For a person obsessed about another, the internet and the mobile phone have become handy tools to track every movement. A bill in Parliament could be a weapon to counter this terror
Around November-December last year, Antara Chatterjee was completing her post-graduation in Delhi. She had parted with her boyfriend a few days ago. Soon after, she realised that her ex-boyfriend was following her. Even during her days of internship in the city, the boy would land up outside her office and paid no heed to her warnings. In a few days she took a trip to Agra and the guy somehow got to know about her whereabouts and followed her till there while continuously texting her.
She informed her father about it who suggested her to change her number. Not only this, the guy also hacked into her WhatsApp and Instagram accounts and started posting and sending messages from them. She was forced to change her number and finally she deleted her accounts.
Another case of cyber-stalking happened with Shruti Nair from Delhi. Two weeks back she got a Skype call on her phone. Though she ignored it, the man persisted to call her 3-4 times. With much reluctance, she picked up the call, thinking it could be important. “First the camera from his side was not active. After a few seconds, I see a man with his pants down, naked,” says Nair. She managed to cut the call, and blocked the person. Later, she went on to register a complaint against the man in the Cyber Cell.
However, the cyber cell informed her they couldn’t track the person, because a person on Skype cannot be traced by just having his/her user Id as the only source of information.
Currently under the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, stalking is a punishable offence. Section 354D of the Indian Penal Code states the punishment as imprisonment not less than one year but which may extend to three years, and shall also be liable to fine.
However, the section currently recognises stalking by men only, and is not gender-neutral. The bill also proposes to make amendments in the section by making it gender neutral but also to add recommendations given by the Verma Committee in 2013.
The committee summarised that “whoever monitors the use by a person of the Internet, e-mail or any other form of electronic communication, or watches or spies on a person in a manner that results in a fear of violence or serious alarm or distress in the mind of such person, or interferes with the mental peace of such person, commits the offence of stalking.”
Stalking is not just limited to physical stalking, and people often don’t take it as seriously as cyber-stalking. The law clearly defines it, but awareness about it is not something which is comprehensible among the public.
“The government has failed to make the public aware about what stalking is. Instead you get to hear jokes and remarks about it. Once the people know about it clearly, more women will gain the courage to come forward, and tell about their experiences,” says Kavita Krishnan, Secretary of All India Progressive Women’s Association.
Currently the law states the only cases like sexual molestation or rape can only be charged as first offence, and recognised as non-bailable offences. Which Kavita Krishnan, Secretary of Secretary of All India Progressive Women’s Association also thinks is not right.
“Stalking itself is not just a single offence thing. The women become vulnerable right after the first offence,” says Krishnan. She also gave an example where the police tries to ask the victim and the accused to reach to a comprise. She ridicules the whole process and says these are not civil matters where there should be any space for a compromise.
To understand the instincts of a stalker Patriot spoke to Dr Arti Anand, a psychologist from Sir Gangaram Hospital in Delhi. She says, “It’s basically an obsession. The stalker cannot take no for an answer. His ego gets hurt and he/she starts feeling powerless.” She also highlights the power game stalkers play in order to incite fear in the victim’s mind.
“In some cases, stalkers do have mental illness as well. A stalker may be an anti-social person, he may also have a personality disorder,” adds Dr Anand.
In this case Krishnan points out that if the stalker a mental illness, that should be diagnosed. “Once you’ve arrested the person, start diagnoses. Currently in our country there is no mechanism for this process,” added Krishnan.
Stalking is not just limited to physical stalking per se, but it also includes cases of abuse on social media platforms. Cyber-stalking and bullying, and sending out threats were the most common cases Patriot came across while speaking to women who have been victims of stalking.
Their testimonies of the stories they shared clearly makes up a point as to why it’s relevant to make stalking a non-bailable offence.
Since the current law is not gender-neutral, it indirectly provides protection to women who may stalk other men/women. Such was the case with Pooja Sharma (name changed). She was stalked and was given rape threats by another girl in May of this year.
The girl, who Sharma says was an ex of her then boyfriend, started dropping texts to her from US. She threatened Sharma that she would have people beat her up, even send them to rape her. The girl even created two accounts in Sharma’s name and re-posted pictures of her with obscene captions. In another account she photoshopped Sharma’s face with a swimsuit model’s body.
According to Sharma, the girl did this to many people, including another girl her ex-boyfriend went on a date with. “When I told my boyfriend, he told me she’s threatening him too and he doesn’t want blood on his hands,” added Sharma. The girl even threatened to kill herself if the guy refuses to keep touch with her.
“Cyber stalking is mostly done by someone who knows you. This created a dissonance in them in terms of trust,” says Sahana Sarkar, an assistant profession at St. Joseph’s College. Sarkar has worked in the realm of cyber violence against women in India.
Speaking of the IT Act 2000, Sarkar says “People are not much aware about the IT Act and even police are not very sure about it.” She says the moment one says ‘cyber’ the police go blank and keep deferring cases to other jurisdictions.
Under section 66A Under section 66A of the IT Act, a person could be charged for sending messages online which were “grossly offensive” or of a “menacing character.”
Stalking is not something which is new, another woman Patriot spoke to tells an incident of stalking which happened 15 years ago.
“My ex-boyfriend wrote physical letters to my friends threatening them that with information about the routes they take,” says Soumita Basu, a 34-year-old woman, a freelancer by profession. Basu says that her ex-boyfriend used to stand in front of her house in Kolkata and stare continuously. She says it gave out a vengeful feeling. At one point she thought of going to the Police but she says somehow she knew that he will not do anything further. Though he stopped his acts, but Basu continued to deal with other stalkers in her life.
Shanti (name changed), 46, is the principal of a reputed school in Kolkata. After a long day at work, when she comes home, going through her Facebook wall somehow gives her respite from all the strains of her job. But last year, an incident happened that shook her completely.
“A random man, who was not even in my friend list started messaging me. At first I started ignoring, and after some time he sent me threats that if I don’t reply to his advances, then he will attack my husband in front of his office”, she claims.
“At first I didn’t pay heed, but suddenly he sent me a photo of my husband walking into his office, that he apparently had clicked from his phone. I felt so petrified that I immediately called my husband up to check if he was doing alright. But, thankfully nothing ever happened, after with the help of my son, I contacted the cyber cell of the Kolkata Police, who somehow tracked back his account and arrested him”, she adds.
With inputs from Sreya Deb, Proma Chakraborty and Shaunak Ghosh