As a new year begins, the world of internet informs us of a significant news. As with every year since 2014,, the Stalking Resource Center of the National Center for Victims of Crime, continues its partnership with the Office on Violence Against Women, U.S. Department of Justice, in observing National Stalking Awareness Month each January. To go back into the timeline of events, NSAM began in response to a 2003 call to the Stalking Resource Center from the sister of a murdered stalking victim, who wanted to transform her family’s painful tragedy, and wanted to help improve law enforcement’s response to stalking. Along with several subsequent events which followed, to raise awareness about stalking and its serious implications, the following January, the National Center for Victims of Crime launched the first observance of National Stalking Awareness Month and supported communities across the nation in planning the event.
In simple words, a stalker can be someone you know well or not at all. Most have dated or been involved with the people they stalk. A large number of stalking cases involve men stalking women, but a stalker can be anyone, regardless of identity. While NSAM is specific to the United States of America, stalking is a sad reality across the world, particularly in India. After the December 2012 Nirbhaya Gang Rape case, in response to public demand, stalking along with a host of laws was added to the Indian Penal Code in 2013. 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 expressed her disinterest, can result in the aggressor being charged under section 354D IPC, ie stalking. In the first six months of 2017, 203 men have been arrested for stalking while 259 cases were registered. In the recent 2016 statistics, as per National Crime Records Bureau, amongst all South Indian metros, Hyderabad registered 74 cases, and a stalker was arrested every day in Delhi.
With the advent of internet, and its presence in the lives of millions, cyber harassment, and cyber stalking is now more real than ever. While there are no specific laws to deal with this crime, the most used provision for regulating cyber stalking in India is section 72 of the Indian information technology act ( Amended) , 2008 which runs as follows;
Section 72: Breach of confidentiality and privacy: Save as otherwise provided in this Act or any other law for the time being in force, any person who, in pursuant of any of the powers conferred under this Act, rules or regulations made there under, has secured access to any electronic record, book, register, correspondence, information, document or other material without the consent of the person concerned discloses such electronic record, book, register, correspondence, information, document or other material to any other person shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine which may extend to one lakh rupees, or with both.
While legal frameworks do exist, what makes stalking a particularly difficult crime to deal with in India, is the societal attitudes towards it. For decades, our popular culture, especially our cinema, has glorified stalking as an accepted way to impress women, and in turn trivialized the seriousness of it as a crime. In 2017, the socially significant film “Toilet Ek Prem Katha”, which spoke of open defecation, had a song ‘Hans Mat Pagli’ dedicated to the hero stalking the heroine, who eventually marries him. Similarly movies like Badrinath Ki Dulhania, Raanjhana, and many more from across India, have repeatedly perpetuated the sequence of the hero relentlessly pursuing a girl, who although initially rejects his advances, eventually relents and falls in love. In a sensational case from Australia in 2015, an Indian man, Sandesh Baliga, accused of stalking two women in Tasmania, argued that he believed the patient pursuit of a woman would make her fall in love with him since that’s what he’d seen in Bollywood films. Recently, popular comedy collective All India Bakchod, released a video on this topic, and made many think about popular songs and scenes, which have made stalking an acceptable act.
At Centre for Social Research, we pledge to begin this new year, by participating in the National Stalking Awareness Month in India, by raising awareness on the heinous nature of stalking, in physical and online spaces. While our projects #SocialSurfing, #Tweesurfing and Safe Cities do address this problem from different perspectives, we still feel that a focused discussion and engagement on this issue is the need of the hour. Throughout this month, we hope to engage with policy makers, civil society organizations and people from all sections of society, on the perception of stalking and what can be done at the practical level to deal with this serious issue.