In Focus

Even a father cannot 'stalk'

The Varnika Kundu case brought ‘Stalking’ back into the spotlight it belongs. The law should be used to book ‘stalking fathers’ too, writes Manu Shrivastava

Isn’t it a scary situation to be 'stalked'? However, will you even realise if someone stalks you in person or online? And, do you even know what stalking means, at least legally? Some of us may have paid a reasonable amount of attention to the term 'stalking', if not the act, particularly during the media coverage of Varnika Kundu case where the Chandigarh-based DJ was allegedly stalked.

While the Kundu case promised sufficient attention, ‘stalking’ had anyway been incorporated into the Indian Penal Code (IPC) through Section 354D in April 2013 after the infamous Nirbhaya Rape case of December 2012 that led to Criminal Law (Amendment) Act 2013. It will, however, take many more high profile cases and maybe more serious crimes for people and women, in particular, to understand the gravity of ‘stalking’ and how something seemingly innocuous can lead to more dangerous crimes such as molestation, rape and murder.

According to Section 354 D of the Indian Penal Code:
(1) Any man who—
follows a woman and contacts, or attempts to contact such woman to foster personal interaction repeatedly despite a clear indication of disinterest by such woman; or monitors the use by a woman of the internet, email or any other form of electronic communication, commits the offence of stalking;
(2) Whoever commits the offence of stalking shall be punished on first conviction with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years, and shall also be liable to fine; and be punished on a second or subsequent conviction, with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to five years, and shall also be liable to fine.

The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act 2013 defined ‘Stalking’ and broke the section into specific clauses; made the law gender-specific and the punishment more stringent. However, like most other laws, the challenges faced are the same - poor implementation, lack of awareness and hard-nosed mindsets of people and authorities as well. Little wonder then that the Kundu case made an offence as 'small' as ‘Stalking’ hit headlines.

Very often when a woman is being stalked she chooses to ignore the stalker and tries to evade the situation. In case of physical stalking, a woman may change her route or time of travel or commute and in case of online stalking, may block the perpetrator's profile or simply delete her own account. Cases and first person accounts reveal that running away or letting go of a stalker is never a solution.

In almost all such situations, an ‘ignored’ stalker returns with a higher sense of misplaced courage and may aggravate his/her attempts to get attention or get things done. Every activity of a stalker much be accounted for and a formal written complaint should be made in a police station. The police are also slowly accepting the seriousness of stalking and more and more cases are being registered under Section 354D of IPC.

One very important and equally ignored aspect of stalking is that the crime is often committed by ‘family members’ which, owing to patriarchal mindset, is simply not taken into consideration by even the authorities. What happens when a girl’s father, brother, uncle or her mother stalks her? Such cases are dismissed by the police, counsellors, even support groups as ‘family matters’ making it almost impossible for a woman to seek refuge except through extraneous judicial means. Most such women are abused by family, judged by society and dismissed by authority and all of this veiled from public outrage by a misplaced sense of ‘family dignity’ and ‘culture’.

The Indian Constitution grants every citizen The Right To Live With Dignity under the fundamental Right to Life. Any act committed by a man that violates a woman’s right to live with dignity qualifies as abuse and is punishable by law. When the victim resorts to becoming independent, the family often harasses and stalks her and with no action from the police the problems get compounded. This brings to fore the need to increase awareness about ‘stalking’ as a serious crime and in accepting the fact that anyone, even a family member, following or monitoring a woman and her activities, against her wishes, is a ‘stalker’ under Section 354D of the IPC.

There have been several cases in the past when the victim’s failure to report ‘stalking’ or the police’s refusal to register and take cognizance of an offence led to the murder or rape of the victim. The most notable case being of Priyadarshini Mattoo, a law student, who was raped and brutally murdered by her stalker. Although Priyadarshini had lodged complaints of harassment, intimidation and stalking against her stalker whose father was a senior IPS officer, she was liquidated. Unfortunately, fact remains, women themselves don’t take stalking seriously without realising the consequences.

Films have played a significant role in justifying stalking where the protagonist of a film stalks a girl and is shown as wooing her by doing so. Raanjhanaa, for instance, glorified and justified the entire act of stalking. The influence of films on the common man is a given. The Central Board of Film Certification and the film fraternity also, therefore, have a responsible role to play by not glamourising an act such.

In the case of Varnika Kundu, the facts of the case will be revealed gradually in due course of investigation but what it has successfully managed to do is bring ‘stalking’, an ‘innocuous’ act, in the purview of legal and social debates.