Editor's note: A vice-president with a leading media group was stalked and harassed by a man in a car while out on a Sunday morning walk in one of the city's swish suburbs. This is her first-person account of the incident.
It was a relatively quiet Sunday morning on 14 January. I had left my house at about 8 am to go for a walk, and there were only a handful of joggers and others on the road. As I turned from Carter Road to Turner Road, and walked towards the junction at about 8.45, I noticed that a man in a silver Wagon R was following me. When I turned, I realised that his car was centimetres away from me, close enough to brush against me. I was walking at the edge of the footpath, towards the road. I saw that he was holding out his phone, which was aimed at me, at my back. The flash light was on.
He looked like a fairly young man in his 20s, and he was wearing a turban. He stared at me continuously. This is not someone I know.
I stopped, because I couldn't figure out what he was doing. But because he was in a car, he could not stop in moving traffic and had to proceed towards the traffic light. There weren't too many vehicles on the road in the morning. He was cruising slowly.
I could sense that he was waiting to see which way I'd go — left or right. I pretended to go to the left towards Pali Naka, so that he'd go the wrong way, but he went straight instead. I thought that he was out of sight, so I crossed the road and headed towards the right hand side towards Manuel Gonsalves Road, assuming he wouldn't notice. When I went there, he took a U-turn from the other side, and crossed me on the road that I was walking on. I saw his car, and this is when I noted down the number on his license plate. While I was walking, the man took a U-turn and stopped his car right next to me. I chose not to look him in the eye because I didn't know how he'd react.
Manuel Gonsalves Road is usually very busy, but on that morning, it was deserted. The shops weren't open. There was one paan/cigarette shop next to Cafe Coffee Day, but I had walked ahead of it. It didn't strike me that I should run or raise an alarm. In any case, if I had raised an alarm, he would have zoomed off. I just kept looking into my phone, avoiding making eye contact. He drove ahead, took a U-turn and again topped the car right next to me.
I moved a little ahead, and stopped right outside an ATM. I waited for him to go, but he finally parked his car there. He had a very defiant look on his face which seemed to suggest, "I'm here, and you can't do anything about it." This scared me.
I didn't know what to do — if I went ahead, he would notice and follow me. When something like this happens, you freeze. You don't know how to react. I didn't want to indicate that I was scared or interested in why he was following me.
I decided to point my phone camera at him and take a picture of his car. I thought it would scare him and make him go away. The moment I did this, he zoomed off. I managed to get a picture of the car from the back.
I immediately tweeted this picture to the Mumbai Police account and mentioned that he had followed me. By this point, someone replied to my tweet with the details of who was apparently the owner of the car, as per (Regional Transport Office) RTO records. I hoped that the police would catch him, because he did not seem afraid of following and filming me. But he did manage to induce a lot of fear in me.
I walked to an auto rickshaw stationed on the road. I told the rickshaw driver that there was someone following me, and that I was going to stand there for a while. The rickshaw driver told me that I should stay nearby and that we'd see what the man would do. But I realised that the moment he accepts a passenger, he will go away. I walked into a chemist's shop which was open.
The police responded to me on Twitter. They asked me to send my contact number through a direct message, which I did. They called me and asked for my location, and I mentioned that I was scared to go home, despite him zooming off. The police said that they would figure it out, and asked me to go home. Afterwards, I noticed that there was a car parked exactly opposite, which was a silver Wagon-R.
After a while, the police asked me to send an e-mail and file a complaint, which I did upon reaching home. I was asked to come to the police station after having filed a web complaint, after making clear how afraid I was to step out, and not having eaten anything. I did not want to go to the police station. I was told that two police officers would be sent to my house.
Two beat constables — a man and a woman — came home and asked what I'd like to do. They said that if I file an FIR, the man would get arrested. I felt fearful and didn't want to do the rounds of the courts; I was also concerned about my safety being jeopardised. I live alone in the city, and this is the first time that something of this sort has happened to me. I asked them to round him up, ask him why he did this, and I wanted him to know that this was not something he could get away with. I shouldn't have to live in fear, confined to my own house and forced to keep the curtains drawn. On this day, he followed me. In the future, he may do this to someone else.
They took my statement, wrote it in Marathi, and asked me to sign. On Monday (15 January), I called the inspector to find out the status of the complaint. He said that they had written to the RTO to find out the address of the man, and had hand-delivered this request to their office. On the morning of Tuesday (16 January), I received a message saying that my FIR had been registered. I called up the inspector and said that I didn't want an FIR filed because of the constant visits to the court that follow. I just wanted the police to ensure that this man knew he had committed an offence and that he could not get away with it. When I told the police that I had wanted to file an NCC instead, they said, "It's okay, it amounts to the same thing. We'll take action based on what you have said. It is an offence noted in our records."
But I've been living in fear. I don't go for morning walks on a regular basis. I have never been stalked before this.
Ever since I tweeted to the Mumbai Police on Sunday, journalists have asked which police station I have filed a complaint at. I don't want to reveal this information because where I live will become evident. Yesterday, the sub-inspector of the police station where my complaint has been registered tweeted to me, offered his number and asked for mine too. I asked an assistant police inspector about this. "You're supposed to be protecting my identity, but it seems as though you are jeopardising my safety," I said. The inspector said that he would stop the sub-inspector from tweeting, but isn't this sensitive information that he should not have been tweeting about in the first case? I don't think the police will be able to conceal my identity.
This incident took place on Sunday. Today is Wednesday, and they should have done something by now. Over the last 36-plus hours, it is possible that the man became aware that a complaint has been filed, and he may have fled the city. It'll be four days before any concrete action can be taken; a report that appeared in the Times of India this morning also confirmed that the accused is believed to be absconding.
It is unlikely that this man decided to follow me randomly. He had observed me and had been following me for a while, perhaps from Carter Road itself. He probably knew that I was alone and walking by myself. I don't know what his motive was. I didn't want to do anything to instigate him. Running would not have served my purpose. I didn't want to scare him, because his first reaction would be to defend himself in some way, and in the process he could have attacked me.
This morning when I drove to work, I was careful. Even my guards have been told to be vigilant. Of utmost importance is the fact that he has not been nabbed so far. If he chooses to get vindictive, I am at risk.
As told to Neerja Deodhar
Updated Date: Jan 17, 2018 13:33 PM