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Pursued by danger: on the Haryana stalking case

Stalking is not a mere annoyance — it is a crime that requires swift punishment

August 08, 2017 12:02 am | Updated December 03, 2021 12:32 pm IST

The issue of women’s safety comes under the national limelight with shameful regularity. The recent incident of a woman being pursued at night by men in a car in Chandigarh is a reminder that neither law nor public odium is a sufficient deterrent to such crimes. Two men, one of them the son of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Haryana State unit chief, have been booked for stalking the woman. They have been released on bail; Section 354D of the Indian Penal Code, which pertains to stalking, is a bailable offence. This has attracted the criticism that the police did not invoke more stringent provisions. It is believed that the police had originally sought to include sections relating to an attempt to kidnap the woman, but dropped the idea. The use of a particular section depends on whether the ingredients of the offence are present in the actions of the accused. The onus is on the Chandigarh police to show that available evidence is limited to the offence of stalking. The claim that there is no closed-circuit television footage from anywhere along the entire route needs investigating. The victim’s presence of mind to call the police in time foiled her pursuers’ designs, but not every woman may survive such an ordeal in the same manner. This is one reason why the police, as well as family and friends of the victim, ought to take complaints of stalking seriously, and act at an early stage.

 

As crimes against women go, stalking is far too often dismissed as harmless. However, it is important to understand how traumatic and inhibiting it is for a woman to be pursued with unsolicited interest, and for such stalking to be considered ‘normal’. There are times when stalking contains the seed for a bigger, often violent crime. It should not be forgotten that murders and acid attacks have had their origins in stalking. It became an independent offence in 2013 , when the country’s criminal law was amended in the wake of the horrific gang rape of a woman in Delhi in December 2012. The hope that expanding the rigour and scope of penal laws would bring down crimes against women has, unfortunately, been belied often since then. The Chandigarh incident reveals that a sense of privilege, flowing as much from gender as political influence, permeates the offenders’ actions. The victim’s father is a senior civil servant, and it may not be easy to give this case a quiet burial. However, there is another, in fact quite familiar, element: the attempt by quarters close to the accused to cast aspersions on the victim. One can only hope that society has advanced sufficiently to call out such victim-shaming. Stalking tends to dominate the public discourse only when it relates to well-known people or results in violence — this episode should compel a deeper understanding of how widespread this offence is, and how rarely offenders are brought to justice.

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