Three years after the Indian Penal Code (IPC) was amended to designate stalking as a serious crime, stalkers continue to claim victims with impunity. Worse, incidences of stalking have phenomenally increased over the last two years. Clearly, law-enforcement agencies have a lot to answer for because they seem plainly unaware of the amended legislation passed by Parliament in February 2013. The amendment came just a year after a medical student was gang-raped in the heart of Delhi, jolting the conscience of the general public and legislators alike. The brutal crime catalysed a national discourse of the kind that seldom occurs on issues of gender-based violence.
This was the background against which stalking came to be identified and designated as a serious crime. But the effort, it seems, has come to no avail. Consider the latest, shocking statistics: Within 48 hours, three women in the National Capital were attacked by stalkers. Two of the victims died while the third is reported to be in a critical condition. Despite the violence of the crime and its prominent display in news media, these events have not set off public anger at large.
What we instead encounter is the same deadening social and political indifference to the routinisation of violence against women. The alarming depths of lack of social empathy can be surmised in light of the fact that one of the deadly attacks in questions occurred out in the streets of a residential area, Burari, a locality in outer Delhi. The onlookers watched on but did little to save Karuna, the victim. The 21-year-old woman was stabbed at least 22 times with a pair of scissors, in the glare of public scrutiny.
“In the CCTV footage, Aditya (the stalker) is seen repeatedly stabbing Karuna on the torso while dragging her on the road. The footage also shows several people stop and stare before fleeing the spot. After being stabbed about a dozen times, Karuna falls and a passerby tries to intervene, but is driven away by Aditya, who continues to stab her motionless body,” The Indian Express reported on 21 September. Just a day earlier, a 25-year-old beautician was pushed off a building in Delhi’s Mongolpuri area. While another 28-year-old woman was stabbed to death by her stalker in Inderpuri. The spiral of violence is never ending.
Media reports suggest that the Centre has sought a report from the Delhi police about incidents involving stalking. But this gesture is simply not enough to given the grave situation. Besides, in light of the gravity of the crime and it escalation, Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju’s remark — “What has happened is very sad” — sounds both weak and inadequate.
According to a report published in the Times of India this August: “If the ‘rape capital’ tag was not embarrassing enough, Delhi has earned another dubious title, India's stalking capital, according to the latest data from the National Crime Records Bureau. Stalking cases more than doubled in the city last year, jumping from 541 in 2014 to 1,124 in 2015. That put Delhi in second spot among all states. Only Maharashtra, with 1,399 cases, had higher number of stalking incidents. No other city came anywhere close.”
Callous indifference defines our general approach to stalking and violence against women. Time and again we come across a disturbing tendency among the general population pay no attention to victims of violence — event when it unfolds before their eyes. In the past, onlookers have left injured victims — of road accidents and other incidents of violence — to simply bleed to death. This display of inhumanity goes hand in hand with us patting ourselves on the back for being a compassionate people, who belong to the land of Gandhi and Buddha.
These considerations bring us back to the question raised at the beginning. What good are laws if the will to enforce them is forever absent? Our legislators would like to claim credit for passing progressive laws. But the continued weak enforcement defeats the very purpose of such laws. The matter of strict enforcement cannot simply be the civil society’s responsibility.
The law enforcement machinery has to be made accountable to the people. Most important, the political class has to prioritise violence against women as a top concern. Unfortunately, the tendency of the executive and the legislature so far has been to ignore gender-based crimes, unless and until they lead to massive public outcry. Without a sea-change in our collective, national mindsets, India will never be able to truly ensure gender justice in all spheres of life.