A deep-rooted predicament
Nikita Tomar’s murder by her stalker necessitates an urgent look at punishing cases of stalking more strictly
Nikita Tomar's gruesome murder in broad daylight has assumed a communal angle leading to protests and clashes in Haryana. While the right-wing coined the term, 'love jihad', find copious mentions, a discussion around the 'stalker' culture of India is sorely missing. Why is this important? In 2018, India reported a new case of stalking every 55 minutes and news reports suggest that the real number could be higher. Many of these stalkers have gone on to kill their victims as has been proven by several incidents.
Long before Tauseef shot down Nikita outside her college in Ballabgarh, there were other brutal killings perpetrated by stalkers in this year alone. A school girl from Kochi was abducted and mercilessly killed by her stalker, a college teacher in Maharashtra and another woman in Andhra Pradesh were set on fire in two separate incidents, and a 19-year-old girl and her father were shot dead in Uttar Pradesh. In 2015, a stalker stabbed a woman to death in a central Delhi market, a similar incident took place in a south Delhi market in 2017, while another woman was hacked to death in Ghaziabad in 2018; the list is endless.
In most cases, the stalkers are known to the victims and have been harassing them for many days. Despite several such nuisances leading to more serious crimes, stalking is still not considered a serious offence. The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013 may have amended the Indian Penal Code and included 'stalking' as a crime under Section 354D(1)(1) but it is still a bailable offence. In 2019, a stalker in Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh, accused of molestation got out of prison on bail, barged into his victim's house, and stabbed her 30 times. And the numbers are only rising; in 2018, 9,438 cases of stalking were reported by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB); almost double its numbers (4,699) in 2014.
When I was young, we would joke that Sting's song, 'Every Breath You Take' the quintessential stalker's anthem — "Every breath you take/And every move you make/Every bond you break, every step you take/I'll be watchin' you". While Sting and his band, Police, may not have intended to provide a song to stalkers, pop culture plays an important role in perpetuating beliefs and practices. In India, behind the crimes related to stalking, lies the problematic romanticizing of stalking in our films. The hero's pursuit of the heroine despite her disinterest, protests, and even anger is encouraged. His single-minded, dogged intention of irritating and scaring the heroine is deemed a declaration of his undying love, and is later rewarded with the heroine's love. The Sonam Kapoor-Dhanush starrer, Raanjhanaa, was one such film where following the heroine around till she relents was the standard operating procedure prescribed to men. Many other films have in part depicted the same stalker behaviour of heroes; Sultan, Tere Naam, Wanted, Besharam, etc. The concept of rejection in love also has fewer takers; jilted lovers are either angry or destructive, or both.
Dealing with stalking in real life also requires attention. Even where violence is not involved, these incidents cause deep trauma and emotional damage to the victims. There is underreporting of cases of stalking since there is a fear of retaliation. A 'Catch-22' situation if there ever was one — to report could result in an angry backlash while not reporting could pave the way for a violence in future. The police insist that only reporting cases will help reduce stalking and prevent molestation and rape, which are likely consequences. Lawyers opine that unless stalkers are adequately punished, the cases will only continue to rise. Therefore, reporting incidents of stalking early on and taking them to their legal conclusion would be paramount. In case you are being stalked, use technology to protect yourself and keep loved ones informed of your whereabouts, keep nearest police station numbers handy, and if nothing else, raise a hue and cry — that will deter your stalker. Staying silent would mean acquiescence or fear; both will only embolden him and endanger you.
The writer is an author and media entrepreneur. Views expressed are personal