She was crying, pleading on the phone. “Leave me alone, please,” were among her words to the caller, who was having none of it. The more she resisted, the more vile his threats became. The calls just would not stop. He was stalking her. This was how it had been since she became the object of his unwanted attention.
Worse still, she knew her stalker. Scared and depressed, she turned to a journalist-friend with police acquaintances, hoping he could help. He tried and the calls stopped. Now, she is trying to move on with her life, but scared to let her guard down. An intervention might have helped in this instance, but not every girl or woman harassed by stalkers in the national capital knows people with police acquaintances. Moreover, victims and their families often seek a kind of intervention that police cannot ‘officially’ provide.
Delhi recently witnessed the fatal consequences of such fatal attraction.
Two instances of stalking ended up in the murder of two women — Karuna and Lakshmi — within a span of two days. Karuna’s stalker stabbed her at least 30 times in public in north Delhi’s Burari and informed police of his crime. Lakshmi’s stalker too stabbed her multiple times in southwest Delhi’s Inderpuri. She had turned down his marriage proposal. Both the women had been stalked for years. Their families claim police were informed about the stalkers, but to no avail.
Rise in cases and problem areas
Section 354D (stalking) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), came into force after Parliament made amendments in the IPC section and made it a serious crime in 2013. The amendment came just a year after a physiotherapy student was gangraped and murdered, shaking the collective conscience of the country and became a rallying point.
Police statistics show a sharp rise in stalking cases in the national capital — 1,128 cases were reported in 2015 as against 542 in 2014. This year it has already reached 670.
Police officials feel the reason for the rise in cases is women are now increasingly coming forward to register complaints against stalkers. At the same time, however, officials say many victims and their families would prefer not to get into a legal fight and have the police scare away stalkers with threats. “We often go out of our way and do our bit, but it might not work,” says a police official. “I would advise taking down stalkers through legal means,” he adds.
Then, there are allegations that police doesn’t do enough. For instance, Lakshmi’s family claims they repeatedly informed police about the stalker, but police did not act in a timely manner. Police, however, say they received no such complaint in the case.
Reluctance of victims and their families to pursue legal action against a stalker also poses problems for police. Murder victim Karuna, a schoolteacher, knew her attacker and had once reached a ‘compromise’ with him, says a police officer. They even gave it in writing to police, the officer adds.
How stalkers escape
According to a station house officer (SHO), stalking is an ‘obsessive-possessive disorder’ which can only be removed with medical help.
“In 90 per cent of the cases, the accused is known to the victim. Once a complaint reaches us, we conduct the probe following the law, but face problems when the complainant declines to pursue legal action against the accused. Often, victims and their families want police to just threaten the offender without taking legal action. When the problem persists, they approach police again with the same request,” says SHO. “In such cases, when the accused is a repeat offender and the girl doesn’t want action against him, we take the help of psychiatrists or advise his parents to take their help,” he adds.
What law says
A person found guilty of stalking is liable to be imprisoned for three to five years and also fined. Section 354D also has provision for an accused to be granted bail for the first time, but if found indulging in the same crime a second time, courts do not grant bail easily, says the SHO.
Stalking is broadly of three types, according to seasoned police officials. It may have roots in the workplace, school, college or locality and involve unwanted communication over phone, WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook, emails or other social media.
Throwing letters, chits, writing messages on walls are also tricks some stalkers use. Stalking assumes even more dangerous proportions when a stalker cannot take no for an answer and starts threatening a girl or her family. According to police statistics, the highest number of stalking cases this year have been reported from the southern part of Delhi.
Anti-stalking police units
Apart from the local police, two specialised units — Anti-stalking Cell (Women Helpline Number 1096) and Cyber Cell — have been designated to look after such cases. The anti-stalking unit has received 449 calls till October 5 this year. This unit comprises five personnel including three women at any point in time. Once they get a complaint, they note it down and first try to sort it at their level.
Sanjay Beniwal , Special Commissioner of Police (PCR), says, “The official sitting in the control room calls up the person allegedly repeatedly calling or texting the complainant and advise them to stop doing it. If he does not listen, we forward the matter to the nodal officer (an ACP or inspector-level officer) of the area concerned.”
The Cyber Cell has not received a large number of cases, but has taken note of numerous instances of lewd messages or photos being sent to girls and women.
Anyesh Roy, Deputy Commissioner of Police (Cyber Cell), says in one such case, a boy emailed vulgar photos and offensive messages to a girl despite her repeated requests to stop doing it. “She approached us and we started our probe,” he adds. At times, accused persons conduct their activities through fake accounts and it takes time to track them down, he adds.