Look who’s stalking

The > brutal hacking in broad daylight of S. Swathi, a young Infosys employee, at Chennai’s Nungambakkam railway station has shone a harsh light on public safety in the city. The murder has, expectedly, reinforced a sense of insecurity. The Chennai police, which did extremely well in nabbing the man suspected of killing her, and the administration, must engage with civil society to restore confidence through a review, and upgrade, of existing checks. The tragic incident highlights the >countless crimes against women that we need to address — legally, administratively, and socially. As loved ones and investigators work backwards to identify signs that Swathi was being stalked, signs that could have been picked up early and possibly prevented the incident, the death must underline a point too easily missed in our casual day-to-day encounters: that crimes against women are a continuum. It is unfortunate that it should take extreme violence for society and the law and order machinery to understand that cracking down on everyday harassment is essential. Had Swathi reported her stalker to an authority, would it have made her safer? We cannot definitively answer that in hindsight. What is without doubt is that stalking is far too commonly considered a mildly annoying practice, a playful way of courting even. Women, and even young girls, are anyway not conditioned to approach figures of authority — at home, in schools and colleges, at the workplace, in the local police station — to report harassment that falls short of violence, and sometimes not even that.

Swathi fell to a death that was preventable. >Even as she is mourned, we must make people see stalking as the corrosive, potentially violent act it is. After the Delhi gang rape of December 2012, as the country was nudged out of its “chalta hai” attitude to crimes against women, Parliament passed the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013. Provisions of that law sought to sharpen identification of crimes against women, to make it easier for them to approach the authorities to register complaints, and to secure their dignity in this process of getting justice. Stalking was one of the crimes the Act dealt with. It can lead to a fine and imprisonment of up to three years for the first offence; and for any subsequent conviction to imprisonment of up to five years. It is an offence to follow a woman and contact, or attempt to contact, her, to foster personal interaction repeatedly despite a clear indication of disinterest by her; or monitor her use of the Internet, email or any other form of electronic communication. But for a woman to be sufficiently empowered to say no, there needs to be stronger awareness.

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Printable version | Jan 22, 2021 3:58:37 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/Look-who%E2%80%99s-stalking/article14474378.ece

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