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Bollywood style ‘love’ is toxic, unacceptable, and encroaches upon a woman’s right to consent. Criminalisation of stalking is imperative.
Stalking has been popularized by 80s Bollywood more as undying perseverance in love than sexual harassment. This crime, that is not taken very seriously by the police if a woman goes to report it, has recently come to news for terrible reasons. From the Vikas Barala incident to the tragic deaths of Karuna Kumar, Swathi, and very recently Sandhya Rani, the threat stalking poses to the lives of women has become apparent.
Women stalked in real life are not waiting to fall in love with their persistent admirer. They are being harassed, and are in danger.
Ironically, the 2013 mending of Indian penal code following the Delhi gang rape did strengthen stalking laws allowing for criminalization of stalking and prosecution. However, statistics show an increase in stalking reporting and FIRs (which I believe is not necessarily a negative – as it doesn’t signal that the incidents weren’t rampant before – just that they weren’t being reported or there was no way to report). What is negative is the fact that this number is possibly just the tip of the iceberg. Even within these numbers, very few offenders are actually prosecuted. Conviction rate for stalking continues to drop in India.
In my opinion, the reason for this is simple.
Stalking is a problem – but in a country where safety is fleeting and honour is the primary consideration – fear of the ‘worse’ dominates. Victims can’t be blamed for not coming forward or backing off until they are free of the dread of retaliation. The offence is bail-able, so the offender can be out in hours (according to NCRB data over 80% of the accused are free on bail even before charge sheet is filed). Women are understandably afraid of aggravating and escalating the situation. And their fear is real.
On working with non-profits that support acid attack victims, I was shocked to learn that in greater than 90% of the cases the assailant was known to the victim and there had been pre-warnings or indications. Rejection. Aggravation. Retaliation. The spirit of ‘teaching a lesson’ to the ‘lesser’ who have dared to complain. Unless there is criminalisation of stalking, and we can create punishments that serve as deterrent to the horrible crimes that get committed against women: gang rapes, acid attacks, murder – it is not possible to end stalking. Women will continue to live in fear, and tolerate for the most part.
The other factor to highlight in this regard is the undertone of which stalking is a manifestation. The concept of consent – especially from a woman – is not allowed much space in our society. Not to digress too much from topic, but a prime example of this is the fact that marital rape is not a crime in India. The much known and criticized Bollywood depiction of ‘love’ where a man’s pursuance and a woman’s submission is romantic, is a cliché for a reason. So when men believe it to be their right to be said yes to, and feel challenged in macho-ism on rejection, it creates this cult of systemic harassment.
Therefore to really tackle stalking India needs to:
Awareness is the first step towards a solution. We have crossed that hurdle from Chandigarh to Chennai. Our admittance now of what really needs to happen is needed to prevent continued tragic consequences.
Header image is a screen grab from the movie Bhag Milkha Bhag.