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Bengaluru Jyothi murder case puts stalker syndrome back in limelight

Stalking is about fixation and obsession, which if left uncontrolled, can have a violent and tragic ending, as in the case of Jyothi and Swathi

Stalking is a cognizable offense in the Indian Penal Code. But how many such victims take benefit of the provision?

A 25-year-old advocate practising in a lower court  was brutally murdered by her stalker in broad daylight on a busy road in Bengaluru on Saturday evening.

On further investigation, it was found that the accused was a BMTC bus conductor named B. Madhu, 28, and he had been stalking Jyoti Kumari for nearly four years. He got enraged after she jilted his marriage proposal and killed her.

This is quite similar to the Swathi murder case that shocked the nation in June this year. Swathi was a 24-year-old working woman, who was stabbed to death on June 24, 2016, at a Chennai railway station in front of several people. The suspected assailant was P Ramkumar, whom she had supposedly befriended on Facebook and with whom she had exchanged phone numbers also.

Twenty years ago, Priyadarshini Mattoo, a 25-year-old law student, who was found raped and murdered at her house in New Delhi on January 23, 1996. The culprit, Santosh Kumar Singh, her senior in college, had been stalking and harassing her for several years.

In all these cases, there is a primal similarity – the assailants were known to the victims and they, in most probability, knew that they were being stalked. In the first two cases, they failed to take any precaution.

In 2006, psychologist Brian Spitzberg at San Diego State University, California, had conducted large-scale representative studies of stalking behaviour across three continents.

He reported that 2–13% of males and 8–32% of females are victimised by stalking at some point in their adult lives, and in the majority of such cases, the person is stalked by someone they know.

The incidence of such stalking-related killings is on the rise. Just Google ‘stalk murder India’, and you are bombarded with so many murder cases that it seems not a day goes without some woman being stabbed to death by a jilted young man or an ex-lover in the country.

Yet, many women tend to take stalking lightly. Even if they sense danger, they hesitate to take a proactive step. Research shows that victims typically endure 100 incidents before they even call the police.

Stalking is about fixation and obsession, which if left uncontrolled can have a violent and tragic ending, as in the case of Jyothi and Swathi. Psychologists opine that the longer a stalking episode persists and the more intrusive it is, the greater the likelihood that a mental disorder is contributing to the behaviour.

But it isn’t the case that every stalker has serious mental health issues. Stalkers are not a homogenous group and have varying reasons and motivations for what they are doing, which can change over time.

Stalking victims are largely a ‘neglected lot’ in our society, many popular mainstream movies glorifying this behaviour in the garb of a ‘love-struck’ youngster or ‘secret admirer’.

Considering the gravity of the situation, the Indian government brought an important legislative change through the Criminal Law Amendment Bill, 2013, by defining what constitutes “stalking”. “Stalking” has been added as an offence in the Indian Penal Code as Section 354D punishable by a term of up to three years and fine.

The amendment defines a stalker as any man who—

(i) follows a woman and contacts, or attempts to contact such woman to foster personal interaction repeatedly despite a clear indication of disinterest by such woman; or

(ii) monitors the use by a woman of the internet, email or any other form of electronic communication, commits the offence of stalking.”

The only real exception available to common people under this Section 354D would be if they can prove that the conduct was reasonable and justified.

Many women fail to avail of this provision granted by the Indian legal system. But, the recent Jyothi murder must be a warning for those being harassed by stalkers and if they feel threatened by any ‘secret admirer’, they ought to file a police complaint straightaway to prevent any mishappening.

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