By Arunima Mazumdar
Ashutosh Pradhan, who studied with me in school and who was nothing more than a classmate, started stalking me two years ago. I didn’t even remember interacting with him until he sent me a friend request on Facebook in 2013.
It wasn’t unusual for me to accept his request because everyone else from school, college, and previous workplaces were already there in my list of friends. But the problem began when he started chatting with me via the Facebook messenger. He first said hi, asked me where I work, and then went on to ask personal questions: whether I was married, what my phone number is, etc.
I stopped replying. Two days later, he pinged again and started asking for my number. He warned me he’d come to my workplace if I didn’t share my number. I didn’t waste a second blocking him from my Facebook account.
A few weeks later, my good friend AP (who also happens to know Ashutosh) called and said that Ashutosh had been trying to get in touch with me and had been asking for my number. He said Ashutosh had some “PR work” and since I was a journalist, he needed my help. I told AP about the Facebook conversation, warned him about Ashutosh’s intentions and strictly asked him not to share my number.
I am not sure how, but Ashutosh managed to acquire my email address and started sending me mails. This was sometime in the beginning of 2014. He started writing one-line mails every two, three or four months, all late in the night, asking me to meet him. I felt extremely harassed by this because I used to work till late at night (as plenty of other people do), and to get an absolutely nonsensical email with the subject “I LUV U” out of the blue from someone who doesn’t even exist for me is simply ridiculous. I ignored these emails thinking he would stop if I didn’t respond or entertain them.
Then, one day in September 2014, he sent me an alarming mail again at night. Alarming because he quoted something I had written on Twitter just a minute ago. I was shocked to realise that he was stalking me on Twitter. I had never felt the need to protect my tweets, but this was getting out of hand.
I wrote a Facebook note and tagged all my school friends, letting them know what was happening in detail. I wrote about the Facebook chat and all his emails to me. Everyone came forward with their support and advised me to file an FIR. Ashutosh must have come to know about this; he immediately called up AP and apologised profusely to him for writing those emails; he even said that he was only messing with me. AP told him clearly that he shouldn’t have taken the liberty to write those emails, even if his intention was simply to fool around.
It was my mistake that I didn’t take any action at the time; I thought shaming him in public would solve the problem. Sadly, it didn’t.
Ashutosh Pradhan emailed me AGAIN on January 31, this time being extremely bold and might I say, authoritarian. He wrote in the subject line “HUM MIL RAHE HAI”, and in the email body he explained how he would wait at a Cafe Coffee Day on a certain date, at a certain time, and I must meet him because he needs to talk, because “aur time nahi hai humare paas”. Oh, he also warned me: “bas tu koi scene mat kariyo…mere last mail pe jaisa kiya tha.”
Flabbergasted at his audacity, I finally wrote my first ever response to him, marking AP and another close friend PS in cc. I made it clear in my reply that his emails were not appreciated and I wasn’t interested in meeting/interacting with him. I added that I would contact the National Commission for Women (NCW) and let them know about his actions.
After about an hour, he replied with an apology. He said that he only wanted to meet as friends and it was me who took his emails to mean otherwise. He also wrote that he would never email me again or be in touch with me. He marked another person in the email and I could somehow guess that it was this person who had written the mail – that Ashutosh had made this person write this response.
AP, to whom a copy of the email was marked, also replied making it very clear that I wasn’t interested and that he had personally asked Ashutosh to stay away. He wrote that his repeated actions were being considered as stalking and that these emails would be used as legal proof against him in the future, if he didn’t stop.
February 27, 2015
After the apology and confession came another mail. This time it was an elaborate mail, written with a lot of patience, in which he confessed to stalking me on Twitter/Instagram (I had already blocked him from Facebook). He confessed to taking drugs too. He wrote about a whole lot of things that I had no connection with – his father’s ill health, his own depression, his break-up with his girlfriend/fiancée, his unemployment, his disconnect with friends and so on. He also wrote about silly things from school like sharing a computer with me in the lab. He said he needed my help and he wanted to marry me.
It was more than clear that he had lost his marbles. I could have tried to be all merciful and sympathetic, but someone who’s sane enough to stalk me on social media and write long emails late in the night doesn’t deserve my understanding.
My response to this inexplicable, illogical, meaningless email was: This mail is now going to my lawyer friend and the police.
Next morning, I spoke to a friend’s dad who used to be an SHO (Station House Officer) in the Delhi Police. He advised me to file a complaint on 1096, the women’s helpline number. It took me almost 45 minutes to get through to someone on that line. I explained in detail what had happened – the lady who was noting down my concerns and case seemed to be in a hurry of some sort. She asked me if a telephonic warning would suffice; I said yes. She also gave me a complaint number that I made a note of. It was also the first time I informed my family about the matter.
July 18, 2015 (Five months later)
It was seven in the evening. I was home with my folks. The guard at our society called the intercom and said “Ashutosh ji aayen hai”. I had answered the phone and it didn’t occur to me it was him. I asked my folks if they were expecting anyone named Ashutosh; they said no. I asked the guard to check if the guy had asked for the correct flat number; he said “aap baat kar lijiye” and gave the receiver to Ashutosh.
On the phone: “Hi Arunima, this is Ashutosh Pradhan. I’ve come to meet you and your father.”
I asked him to wait and called 100. To say that I was furious would be an understatement. I was also confused and scared and shocked.
How did he know I lived in this particular part of the city? How did he get my flat number? What did he want and why was he at my doorstep?
A huge scene ensued outside my building. People on the street stopped to pay attention to the drama that was unfolding. Neighbours whom I had never seen appeared from out of nowhere, again to watch and do nothing.
A police patrol car arrived and two policemen appeared. I explained everything to them and they half-heartedly scribbled something on a notepad. They made Ashutosh sit in their car and asked me to wait for the “main police” to arrive. They said they were patrol officers who were sent simply to control the situation. It took almost an hour for the “main police” to arrive – two other policemen arriving slowly on a bike. I repeated the saga to them, after which they said to come to the “thana”. My father and I followed them to the closest police station in our area.
At the police station
We waited for about half an hour before the concerned inspector arrived and spoke to us. I wanted to speak to the SHO of the department, but he had apparently gone out on his rounds.
I was definitely not comfortable in the police station, but I suppose any police station just gives out that vibe.
Besides us, there were two or three other people who had come to file other complaints, and there were a few other police officers, some of whom were attending to these people and others who were just sitting and listening to what everyone was saying.
My father and I conversed with two police officers about the written complaint we were submitting. As we were writing our complaint and discussing the situation with the officers, everyone else (other officers and people) had started listening to what happened. What should have been a private discussion became a scene for everyone to listen to.
I wrote a written complaint explaining everything, and made Ashutosh apologise in writing and specify that he would never harass, hurt or contact me again via email, phone or in person. His younger brother and a lawyer friend of his arrived in some time. They too started apologising; his brother said that he wasn’t aware of all this and that Ashutosh was suffering from serious depression. That he was under medication.
The funny thing was that the inspector who was handling the case casually moved away from us. He said, “Aapas mein baat kar lo aap log (talk and sort it out between you guys).”
It was clear that he wasn’t very keen on getting the matter resolved because stalking, according to them, wasn’t a very serious issue. What I could discern was that they were either not very familiar with cyber stalking or if they were, they didn’t think it was a big deal. The officer’s reaction was bored and he repeated, “Kuch kiya toh nahi na? (He didn’t do anything to you, right?)” a few times, after which I kind of aggressively asked would they wait for him to do something to take action?
They went on to say I should have filed a complaint earlier. I informed them that I did so with the women’s helpline number 1096 and even gave them the complaint number.
I’m not too sure what questions they asked Ashutosh as he was being interrogated separately, but I do know that when they asked him, “Kya chahiye tujhe, kyun kar raha hai? (What do you want? Why are you doing this?)” he, being mentally unstable, kept mumbling that he’d just wanted to meet me and my parents and he had just come to give prasad from Vrindavan (he was carrying a box of sweets).
I was too stressed to pay much attention to whether the onlookers were judging me and whether they agreed with the police who thought Ashutosh was just another crazy person.
All the officers’ attitudes were lackadaisical. It was as if it wasn’t a big deal – which for them may have been true – but if I felt I was in trouble, then it was their duty to assure me that they would take responsibility.
There was also a woman officer sitting there listening to all of our complaints and conversations. But she didn’t say a word or participate in the conversation. Her eyes kept flitting between us and her mobile.
After interrogating Ashutosh, the policemen came to us and said, “Uska dimaag theek nahi lag raha (He doesn’t seem to have his head on straight)”. I think they assumed that Ashutosh was suffering from severe depression and arresting him or scaring him wouldn’t really make a difference. No serious warning was issued.
To his brother and lawyer friend, they simply spoke loudly and warned them that if Ashutosh repeats what he did, then they’ll take strict action. Nothing else. Nothing about why Ashutosh’s parents aren’t involved, no serious warning.
Their attitude even got my father aggravated. He had asked the police personnel to stamp the apology statement that Ashutosh wrote (stating he won’t contact me via email/text or stalk me on social media/in person, or hurt me physically in anyway) and give us a copy of the same. The officers initially refused to stamp it – they said it’s not needed. That is when my father yelled at them and made them understand that if they don’t stamp it, then there’s going to be no proof that he wrote it. He could just deny writing it later. After much pestering, they stamped it, photocopied it and gave us a copy.
After talking to Ashutosh’s brother and lawyer friend, the policemen told me, “Written statement de diya hai, ab uske bhai aur dost bhi keh rahe hai ki nahi tang karega, toh aap release kar dijiye. (He has given a written statement, his brother and friend have given assurances that he won’t bother you anymore and have asked us to release him).”
His brother and the lawyer friend assured me that they would take full responsibility if anything happens in the future and requested my permission to let the policemen release Ashutosh. I didn’t have a choice because it seemed to the police that I was overreacting to the situation – trying to get a guy suffering from depression arrested.
The police involvement ended there. No action. No arrest. Absolutely nothing. Ashutosh must be comfortably thinking how lucky he was to get away AGAIN. He must be plotting some other way to pester me in a few months.
The whole ordeal took three hours; I was in the station from 7pm to 10 pm. Apart from a written complaint, no further action or arrest took place. No one even bothered to follow up with me.
In fact, I had asked Ashutosh’s brother to go home and inform his parents about the whole thing and let me know what they said. He promised he would do so, but I didn’t receive any text/call from him the next day (Sunday). I am sure he hid this event from his parents to protect his brother. He told me that Ashutosh is on medication for severe depression and I should consider forgiving him on those grounds.
I wish the officers had been more efficient and aware about cyber stalking. They seemed to be in the dark about the gravity of stalking on Twitter/Facebook. Their attitude was that no real harm had been caused, so why create a ruckus about something that hasn’t happened yet? Instead my father and I came across as overreacting to something trivial.
* * *
It hasn’t even been a month since this incident occurred. But Ashutosh has a habit of becoming active every two or three months, so I don’t know if I’m completely out of the woods yet.
When I first filed a complaint on the women’s helpline in Febuary this year, I thought it had worked until he reached out to me again last month. When he showed up at my place, I felt he did not care about complaints made against him – he wasn’t scared of the police or anyone. If he’s unstable, no verbal/written complaint will do me any good. His parents need to know what he is up to, and either he should be under surveillance or behind bars.
I would have wanted an officer who was informed about cyber stalking. Ashutosh said he found my home address through hacking – no one questioned him about that. Outside my building and later in the police station, I kept yelling and asking him how he hacked me, where he got my address from. He kept mumbling “from the Internet”. I think the police officers understood what he was saying, they knew he hacked my address somehow, but they didn’t know what action to take or what to do. I still don’t know how he acquired my address. If there was an officer around who knew how things can go wrong in the online world, then things may have been different.
I also wish the officers had been more sincere in dealing with the case. It’s not like there were twenty other cases that needed their attention at the time; the other two people had come to report the loss of bags/wallets. I don’t mean to belittle the other cases, but it is the officers’ duty to give due attention to each person and their case.
Despite my fruitless experience at the station, I would still recommend others to file a complaint when they are harassed. However, the lesson I learnt was to register a complaint at the very beginning and not wait for it to get worse, like I did. Better late than never.
I sit in my room tonight asking myself questions that I don’t have an answer for. Every time I step out of my residence, I look around to see if something’s fishy. I don’t want to exaggerate and say that I live in constant fear, because the matter is still not that serious, but it’s true that the thought of him thinking about me often nags at me. My folks now worry about me when I’m away from home. After all, how serious is very serious?
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