The fear of being watched or pursued by someone unknown often comes to our mind when we return home from school or go for a walk alone, visit a new area, stand near a window, work online, share information, or chat with others across our gadget displays. We are always on the lookout for anyone who could be staring at us or observing us. Stalking is a term used to describe a person's obsessive behaviour towards another person or the intentional pursuit.
Sexual, mental, and emotional harassment of women has been a big concern for years, as stalking has become a major impediment to women's safety. Female sexual harassment infringes her right to safety and the ability to live a life with integrity and dignity. Stalking is proven to be a significant factor in women's harassment.
One of the most famous cases of stalking was of Priyadarshini Mattoo, a law student who had come to Delhi to pursue her LLB degree. Santosh Singh, a 1994 Delhi University graduate, followed her for the past two years. As a result, Priyadarshini filed several complaints. Santosh Singh was compelled to promise not to do it anymore, but it persisted. Another FIR was filed, and Santosh was detained. However, he was freed after a short period. During the night of 23rd January 1996, Priyadarshini Mattoo was raped and killed. After burying her body under the bed, Santosh Singh escaped. Nothing much had been done. The Supreme Court had only passed a sentence of life imprisonment for him. So much so that the Delhi High Court had even granted him 3-week parole for sitting for his LLM examination.
In 2017, Varnika Kundu, the daughter of an IAS official in Haryana, told her story of being stalked by Vikas Barala, a Haryana politician's son, and his friend Ashish Kumar, which sent shockwaves throughout social media. She was pursued by the accused, who tried to barge into her car, but the police arrived before he could do anything. Varika Kundu and her father were accused of bringing in fake and unlawful papers and complaints, according to the accused. It was the same day he was detained that he was released from jail.
These are not the only stalker cases. Stalking has always been a threat to women's safety, no matter how many years have passed. Several women do not disclose such events, or often their concerns are ignored. Stalking refers to a pattern of behaviour in which one person relentlessly follows another in the same way as a fanatic might.
Laws in India against Stalking
Stalking used to be considered a minor crime that was easy to get away with until the Nirbhaya Gang Rape case. Nevertheless, the Justice Verma Committee, which was formed in the wake of this horrific occurrence, made numerous recommendations, one of which was that stalking should be criminalised. Stalking became a crime under the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013. The Act was amended, and stalking became a crime under Section 354D of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). The offence of stalking is committed by any man who makes repeated attempts to contact or follow an uninterested woman or keeps tabs through electronic means, such as the internet or any other kind of electronic communication. According to Section 354D(2), anybody convicted of stalking is subject to a three-year jail sentence and a fine on the first conviction. An additional five years of prison time and a fine might be imposed upon a second conviction.
Another incident is where a woman told the press about an event that occurred when she was 13. She would go to a language school near her home in Ghaziabad. On one occasion, a man had blocked her path and confessed to how he felt about her and had been following her for a long time. He had told her that he knew everything about her, including her residence, timetable, tuition, school. His brother was always with her. This unidentified man had given her his phone number and warned her that if she did not keep in touch with him, he would track her down wherever she was because he knew everything about her. Fortunately, she had returned home and told her father about the incident. Her assailant had backed off after hearing his father's warnings. However, this is not the situation everywhere; it is a highly unusual occurrence.
Section 503: IPC puts forth the provision of criminal intimidation. "Threatening another with an injury to their person, property or reputation or causing such an injury to a person related to them and forcing them to either do an act which they are not legally bound to do or refrain from doing an act which they are legally entitled to do to avoid such a threat or injury is a form of coercion."
Sections 507 and 509: Criminal intimidation by a non-disclosed identity and communication is punishable by up to two years in jail and a fine under Section 228A of the IPC. Section 509: If someone offends women's modesty by saying something, showing a gesture or using any sound to do so, or by invading their privacy, they are penalised by imprisonment for up to three years or by fine.
Cyber-Stalking - Considering cyberstalking, the Information Technology Act, 2008 plays a crucial part in this. Section 66E of the Indian Penal Code punishes anybody who transmits photos of another person's private parts without their agreement with up to three years in jail or a fine of ₹2 lakh or both. While Section 67 imposes a three-year jail sentence and a fine of up to ₹5 lakh for posting or attempting to publish vulgar and obscene content on an electronic platform, and a five-year prison sentence of up to ₹10 lakh for a second conviction. If a material is found to be consisting of sexually explicit content and if such material is tried to be published or transmitted, then that is punishable with imprisonment for a term extending up to five years and fine on first conviction and further extending to a term of seven years with a fine extending to ₹10 lakh on subsequent conviction under Section 67A.
In recent years, stalking and harassment have become very commonplace, especially for girls and women. Almost no girl or woman in our lives has not been followed or harassed by someone at some point. Today, using technology to track and harass individuals is possible due to technological gaps, which have allowed miscreants and criminals to take advantage of it. A criminal who violates a fundamental right by sexually or physically harassing someone obtains bail the same day he is arrested.
The most surprising element is that stalking was not deemed a crime until 2012. When the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 2013 made it a crime, it became punishable. It is important to note that at first, stalking was bailable, meaning that the accused could quickly receive bail even if they did not appear in court; as a result, several harassers and stalkers were freed. Delhi Assembly approved a resolution making stalking a non-bailable offence in 2018 because of an upsurge in incidents.