‘He’s not doing anything, let it be’ is the reaction women often have to hear when they confide that they’re being stalked by someone. It’s this assumption that keeps stalking from being taken seriously, isn’t it? That the stalker is simply looking at the woman, following her every move, but never making contact – how is this thought reassuring? And what about cases where he does make contact and we still don’t take it seriously?
Look at what happened with 22-year-old Induja in Chennai. She was being stalked by an ex-classmate for a month, according to a report. When she spurned his advances, he turned up outside her home demanding to speak with her. When she let him enter her home to talk, he poured petrol over her and set her on fire on November 13. When her mother and younger sister rushed to help her, they caught fire too. Induja died due to burn injuries while her mother and sister are in critical condition.
According to the report, Induja’s mother and uncle were aware of Akash (the stalker) and that he was pestering Induja for a month. But they decided to not help Induja file a police complaint because they feared for her ‘reputation’.
This is generally a pattern of behaviour with us. We either don’t take cases of stalking seriously till it escalates severely or we turn it into a drama with blame-games and political muscle displays, like it happened with Varnika Kundu. As for the former, in April this year, Shobha, a Bangalore resident, was stabbed to death by her stalker Girish, who worked as a painter and was furious that Shobha had not only rejected him but was also planning to get married to someone. There was an entire ruckus in the media about how insensitively it was reported and dismissing media channels were about her murder, almost as though her murder was an unfortunate consequence and not a dangerous act of violence. It’s only been months since her murder and already her name has disappeared from the public sentiment, even with a campaign titled #JusticeForShobha trying to forcefully steer the conversation towards the seriousness of stalking. But she’s forgotten. Gone. Zap. The same thing happened with Induja. Akash learnt that Induja’s family was scouting for suitable grooms and Akash could wait no more to establish power over her by burning her to death. How long till we forget what happened to her too?
In earlier cases, another woman from Bangalore, Jyothi was murdered by her stalker in December last year. Pinki Devi, a beautician in Gurgaon was stabbed to death by her stalker at a metro station in Delhi in October 2016. S Swathi, an Infosys employee, was hacked to death by her stalker at Chennai’s Nungambakkam railway station in June 2016. In these cases, their deaths have occurred in public spaces where the perpetrator can easily escape in a crowd. But with Induja’s case, the gravity had descended more heavily with Akash murdering her in her own home.
News about Induja broke my heart, it really did. Women are told often to rush to the safety of their homes in scary situations. Imagine having that safety violated too? It’s terrifying to me, and to families of stalked victims. But clearly, this fear and sadness isn’t enough for stalking to be taken seriously for the violent crime it is.