In Focus

Online stalkers are relentless, persist for years

By Manu Shrivastava

In case of online stalking, a victim may choose to simply block the stalker’s profile or in more serious cases delete her own account. However, such acts almost never discourage stalkers and first-person accounts reveal that running away from a stalker is not a solution and they keep devising news ways and new profiles to stalk.

Hyderabad-based interior designer Ashika Reddy shares her experience of a man who started following her when she would go to a particular site for work. Choosing to ignore him, she got the shock of her life when one day the man followed her back to her home and tried to enter her apartment forcibly. “Had I contacted the police earlier I could have averted this incident.” She says most girls, like her, try to wish away or dismiss the stalker as someone who will walk away if ignored. In reality, it works the other way round and stalkers are emboldened when not acted against.

The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act 2013 defined ‘Stalking’ and made the law gender-specific with a more stringent punishment. However, like most other laws, similar challenges affect its implementation - lack of awareness, mindset of people, societal perception and complacent authorities. Online stalking often leads to stalking in person and the prior gives vital information to the stalker about the movements, travel schedule, regularly-visited places, etc. of the woman.

While most women are stalked by men who proposed marriage or relationship but were refused. There are several women who are stalked by their own families. When a woman resorts to live away from an ‘abusive’ family and chooses to become ‘independent’, often her family including her father, mother, brothers, sisters, uncles, etc. harass and stalk her to make life difficult.

Police, counsellors, women groups often dismiss such cases as ‘family matter’ making it difficult for the woman to see any legal or judicial remedy and the seriousness of the offence only increases.

Stalking by family members owing to their patriarchal mindsets is as serious an offence as stalking by an unknown person. Such families follow and monitor a woman’s activities, against her wishes, through physical stalking and through social media. Such women are abused by family and judged by the society as they see it through the coloured prism of ‘family dignity’.

The Indian Constitution guarantees The Right To Live With Dignity under the fundamental Right to Life to every citizen. Any act a man commits that is violative of a woman’s right to life or right to live with dignity is an offence and punishable by law. Awareness about ‘stalking’ and that even a family member can stalk is necessary to ensure women living away from her families are guaranteed the same rights under the Indian constitution.

In cases of stalking, every activity of a stalker much be accounted for, a formal written complaint must be made in a police station and legal process initiated as that’s the only way to protect the woman. If not, sometimes women themselves take law in their hands like the girl in Uttar Pradesh who threw acid on her stalker who was harassing her for not reciprocating his overtures.