No More Roadside Romeos: Is Stalking A Tragedy In The Making?

The discussion on women's safety is incomplete without addressing stalking. When will India realize that without strict laws, stalking is a tragedy in the making?

The discussion on women’s safety is incomplete without addressing stalking. When will India realize that without strict laws, stalking is a tragedy in the making?

How many of us in our teenage years have been subjected to stalking, teasing, fishy characters following us, passing remarks about us, groping, pinching, etc. on the way to school, the market, coaching class, park and so on?

I bet the answer will be an alarmingly high 80-90%.

I emphasize the growing years, although it does happen in later years as well, because this is the age that shapes our attitudes, our inner strength, the way we face similar situations later in life. When we are uncertain, and look to other people to solve our problems for us.

In some form or the other, we have developed into fearful, unsafe, uncertain, attention-deflecting persons. Does not matter if we are wearing an all enveloping dress or as short skirt, we need a bag to cover our front, huddled to make ourselves smaller, pointy elbows ready at the side, looking over our shoulder, ready to walk at a running pace – a stance that becomes an armour, without second thought.

As the clock ticks and twilight approaches, we do get worried about our return home. Especially, if the route takes us past a badly lit locality with persons of questionable characters lurking in the vicinity.

Suicide due to stalking

This week, two teenage girls in Haryana, Nikita and Madhu, committed suicide by consuming poison.

Venue – their coaching class.

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Reason – they were being stalked.

The stalkers? – Some young men of the vicinity who were following them ( on two wheelers, at times), as they left the coaching class.

Action taken – some boys have been arrested now, after the suicides

Had they complained to their parents? Hell, yes!

Had the parents complained to the police? No!

Did these girls -who committed suicide – not do any of the things that could deflect these stalkers? – it is ingrained in our DNA, so I am sure they did!

Heh, heh…wink, nudge..Did they invite the attention? (That is what the ‘tch-tch’ing persons will be asking after they are done reading the news.) It would need a depraved mind to think up such a question, but in a society that passes the buck to women, it’s rather possible.

The holy trinity – parents, police, society

What underlines the safety of young girls is the trio – the behaviour and approach of the Family, a Society that looks down upon, objects to and censures such behaviour by men, and Law that is supposed to protect them.

As a student, I was a regular at a particular bus-stop. I noticed that a young man was staring at a strikingly pretty young girl, who was also waiting there. He was present almost everyday, and this fact was now obvious to all. Ignoring him, looking away, etc. did not work. When he started standing closer and closer to her, and later passing lewd comments, she was worried.

After some weeks of this, she brought along a couple of her friends/neighbours/ relatives. They stood there, lurking in the shadows, till the stalker turned up. What followed was hilarious. The man got the shock of his life, and was never seen again.

This is what a family can practically do. But subtly, subliminally, what they should teach their girls is that it is not their fault. That they have someone who is solidly behind them and is supportive.

Role of society

Fresh from Australia comes the news of a young Indian man who stalked local women after chance meetings, because he thought that doing so would secure their assent in, get this, Bollywood style! You know, where the hero chases the heroine and a song or two later, they are lovers!

Is this what our society is coming to? Forget about being lovers, why do men think that it is okay to give unwanted attention to women? Why do they feel that they will be ‘rewarded’?

Just how helpless Madhu and Nikita must have felt is seen in the suicide notes they left behind –

“Everyday a new man would come and chase us. They would pass lewd remarks and offer us phone numbers. The people around us would stare as if we had done something wrong. You know how bad our colony is… how people will say we encouraged these men to follow us… even though we are innocent,” Madhu wrote.

Nikita says- “I have not done anything wrong to bring shame to my family. I am ending my life because I cannot take this daily tension.” Urging police to crack down on men who harass women, she said more women will go their way if action is not taken.

The words – family shame, we are innocent – are heartbreakingly tragic. Evidence of how we as a society, and as families, still look down upon the victims of crimes.

Age – A factor?

As far as I have observed in my personal life, this is more likely happen to young girls. They are underconfident, vulnerable, easily fearful and intimidated.

In my tenth grade, five of us, who stayed close to each other, used to return from a coaching class at about eight P.M. One night, two boys, older than us by a year or two, followed us for a short distance, passing loud remarks. Although the ratio of opponents was a ‘lopsided’ 2:5, we were so fearful that we practically ran home, their mocking laughter following us. The incident never recurred, but the memory of it creates a frisson of anger and fear in me even today.

Increasing incidence and no laws?

Perhaps the reason that this is happening is also the skewed sex ratio and the regressive reasons that have led to this ratio. Scores of young men with raging hormones, brought up on the delusions of their own superiority are now raring to show off their “mardangi” (manliness), and what better target than a girl who is minding her own business?

The capital reports at least four cases of stalking per day. As I researched this topic, because I was disturbed by the news of the suicide; the realisation is enforced that not only do we have a  terrible history of crimes against women, but we have an equally dismal record of punishing the criminals involved.

It needed a crime of terrible proportions like the rape of the Delhi student to have a rethink on these laws in 2013. But the stalker-criminal is lumped in with this law, and his crime is bailable. Apparently, it was not made non-bailable because, parliamentarians ( Sharad Yadav, Laloo Yadav ) felt that “most persons have been stalkers at some point of time in their lives.” And that “stalking is a norm for men in our country.”

If our elected bodies are representative of our society and our popular films are a reflection of societal behaviour, are these the role models that dictate the behaviour of our youth? If walking to your coaching class and being the object of a stalker is enough to bring shame to your family, then I despair of our future.

Historically, it needs terrible tragedy to bring about legal reforms in our country. Dare we hope that the tragedy of this incident will bring about changes in stalking laws?

 Pic credit: stuant63 (Used under a CC license)



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