"I want you to love me. Will you marry me?" 20-year-old Srinivas Saibur repeatedly asked Shivaleela as he stalked her in Karnataka's Bidar for over six months. Despite having declined his proposal, she was being followed everywhere. Reportedly, Srinivas had even told Shivaleela's family that he would kill her if she didn't oblige.
On 8 February, the body of this paramedical student was found abandoned in Bidar – and Srinivas is now in judicial custody, facing murder charges under IPC Section 302.
"I wanted my daughter to make it big and earn a decent living in the paramedical field after completing her course in college. Srinivas was our neighbour. He was after my daughter. He kept threatening us. He even kept calling her from different numbers. I am convinced that he killed my daughter, shattering my dreams. I am left with her memories and tears. He deserves the most stringent punishment. We need justice," cried her mother Vijayalakshmi, a daily wage labourer.
This case comes a month after a 19-year-old BTech student was stabbed to death by her relative at Presidency University in Bengaluru on 2 January. Reason: a jilted lover who was unable to accept rejection. In fact, in December 2022, there was an explosion in Hassan that wreaked havoc until the police found that it was reportedly the work of a spurned lover.
Stalking: Reel to Real Life
It's never like in the movies – Toilet: Ek Prem Katha, Badrinath Ki Dulhaniya, and Raanjhanaa – where the hero uses stalking as a tool for romance and the heroine has a change of heart. When there is a stalker lurking in the shadows, fear is natural.
Sl Shrisha is an actor and model from southern India, who grew up watching movies and believing every romantic content. "This was until I realised what's portrayed is actually wrong," said the actor, when she was followed by a man who randomly asked her for a cup of coffee.
"Films always show the hero taking the heroine's 'no' as a 'maybe.' Romantic flicks are all about you going behind a girl and pursuing the chase until the girl's 'no' changes into a 'yes.' And this has been normalised on screens!" Shrisha continued, adding she has been stalked by people even while on a holiday, shopping.
"Why can't I just be?" said the actor, exasperated with men checking her out all the time.
"A guy was stalking me when I was in college," recollected Kavitha (name changed to maintain anonymity), who is now around 35 years old. Hailing from north Karnataka, she is now happily married and settled in Bengaluru.
"I still shudder when I think of those days. He kept following me when I went to school and returned, or when I went to my tuition class. There were days when he just stood outside my house staring at me through the window for long hours."Kavitha
Kavitha had to plan and change her routes everyday, or she found excuses to skip college. She couldn't muster the courage to go to the police or her parents.
"I lived in a small town. Everyone knew each other. If I had gone to my parents, they would have either suspected me of having encouraged this guy or would have locked me up in fear of being judged by the society," she whimpered, thanking heavens for having moved to Bengaluru soon.
Society's Outlook on Stalking
"Societal trauma is the biggest hurdle to cross for a woman to step forward and complain about stalking. Parents end up worrying if they can ever get the girl married. What if the stalker shows up during marriage and indulges in character assassination?" explained Ruth Manorama, a Dalit social activist.
Manorama further mentioned the case of a woman, who was in a relationship with a man. "The girl did not want to marry him. He kept pestering her. Now, the guy is following her everywhere and recently, he even beat her. The girl wants to file a case of sexual harassment," she said.
Men come with a history of not being able to understand the concept of consent, says Priya Varadharajan, founder of Durga, an NGO committed to women's safety.
"Stalking is fundamentally far deeper, rooted in the problem of patriarchy. The stalker ends up thinking – 'how can she say no?' He is then thinking if the girl is so powerful in rejecting him. And in such cases, the society ends up asking the girl – 'what was she wearing' or 'couldn't she be careful'," Varadharajan remarked.
Understanding the Stalker's Psyche
Who wouldn't remember a movie like Darr, where Shahrukh Khan plays the role of a stalker? A famous dialogue from the film goes like this – "Pyar jab hadh se guzar jaye toh pooja ban jata hai, aur pooja bahek jaye toh junoon (When love crosses its limit it becomes worship, and when worship overflows it becomes passion)."
Analysing the psyche of a stalker, Dr Roshan Jain, a noted psychiatrist and addiction specialist, said:
"Just like SRK in Darr, a stalker's obsession turns into passion, which then turns into psychosis. This could stem from a delusional disorder. They may have not been receiving love all along. And when they receive a girl's attention, they feel the need to exert control over the girl. When they are rejected, they feel angry and abandoned. They want to protect the girl then. If they cannot protect, then will kill, locking them up in isolation and loneliness."
Depending on the problem, such mental illnesses are treatable, the psychiatrist assured.
But how aware are people?
"What about the girl? They need to be more aware of sexual harassment cases and laws to be more alert and fight such cases," commented Manorama.
Agreeing with her, Varadarajan stressed the need for girls to be more confident about themselves and for citizens to be active bystanders. "The girl must also be confident about people having her back. The support system is necessary," she said.
That's not all. The police must be sensitised too, declared Varadarajan. "How aware are the police to understand the gravity of stalking. This case shouldn’t turn out to be a heinous crime later. It's not like the police aren’t doing enough. We need to be sure, we all know enough about stalking, including the police," she observed.
Cases and Cops
According to National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data, Bengaluru recorded 70 cases of stalking incidents in 2021. A media report points to a 30 percent increase in crimes against women in 2022.
Karnataka tops the charts in cybercrime with 2,243 cases in 2021. This includes cyberstalking as well.
Earlier, stalking was listed under 'eve teasing,' but the scenario is different today with a stalking case reported every 55th minute in India, according to reports. Karnataka police officer SD Sharanappa mentioned that stalking cases are now registered under IPC Section 354 (assault or criminal force to woman with intent to outrage her modesty).
"The rise in cases also points to more women coming forward to register cases. This means awareness is increasing," said Joint Commission of Police SD Sharanappa.
Regarding NCRB's 2018 data suggesting only a third of the stalking cases leading to convictions in the country, the police officer admitted that victims turn hostile as trials take long and they lose the zeal to walk the length of the court corridors.