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Dealing with stalkers: Professionals speak

Last updated on: October 29, 2009 19:09 IST

The recent case of Ramchanphy Hongray has brought to the fore the less-discussed but much prevalent issue of stalking. Hongray, a teenager, lost her life allegedly at the hands of a jilted man -- 34-year-old Pushpam Kumar Sinha, an IIT scholar (you can also read another harrowing account of a young girl who was stalked here).

Indeed, jilted lovers and stalkers come in all shapes and sizes. But very often a lot of us are either blissfully unaware about this simmering issue or seem to think that that bad things happen only to other people.

Dr K Jaishankar, editor-in-chief of the International Journal of Cyber Criminology says that a stalker is someone who has 'a pre-planned action plan to choose his/her victims, either because s/he had tried to befriend the victim and such attempt was refused, or s/he has some personal enmity with the victim'.

Know your stalker and keep your cool

The first step is to identify such a person and acknowledge the situation.

Psychologist Dr Anjali Chhabria says, "If you are being stalked, the first thing to do is to keep your friends and family informed so they know what is going on in your life and are not taken by shock if something untoward were to happen."

Chhabria adds that stalkers usually suffer from serious dependency issues and don't know how to cope with loss or rejection and often make up a story that is far from reality.

The key, according to her, is to keep your composure and to remain firm.

She says, "Always put your life before the stalker's. Never give in to situations where the individual threatens to kill himself/herself if you don't pay him any attention. Instead raise caution immediately, because it might just be his/her way to lure you away from the crowd."

Chhabria also says that while it might be difficult to identify a stalker outright, you need to be tuned in to your surroundings.

"Keep your eyes open all the time," she advises. "And don't hesitate to raise an alarm if you spot someone suspicious following you. Very often, women avoid making a scene and that encourages the stalker further. Don't let him have the upper hand. Also learn some basic self-defence techniques. So even if you are alone, you are not completely helpless."

At your workplace or within a friend circle too, if you see someone paying too much attention that goes beyond personal and professional relationships, you need to be alarmed. "It is not normal if someone is keeping a track of everything you are doing," she points out.

There is of course, always a small chance that someone's harmlessly in awe of you or just star-struck. "It might be flattering initially to know you have a fan," Chhabria points out, "But if you feel your personal space is being invaded that is when you need to take things seriously."

She adds that there is no way you can ignore such a person and expect him/her to disappear. "Stalkers are usually cowards and avoid confrontation. After having taken people around you into confidence you must talk to the person and tell him/her how you exactly feel."

However, she warns that it is equally important to deal with the individual in question carefully. "Avoid going on the offensive right at the outset," she advises, "But be clear and firm. And the moment your personal safety is being threatened, go to the police."

Stalking and the law

Interestingly as a concept, stalking is yet to be acknowledged in the Indian legal system.

Debarati Halder, advocate and managing director, Centre for Cyber Victim Counselling says, "Indian law does not define a stalker. S/he is considered as a 'trespasser on your privacy' or a 'harasser' but this too is not 'defined'. However, US laws do define a stalker as someone who is following and travelling across the states with an intention to harm. This same definition has been taken with little modifications to suit the need of the Internet era."

She adds, however, that The National Commission for Women has proposed the following definition on stalking, which is slated to be an amendment to the IPC, as a new section: 'Any person who stalks a woman with the intention to cause (a) serious harm or injury to that woman or a third person or (b) apprehension or fear of serious harm or injury to that woman or to a third person shall be punished with imprisonment... or with fine or with both'.

Haldar adds, "There is no 'protection programme for women' related to stalking in India, though the laws try to assist the victims in a remote manner."

Despite all the loopholes in the law however, Divya Taneja, who works at the Special Cell for Women and Children at Dadar in Mumbai recommends that if you are being stalked, it is best that you inform the police.

"You need to lodge a non-cognisable (NC) offence first. Although the police cannot arrest the stalker they can round him up and give him/her a talking-to. If, however, the problem persists then you need to file a First Information Report (FIR) after which the police can arrest him/her," she says adding, "The accused will be brought before the court for hearing and can get himself/herself freed on bail."

This invariably means court cases that drag on for years on end -- and effectively lessen the number of women reporting harassment.

Social stigma

Adding to these complications is the social stigma that is attached with situations such as these.

Taneja says, "In many cases women prefer to let these things pass because the moment they bring it up with their parents, the limited mobility they have gets further restricted."

All social outings are stopped. At times it becomes difficult for the girl to go to college too. What is worse, she gets accused of leading her stalker on, even if she's never interacted with him, let alone known him.

The rules of the game further change when the victim knows the stalker. Of the cases that have been reported in the Special Cell, an approximate 45 percent of them are those of husbands separated but not divorced from their wives.

In such cases the Special Cell -- currently in its 25th year -- acts as a go-between. Taneja asks the families to visit her office and she makes them see the light. She says they also get the tormentors to visit and talk to them.

According to her "there is a general fear of the law amongst citizens in these parts of the country". So the fact that the cell is located within the police station premises intimidates the stalker.

Stalking is just one of the many issues on which Taneja and her co-workers counsel distressed women. The idea, Taneja tells us, is to be able to make a woman strong enough to retaliate.

She says, "Sometimes it takes months before the woman musters courage. And once she does, the rest falls into place."

Have you ever been in a similar situation? How did you deal with it? Please share your experiences and suggestions with us. Send your stories to getahead@rediff.co.in (subject line: 'Stalker experience') and we'll publish them right here on rediff.com

Abhishek Mande