Stalking reflects a deep-rooted malaise that is often glossed over in a patriarchal society. It is a sign of a sickening culture, popularised by Indian movies, that treats stalking women as a fun activity. The recent incident of a young woman being stalked and harassed at night in a car in Chandigarh comes as a stark reminder of the lurking dangers to women’s safety. The victim is the daughter of a senior IAS officer who has vowed to pursue the case till its logical end. The accused Vikas Barala, son of Haryana BJP chief Subhash Barala, is out on bail after being charged with a bailable offence. It is a matter of shame that some ruling party leaders even resorted to victim-shaming by questioning why she was out on the road at midnight. It is this obnoxious mindset that is responsible for trivialising the issues of women’s safety and security. The survivor has decided to take on her tormentors, lodged a complaint with the police and narrated her ordeal through social media. Stalking is a serious problem in India. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, as many as 6,266 FIRs were registered in 2015. This is just the tip of the iceberg because many victims prefer not to report such cases to the police. Over 80% of the people charged under Section 354D of the IPC are given bail even before the charge sheet is filed. The conviction rate in stalking cases is depressingly low.
The Chandigarh case once again highlights the vulnerability of women in the face of despicable actions by those who can wield political connections and get away with the crime. Both the politician’s son and his accomplice have been released on bail amid criticism that the police had failed to invoke more stringent provisions against the accused. Intriguingly, the police claimed that the CCTV cameras installed along the route were not functioning. The probe must be done in an impartial manner without succumbing to political pressure. Treating stalking as an innocuous banter is a dangerous trend in society. One must remember that violent acts such as acid attacks and rapes have their origins in stalking. Clearly, the root cause of such sexual perversion lies in the patriarchal upbringing where gender bias is ingrained in the culture. It is high time to put an end to the tendency to blame the victim and impose restrictions on her choice and her freedom of movement, and instead inculcate values of gender equality among boys. Unless gender equality becomes the acceptable norm at all levels and fear of law is firmly restored, no amount of symbolic campaigns for women empowerment would be effective.