The stabbing of our conscience

Knapps

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25, Sep 2016

Surender Singh repeatedly stabbed Karuna Prajapati in public view. Karuna’s death is yet another reflection of the disastrous consequences of leaving stalking unchecked. As usual every facet of India bears responsibility – law, police, cinema and largely society. A stalker finds several forms of encouragement from these flawed systems. How we react to deaths like Karuna’s will say a lot about our worth as a society.

What happened to Karuna Prajapati?
  • Surender Singh, alleged to be Karuna’s stalker, stabbed her more than 20 times and murdered her. The incident took place in the daytime at Burari, Delhi and in the presence of 30-40 people.
  • CCTV footage of 45 seconds shows Singh stabbing Karuna who falls to the ground. He continues to stab her. Very few passersby appear to want to help and even they decide against it. He stops stabbing when she stops struggling, and then a concerned man rushes to help. Singh appears to point the knife at him. The man backs off. He stabs her a few more times as people carry on with their routine.
  • During the assault, Singh is reported to have spoken on the phone, walked around Karuna’s body and returned to kick her and sit on the body for a short while. He also took photographs of her lifeless body. Unconfirmed reports claim he sent those photographs (via Whatsapp) to the person he thought she was in a relationship with. Singh was already married when he started stalking Karuna. 

Within three minutes people surrounded him. Someone called the police and the rest of them thrashed Surender reports The Hindu.

Note: The video is so disturbing we have refrained from providing it in our References. 

Why was this an avoidable tragedy?
Do they monitor the stalker's movement or carry out any follow-up action like cross-meetings No.”
  • Supreme Court advocate Monika Arora says stalkers get encouraged because police do not consider they can go to the extreme level of rape and murder. "The police make light of such cases and even indulge in victim-shaming. Most cops don't see stalking as a law and order problem, but a 'ladke ka maamla', which is probably why families reach a compromise”.
  • Monika suggested sensitization programmes for cops to change this mindset.

    • But activists feel a more alert and sensitive police force would have prevented Karuna’s murder.

    Society

    • Long term and long-pending change of the patriarchal outlook.
    • The “absence of response” almost everyone who witnessed the murder exhibited. There are several perspectives on why this happens – increased brutalism, apathy, fear, indifference, fear of police harassment, self-centeredness, innate selfishness and the survival instinct, waiting for another to take the initiative.

    Perhaps it is unfair to blame the bystanders who did not put their lives at risk to save Karuna. Our own reaction would have been flight out of fear. So we should not judge in retrospect on how the bystanders should have ‘ideally’ reacted. And no amount of horror and anger others exhibit would change this reaction. The spectator was not the perpetrator. There was very little reaction time available. 

    But this cannot be an excuse not to assess these alarming incidents of stalking-turned-brutal murders and attempting to see how we need to handle them because unless constructive, collective action is taken such incidents will continue unchecked. 

    When did India pass 'stringent' law against stalking?

    Indian Penal Code was modified in 2013 to introduce stalking as an offence. Law declares a man following a woman or contacting her or tracking her online activities as punishable – up to three years in prison for the first offence and a fine, and up to five years in prison for subsequent offences and a fine.

    • Three years on, stalking thrives and stalkers go scot-free. Reported incidents of stalking have increased at an alarming pace in the past two years.

    In 2015, a 19-year-old was stabbed in a crowded market in Delhi. The murderer had served prison term in 2013 for the offence of stalking her.

    • As TOI notes, the law fails to distinguish between stalkers. Some learn their lesson after punishment, others unfortunately return for more. Rejection spurs them to rape and murder – acts of revenge and a demonstration of power over their victim. The law falls short of dealing with these others.

    A bailable offence the first time

    • In May, five men harassed a young woman in central Delhi. This happened just a day after she got them arrested on charges of stalking and sexual harassment. They had been let off on bail.

    Activists have demanded that stalking be made a non-bailable offence. But several strongly point out the futility of imprisonment without adequate counseling.

    No protection for the complainant

    • There is no restraining order on the stalker when he is released. Further, there is no protection for the complainant. Absence of these provisions makes it a cakewalk for the stalker to avenge himself.
    Where have we seen similar incidents in the past?

    There were 6,266 cases of stalking registered in 2015. How many of the accused were arrested, how many were bailed out and how many returned for revenge or to prove their indomitability is not clearly known.

    • Santosh Kumar Singh, long-time stalker of law student Priyadarshini Mattoo, brutally raped and murdered her on 23 January, 1996. Singh was acquitted in 1999, the decision was challenged and he was later sentenced to death. His death sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment. Singh is the son of an IPS officer. The case was an example of inefficiency in the judicial system, especially when the criminals were well-connected. 

    Thirteen years and a rape later, India passed its anti-stalking law.

    • A dairy owner stalked his neighbor in Mukundpur. The girl, a student, refused to marry him. On 29 August 2016, he went to her house and began to assault her family members. When she retaliated, he set her ablaze.
    • A rejected lover took revenge by stabbing Farah, a young woman, and injuring her mother. He did this on September 5, 2014, when he was out on bail in a molestation charge filed by the same woman.
    • Deva Gabhne, a 32-year-old married man stalked a girl in Maharashtra for a long time. Her police complaints were ignored and in February 2015, he stabbed the college girl.
    • Ramkumar, a 22-year-old engineering graduate hacked Infosys employee Swathi to death, after his numerous attempts to force her to be his friend failed.

    In September 2016, stalkers in different parts of Delhi attacked three women in 48 hours and in each case, stalkers had harassed their victims for a long time.  Two women who were killed had gone to the police and later withdrew the complaint after assurances from the families of the stalkers.

    • Laxmi, a 28-year-old household help, dared to stand up to Sanjay, her neighbor’s six-year-long harassment. She lodged a complaint to the police and had Sanjay arrested, but he was released on bail. Two months later, he stabbed and murdered her in a ghastly manner.
    • Amit threw Seema from the first floor balcony of her house after trying to coax her into marrying him. 

    These and several other cases show the shocking lengths a stalker goes to. Almost all the victims of stalking listed above paid with their lives. For some, their boldness hastened death. In no case should stalking go unpunished. Whenever they made news, we looked to see what was missing from the same set of solutions. That has failed miserably and maybe we need to adopt protective and preventive measures in a general and specific manner.

    Who is responsible for Karuna's death?

    As long as we encourage movies to portray stalking as “cool”, we share the blame for encouraging the stalkers.

    Actor Siddharth’s brave stand against stalking being glorified in movies and the pertinent points raised by drama researcher Iswarya V in her online petition to “stop glorification of stalking in Tamil films” should be a part of discussions on constructive measures to address stalking.

    How does the problem become more complicated?
    By merely throwing a stalker in prison, are we preventing the recurrence of stalking or helping him go from stalker to killer Given the significant number of imprisoned stalkers turned murderers, critical measures like counseling are strongly suggested.

    There are critical elements to be considered. 

    • Awareness. BN Jagadeesha, a practicing criminal lawyer in the Karnataka High Court, says from his experience, stalking is rarely reported as a single offence. It usually forms the subset of a graver offence. If many more women came forward to register case of stalking, would law and society wake up to the gravity of the issue
    • Distorted justice. Well-connected criminals have been let off by law. Does this frighten those who are stalked from going to the police and encourage stalkers  
    • Speed of judicial process. Our snail-paced judicial process serves to deter victims and encourage criminals. As Kavita Krishnan, secretary, All India Progressive Women’s Association, says, “Cases in India drag on for years because we lack enough courts and judges – the delay deters victim-survivors from complaining, increases the pressure on victims and the chances of a ‘compromise’, and also puts victim-survivors in danger of their lives.
    • Bravado is not the answer. While women are expected to conform to standards and adjust to restrictions in the name of protection, and this has proved futile, just asking girls and women to “be bold” and access public spaces despite the threat of harm would still result in disaster. As architect, author and activist Shilpa Ranade says, “It then becomes the responsibility of the larger society and specifically her family, friends and the police to ensure that, one, her complaints are taken seriously, and two, her unconditional claim to public space is acknowledged. This means not just bringing the perpetrators to justice, but also providing the necessary support structure, so that she can exercise her right to freely access public space.”
    • Politicians. If they could stop making chauvinistic statements like “Everyone has stalked women at some point”, it would be a big baby-step forward. Then instead of joining the blame game – in Delhi, the AAP says they have no control over the Delhi police – they can sensitize people by organizing public campaigns against the rape culture.

    The stabbing of Karuna Prajapati should fuel action against the offence. We need to realize being stalked is a traumatic experience and stop tolerating it, irrespective of the offender.

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    Tags | Anti-Stalking Law Failed Karuna Karuna Prajapati stabbing stalking Stop Celebrating Stalking Stop tolerating stalking