere. He would call me non-stop through-out the day and night. He even traced my house address and would threaten me that he would come to my house at nights and would then laugh aloud after making the threat.” This is one story. And we have heard hundreds.

    There are stories of men following women with an intention to intimidate them. Some of us have even faced it. This particular incident is described by Pooja, who is a working professional today. “I was so scared of my parents and that the society would deem me a ‘characterless’ girl that I could not tell this to anyone,” she adds.

    The fear of a negative reaction from family often stops victims from reporting such incidents. But for those women who have the courage to take their stalker to task, the law does come to the rescue. Case in point is the recent Delhi Court judgement in one such case of stalking , with the court condemning the act severely and calling it a “menace”. Magistrate Susheel Bala Dagar commented that it makes the victim feel unsafe in social surroundings and breaches the victim’s right to life. The court further observed, “Stalking is a typical social crime which violates the right to life and liberty of the women in the metropolitan cities. A large percentage of Indian women have faced or are facing this menace. Whether it is a public transport system or public place or shopping malls or multiplexes, women find themselves vulnerable to the threat of stalking everywhere.”

    The condemnation came in strong words. But the sentencing did not. Dagar sentenced the accused for only seven months and 25 days of imprisonment which he had already undergone during the period of the trail. Which essentially means that he walked free post the trial. The reason cited for the reduced sentence?  Because the guilty party showed ‘genuine remorse’. The sentencing is indicative of the fact that stalking may not be treated in the same category as rape or violence against women, but the reality is that it scares the victim to the point of restricting their movements outside house and affects their mental health to extreme levels. And in that respect the punishment needs to be harsh.

    Offence: Stalking

    Stalking is a menace (Pic Courtesy: Reuters)

    The United States took a step forward in addressing the issue of stalking in 1990, with the state of California criminalizing it. In India, the law to that effect was passed as recently as 2013 and we are still in the process of analyzing the extent of the problem. Technology at our fingertips and the explosion of social media has further increased the menace, with fresh means available for stalkers to harass victims. So cyberstalking or cyberbulling is a fallout of online networking, where men have easy access to women’s profiles.

    “When Facebook had only started becoming popular in the country, I put up pictures of myself on it. I was unaware of the privacy settings and hence, was sent mean messages by boys. They sent me sexual messages and condemned me for putting out pictures. That was a really bad phase for me,” recollects Swati in a chat with SheThePeople. She is currently working as a PR professional.

    Women have had acid thrown on them, have had to contend with the threat of bodily harm by their stalkers. A recent case of stalking which turned horrific was when a 20 year old girl was burnt in Noida by the man harassing her. It’s only when severe cases like these come to light that law enforcers are forced to accept that enormity of the threat of stalking. Our contention is, why wait for things to get worse. It’s about the time we started addressing the “menace” openly,  and sending out a strong signal by punishing the guilty. Severely.

    [Feature Image Courtesy: rvap.umbc.edu]