The woman/man feels alone, in the house, in the city, in the office room. She/he may be with or in a crowd, she/he may have family, many friends. Yet, when she crosses the road, there is someone looking at her, following her, making unseemly eye contact in a lewd fashion. When she is at home, she maybe woken up by the bell. It is her neighbour, her husband's friend. He wishes to come in, the watchword is friendship, trust. She believes it’s a risk, but she lets him in. And what follows is years of regret, because he takes advantage of the situations, professes his undying love. She is embarrassed, they are friends, she does not know how to handle the situation. The predator knows no remorse, he is guileless, and friendly, abject and controlling all at the same time. The woman argues and vents her anger, when that has no effect, she tries to communicate that it is a crime. He laughs. Most often, however, as in the recent case of Swathi in Chennai, it is a stranger, who the woman finds repelling, but has no reason to complain about officially because he has not done anything except gaze at her, and follow her.
Stalking is so common in India, that every woman has experienced it either directly or vicariously. The most wretched situations arise, when the family is sympathetic, but believes that the woman is over re-acting. They say, “Don’t worry. I’m sure it won’t happen again.” They themselves don’t know how to react to it, so their embarrassment is covered up by their routine actions, like returning to the newspaper, or to cooking.The stalker is anonymous, the woman is too ashamed by his daily covert attentions. She too, believes that the problem will go away. And then, she too begins to respond to the situation in covert ways. When the family member asks, “Is the man still following you?” she looks away and says, “No, not a problem.”
The stalker uses romance/love/obsession as the reason for his/her behaviour. He communicates that the feelings are beyond him, he believes fate has a reason for choosing her as the object of his affection, his romantic interest. Whatever she says, objecting to his advances, he has an answer: ‘because it is predestined, because we have known one another in a past life, because I do not feel this way for another etc;’ and since he is a practised liar and felon, attempting to steal the body and soul of another, his words become his only password into a stranger’s life. The victim tells her friends, she does not want to worry her parents any more. She shows her friends when he appears, but he is too vague, too distant, too amorphous, too quick to fade into the shadows, the bubbles of the glass in the train window hide him. They are frightened too, but they can only comfort her, and they also communicate that he is essentially harmless.
Young people cannot tell their parents what frightens them most, because the order of existence demands that they continue with their normal lives. If they tell their parents, then the latter stop them from going out, or escort them everywhere, which takes out the vibrancy of daily routines. To be an adult, is to be in control of the situation. So the victim starts each day, with a sense of panic, of shame. She knows he will appear, proposition her, and leave guiltlessly, enjoying her fear.
In Chennai, Swathi took the train, routinely. Her murderer turned up, with a sickle, and killed her in view of the other passengers waiting to board a train. The commuters thought them to be friends arguing, and were non-plussed when she was killed. Stalking and being decapitated are so routine, that they just did not bother. The televisions they watch every evening when they return from work, show many similar instances of terror and death. This was another instance. Not very different from the JNU case, where a class mate killed his woman friend because she refused to marry him. He too, was carrying a machete in his carry bag. He committed suicide, but he told the Professor of Russian, who was holding the wounded body of the woman, while the class remained numb, “You’re a Muslim, and I am a Jat.” These identities, so arbitrarily produced out of a suicidee’s mouth, as he lay writhing in death pangs, were the epitaph to the India that we know. Returning to tradition means that a man can kill a woman because she does not agree with him. Justice however, in constitutional terms means that citizenship comes before cross cutting identities. In the JNU case, the predator died, but the victim survived. Now, with predatory Islamic terrorism, Muslims are being targetted and with them their secular friends. The lovely Tarishi Jain is no more, and the assassins, posing as if for a toothpaste advertisement frighten us by their joi de vivre.