June 27, 2021: Certain horrendous memories, leave indelible impressions on the mind that cannot be erased by the passage of time. About a decade ago, it happened, but Isha Arora seemed unable to shrug off that daunting experience, remembering it like it happened yesterday. She was 13, a class VII student, going to a foreign language class close to her home in Ghaziabad in the National Capital Region. A man stopped her and told her he had been following her for months and that he was “in love” with her. He told her that he knows where she stays, the school she goes to and what time she leave home for tuition. The man gave her his number and threatened to pester her over her home landline if she did not call. Stalking cases in India is very common. The number of cases reported in India have been rising since 2015.
Stalking cases in India: Numbers are staggering
The statistics of 2018 records 9,438 stalking cases in India. According to the National Crime Records Bureau report released in January 2020, one stalking case in every 55 minutes in India goes unreported. This is more than double the cases (4,699) reported in 2014.
These stalking case reports have been rising unprecedentedly over the years – 6, 266 in 2015, 7,190 in 2016 and 8,145 in 2017. The crime rate–cases reported per 100,000 women–have also seen a rise. It increased from 0.8 in 2014 to 1.5 in 2018.
Given this hike in the number of reported stalking and sexual harassment cases, it is certain that they are being underreported. Only one in 13 cases of sexual harassment in Delhi and one in nine in Mumbai were reported to the police, said a 2015 study conducted by Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI).
Stalking cases in India: Pleas fail
Given stalking cases in India are rampant, society as a whole should come forward and be proactive to stop these crimes . The case of Arora is among those few that escaped before stalking elevated in hurtful impact. Unlike it, several cases see a gruesome condition of the victim on the other side.
In January 2020, a 19-year-old was killed by her stalker at her home in Karakonam in Kerala, 30 km from the state capital of Thiruvananthapuram. The same day, a 17-year-old was repeatedly stabbed on her way home from work in Kakkanad, in eastern Kochi, by a man whose advances she had spurned, as per the reports by NewsMinute.
In 2016, a 15-year-old was allegedly raped and burnt on the terrace of her house by her 20-year-old stalker in Gautam Buddh Nagar in Uttar Pradesh, just outside New Delhi. The class X student had dropped out of school a year before the incident because she could not deal with the harassment, her family said.
“There are certain perceptions about stalking cases–they are not taken seriously by the society or by the police,” said Ranjana Kumari, director at the Centre for Social Research, an advocacy for women’s rights based in New Delhi. “Hence, it is not easy for women to go and report these cases. There is a lot of hesitancy involved [in reporting].”
“These perceptions are further reinforced in popular culture, especially movies where romantic relationships often begin with stalking”, added Kumari.
Need for a sensitive front
Nearly 48.5% of India’s population is composed of women, yet women officials make up only 8.98% of the police force as of January 1, 2019. None of the states in India have 33% women police as recommended and according to forecasting statistics, nine states will take over 50 years to achieve 33% women representation, IndiaSpend reported on November 7, 2019.
“All too often, women seeking justice face hostility or contempt from the very people who are supposed to uphold their rights,” said a 2011 United Nations report on women’s access to justice. “Police, court staff and other justice sector personnel typically reflect the discriminatory attitudes of wider society.”
Women in India resist report in robbery way lesser than sexual assault though the latter cases exceed in number, the report found.
“There is a gender sensitivity deficit in how Indian police function”, said Indian Police Service officer Sampat Meena in a project proposal submitted to the Bureau of Police Research and Development in 2016.
“In the context of India, this is like a double jeopardy for Indian women,” said the document. “They suffer because of the prevailing social factors which see them in a particular value framework. They also suffer as victims when they interface with the police because of the masculinity subculture in police.” With every local aunty, victim blaming the girl of exercising basic freedom and rights, it becomes virtually impossible to report an issue of stalking.
Among the 2,700 families in Delhi that were interviewed for the CHRI study, 2.78% (75) reported that a female member of the household was a victim of sexual harassment in the previous year. In Mumbai, 1.94% (39) of the 2,006 interviewed reported one victim of harassment in the family.
Counting together, there were 80 such cases from Delhi and 45 from Mumbai. In Delhi, 74 cases were not reported to the police– out of which 52 reasoned the victims’ fear of getting entangled in a legal case. In Mumbai, 40 cases went unreported and in 26 cases respondents said they feared retaliation.
This reporter conducted a poll on her Instagram account and seven women (of her 648 followers) spoke of being stalked. None of them had reported the crime to the police, according to Crime Victimisation and Safety Perception, 2015
Lower number of convictions
The CHRI study only oversaw cases that fell in four categories: lewd or unwelcome sexual comments; continuously stared at in a lewd or threatening manner; followed by men till you were scared or uncomfortable; and touched indecently/groped/pinched.
About 68 cases in Delhi and 22 in Mumbai, lewd or unwelcome sexual comments were passed. Women were traced by men till they felt scared or uncomfortable in five cases each in both the cities. In addition, only one of these five cases in Delhi was reported and none were reported to the police in Mumbai.
There is not just an issue of less reports, but even among the cases that do get reported, many are pending investigation and even fewer lead to convictions. In 2018, a total of 12,947 stalking cases were under investigation–9,438 new cases and 3,505 cases pending from previous years–NCRB data show. Four cases were re-opened for investigation.
By the end of 2018, about a third (31.4%) of the cases were pending investigation and a tenth (10.7%) of the cases were disposed off without a charge-sheet being filed.
Women tussle with the thought to report harassment, said Tara Narula, a Delhi-based lawyer and gender activist. “The first hurdle is reporting,” said Narula. “Police find thousands of ways to refuse filing cases. Most cases of stalking are settled within the police station, whether an FIR [first information report] will be filed or not is another question.”
In case it is filed, the police may not take action fast enough, she said. “They may not make any arrests and if the victim needs protection, she will have to go through another procedure,” Narula pointed out.
Conviction rate has been recurrently low with lesser than a third of the cases (29.6%) resolved in 2018 led to convictions, said the NCRB report. In 2014, 34.8% cases led to convictions and since then, the rate has been less than 30%, data show.
How do victims subside trauma?
Stalking affects decisively the mental health of victims, said experts. “Victims are always in fight-or-flight mode and hypervigilant,” said Sakshi Kaur Hira, a Mumbai-based psychologist. “This can lead to anxiety and other physiological problems. Victims also begin second-guessing themselves and their decisions.”
“I started becoming more conscious about my clothes, my actions and the routes I take,” said Kavita, 25-year-old psychologist from Ajmer in Rajasthan, about the time she was stalked by a boy in her neighbourhood. “We used to go to the same gurdwara and he would follow me there too. Eventually, I stopped visiting the gurdwara.”
“Victims who are worried that anxious parents will curb their freedom do not confide in them either”, said Hira. “They then start leading a double life,” she said.
A 26-year-old journalist based in Gurugram, Kajol, who was stalked by a friend’s friend for over three years, kept her fears to herself for this reason. “I had just started going to college and I would have had to deal with restrictions,” Kajal said. “Also, since he was an acquaintance, my parents would have questioned my judgement.” This social stigma internalised on the family, which then curbs the life of a girl after such an incident is detrimental in keeping the victim stabilised. It corners them and asks them to face such situations alone, aloof from their so-called loved ones in fear of infamy.
Extremely essential is the task to understand the gravity of such incidents and take them seriously, utilising media and technology to encourage reporting like the recent wave of ‘#metoo movement.’ The police needs to have a sensitive and idealistic approach about dealing with issues relating to harassment , with a broader mind than one that puts the blame on the victim. Also, the police stations have to be made more accessible for women, experts say.
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“There are women’s help desks but the police need to register FIRs in an expeditious fashion,” said Narula. “Also, there needs to be a collective change of consciousness in the society. The offence needs to be taken seriously.” Quite often, frustrated stalkers end up attacking their victims so these cases have to be dealt with fast, said Kumari.
“Online or telephone reporting of these crimes should be made possible,” she said, pointing to apps such as Himmat that enable women who are stalked to raise an SOS alert and notify the police in Delhi.