The stalking of Varnika Kundu, a 29 year old DJ, in Chandigarh has brought to the forefront a major concern of half the Indian population - their safety. It definitely isn’t the first case of a woman being harassed and it definitely won’t be the last, given the reaction of the people who are in power in our country. As a woman, I feel safe in making the assumption that most of us have, at some time, been eve teased, cat-called or, even worse, stalked.
However, thanks to The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, both stalking and voyeurism are now criminal offences under section 354D and 354C respectively and punishable by no less than one year of imprisonment. According to the act, stalking is defined as "To follow a woman and contact, or attempt to contact such woman to foster personal interaction repeatedly despite a clear indication of disinterest by such woman; or monitor the use by a woman of the internet, email or any other form of electronic communication."
Your stalker could be anybody, your ex boyfriend, a friend, a relative or somebody completely unknown to you. In the event that you are being stalked and do not know what to do, here are some steps you can take to ensure your safety.
After telling the person once (and doing it firmly) to not contact you, do not reply to the person repeatedly. Any replies to his contact, even if they are aggressive, will only motivate him to contact you more. All your stalker wants is a reaction or acknowledgement from you, whether positive or negative. You CANNOT work through it or make them gradually understand that what they’re doing makes you uncomfortable.
Block the person from all of your social media accounts, whether it’s WhatsApp, Instagram or Facebook. Smartphones make it really easy to block calls from particular numbers as well. However, if it gets out of hand, getting a new number is always advisable.
Download SOS apps, like the Raksha App, which let you send your location to your loved ones, immediately informing them of you being in a difficult situation. They can send or come to help if you’re in danger.
Helpline Numbers can be your saviour. The Government has set up a variety of helpline numbers to help women who are in danger. 1091 is the Women’s Helpline number pan India, 1096 is Anti Stalking/ Obscene Calls helpline for Delhi and this number is also linked to the Police Control Room (just like 100). For people outside Delhi, a similar helpline is the one to National Commission for Women at 0111-23219750.
It is very important to document and keep evidence of all attempts of contact so that you can present it to the concerned authorities when you decide to file a complaint. Keep the emails, messages, record of phone calls and even try to click pictures from your phone to present as evidence of stalking.
The importance of informing people in your life about this cannot be emphasized enough. Talk to your family and friends so that they know of the danger you are in. If you do not feel comfortable telling your parents, there has to be some adult in your family you can inform. Try informing a trusted authority in your school, college or office so that they can ensure your safety as well.
In India, most people fear approaching the authorities because of the stigma attached to the police forces. However, your safety comes first and you must inform the authorities of the possible danger. If you are being stalked online, you can file a complaint with the Cyber Crime Cell. If you’re afraid of approaching the Police, you can file a complaint with the National Commission for Women (NCW) who will then take it up with the police on your behalf.
This may sound counter intuitive when we’re talking about freedom but try to not to be alone at all times. Have some family member or friend with you who can travel with you. Stalkers are more intimidated by a group of people and are less likely to approach you in such a case. In case you are, try to carry a pepper spray with you for your own protection.
Do not stick to your routine religiously if you feel you’re being followed. Take different routes to work or college and try leaving from there at different times to throw your stalker off. Also, if you do the same things on particular days, try switching them up if possible.
Always, ALWAYS trust your instincts. If you feel something isn’t right or isn’t safe, do not try to reason with yourself or defend their actions in your mind. Find a place or a way to make it safer or just leave. Don’t be afraid to hurt their feelings by leaving.
Remember, your safety comes first, girls!