Stalking Laws in India

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Stalking, an intrusive and threatening behavior, has emerged as a grave concern in societies worldwide including India. It encompasses a range of actions that involve unwanted attention, intimidation, and harassment towards another person. According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, stalking is “the act or crime of willfully and repeatedly following or harassing another person in circumstances that would cause a reasonable person to fear injury or death especially because of express or implied threats.” This means stalking can cause immense distress, psychological harm, and fear to the victims, often leaving lasting scars on their lives. Recognizing the seriousness of this issue, the Government of India has implemented legal provisions to address and combat stalking effectively.

Stalking in India is governed by Section 354D of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) which criminalizes such acts. According to this Section, Stalking is defined as “Any man who-

  1. Follows a woman and contacts, or attempts to contact such women to foster personal interaction repeatedly despite a clear indication of disinterest by such woman; or
  2. Monitors the use by a woman of the internet, email, or any other form of electronic communication, commits the offence of stalking.”

This provision acknowledges that stalking can manifest in various forms such as physical, cyber, surveillance, and telephonic stalking. Each mode of stalking involves persistent pursuit, monitoring, and intrusion into the victim’s personal life without their consent. The legal recognition of stalking as a crime in India aims to safeguard the rights and well-being of individuals, particularly women, who are disproportionately affected by such intrusive behavior. Victims can seek protection, report incidents, and ensure that appropriate action is taken against the perpetrators by understanding various modes of stalking and related legal provisions. In this article, we will discuss different forms of stalking in India, examine laws related to stalking in India, the penalties associated with the offence of stalking, and how can one deal with stalking in India. 

Impact of Stalking

Stalking has a profound impact on the victims, causing significant physical, emotional, and psychological harm. The constant fear, anxiety, depression, insecurity, and stress resulting from being stalked can disrupt daily life, relationships, and overall well-being. Victims often experience a loss of personal safety, privacy, and autonomy, leading to a sense of helplessness and vulnerability. The intrusive and persistent nature of stalking can lead to sleep disturbances, hypertension, self-doubt, PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder), gastrointestinal problems, and other health issues. Along with this, it can also affect the victim’s social life, personal relationships, and career as they feel mistrustful, fearful, isolated, and insecure about forming new connections. 

Forms of Stalking 

In India, various acts of stalking are recognized and addressed under legal provisions. Stalking in India is categorized as follows:

  • Physical Stalking: It is a form of harassment or intrusive behavior in which an individual follows, observes, or approaches another person in a persistent and unwanted manner, often causing the victim to feel threatened, unsafe, or anxious. It typically involves repeated and unwelcomed physical presence. Physical stalking can have serious psychological and legal implications.  It is a violation of personal boundaries and can lead to emotional distress and, in some cases, physical harm to the victim.
  • Electronic Stalking: This refers to the use of electronic communication and internet technologies to harass, threaten, intimidate, or monitor an individual. This form of stalking occurs mainly through various online platforms and digital means including social media, text messages, etc. Electronic stalking is also known as cyberstalking whereas, with the rise of technology, it has become a prevalent form of harassment.

Along with this, telephone stalking and surveillance stalking are also identified as forms of stalking where telephonic stalking is a form of harassment or stalking in which a pattern of persistent unwanted communication through phone calls or text messages is made with the intention of causing distress, intimidation, or fear, also known as phone stalking. On the other hand, surveillance stalking is a form of stalking that entails constant monitoring or surveillance of the victim's activities without consent. In this form of stalking, the stalker uses various methods to track the victim's activities, gather personal information, and maintain a constant, intrusive presence in the victim's life. It can include both physical and electronic surveillance. 

Modes of Stalking

There are innumerable options and ways that an individual can use for stalking, some of them are listed as follows:

  • Following the victim, showing up at their workplace or home uninvited, or persistently visiting their frequented places.
  • Sending unwanted emails and messages repeatedly.
  • Making malicious posts on social media platforms about the victim.
  • Spreading fake rumors.
  • Taking photographs.
  • Threaten to sexual and physical assault.
  • Forceful communication.
  • Stalking through social media and other apps.
  • Sending filthy letters.
  • Engaging in obscene conversations.
  • Stalking using technological means such as hidden cameras, GPS tracking devices, or other methods to invade the victim's privacy.

Types of stalkers

Stalkers can show different types of behaviors and motivations, some of the common types of stalkers are mentioned below:

  • Rejected Stalker: Rejected stalkers are those who become fixated on a person who has rejected their romantic feelings. In such a case, stalking also arises as a result of the breakdown of a close relationship (breakup). They may engage in persistent stalking behaviors as a response to the perceived rejection, often driven by a desire to regain control or manipulate the victim into re-establishing a relationship. Former sexual intimates along with family members, close friends, or others in close relation with the stalker become targets of rejected stalking. 
  • Resentful Stalker: Resentful stalkers harbor feelings of anger, resentment, or desire for revenge against their victims. They may stalk to intimidate, frighten, or make the victim feel guilty for perceived wrongdoings or slights. They feel like they have been mistreated in some way and think that they have a certain amount of power over the victim. Such stalkers often have some form of mental illness and can be self-pitying and self-righteous. Their primary motivation is often to instill fear or cause emotional distress.  
  • Intimacy Seeking Stalker: This type of stalker is motivated by a deep longing for emotional connection and intimacy. Basically, intimacy-seeking stalking arises out of loneliness and lack of close confidante. Stalkers may engage in intrusive behaviors such as monitoring the victim’s activities, attempting to initiate contact, or invading their personal space, in hopes of establishing a relationship or deepening an existing one. Intimacy-seeking stalkers are often mentally ill and initiate stalking on the grounds of a delusional belief that the victim loves them.  
  • Predatory Stalker: A predatory stalker seeks to exert power and control over their victims for personal gratification and such stalking arises in the context of deviant sexual fantasies. The victims here are strangers but those in whom the stalker has a sexual interest. Predatory stalkers view their victims as objects to be dominated and may engage in stalking behaviors to exploit, harm, or commit criminal acts against them. It can start with voyeurism and sexual assault      
  • Incompetent Suitor: An incompetent suitor is an individual who lacks social skills or understanding of appropriate boundaries in romantic or sexual pursuits. They may exhibit persistent and unwanted behaviors in their attempts to establish a relationship (especially with strangers), but their actions stem from social ineptitude rather than malicious intent. 
  • Erotomanic Stalker: This type of stalker develops an irrational belief that a person, usually someone of higher social status or celebrity, is in love with them. They may relentlessly pursue the object of their delusion, leaving love letters, and gifts, or attempting to establish contact despite any reciprocation or prior relationship.
  • Hitmen: The stalker stalks the victims by a hired killer who has instructions to injure or kill that person badly. Hitmen is the most dangerous stalker.

Exceptions to Stalking in India

While stalking is generally considered a criminal offence, there are certain exceptions or situations where certain behaviors may not be considered stalking. Section 354D of the IPC illustrates exceptions to stalking while defining stalking, stating, “such conduct (stalking) shall not amount to stalking if the man who pursued it proved that–

  • it was pursued for the purpose of preventing or detecting crime and the man accused of stalking had been entrusted with the responsibility of prevention and detection of crime by the State; or
  • it was pursued under any law or to comply with any condition or requirement imposed by any person under any law; or
  • in the particular circumstances, such conduct was reasonable and justified.”

Stalking and Indian Laws

In India, the offence of stalking is governed under Section 354D of the IPC where stalking is defined as the act of following, contacting, or attempting to contact a person persistently despite their clear indication of disinterest or through any other means of communication, causing fear or distress in the victim. Section 354D(2) of the IPC deals with stalking punishment in India which is imprisonment for a term that may extend to three years and with a liable fine for first conviction. For a second or subsequent conviction, the offender is punished with imprisonment for a term that may extend to five years and with a liable fine.  

The case of cyberstalking is dealt with in India mainly by the Information Technology Act, 2000Section 66A of the IT Act, 2000, illustrates ‘punishment for sending offensive messages through communication service, etc.’ As per this Section, any individual “who sends, by means of a computer resource or a communication device, (a) any information that is grossly offensive or has menacing character; or (b) any information which he knows to be false, but for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred or ill will, persistently by making use of such computer resource or a communication device; (c) any electronic mail or electronic mail message for the purpose of causing annoyance or inconvenience or to deceive or to mislead the addressee or recipient about the origin of such messages, shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and with fine.” 

Section 67 of the IT Act deals with the offenders who publish or transmit obscene material in electric form. It states that “Whoever publishes or transmits or causes to be published or transmitted in the electronic form, any material which is lascivious or appeals to the prurient interest or if its effect is such as to tend to deprave and corrupt persons who are likely, having regard to all relevant circumstances, to read, see or hear the matter contained or embodied in it, shall be punished on first conviction with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years (3 years) and with fine which may extend to five lakh rupees (Rs. 5,00,000) and in the event of second or subsequent conviction with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to five years (5 years) and also with fine which may extend to ten lakh rupees (Rs. 10,00,000).” 

Also, Section 67A and Section 67B of the IT Act provide ‘punishment for publishing or transmitting of material containing sexually explicit act, etc., in electronic form’ and  ‘punishment for publishing or transmitting of material depicting children in sexually explicit act, etc., in electronic form’ respectively. The punishment under Sections 67A and 67B is defined as whoever commits such an offence as mentioned under the provisions of this Section “shall be punished on first conviction with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to five years and with fine which may extend to ten lakh rupees and in the event of second or subsequent conviction with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to seven years and also with fine which may extend to ten lakh rupees.”

Other Sections related to Section 354D IPC 

  • Section 354A of the IPC deals with sexual harassment offences including unwelcomed physical contact, pornography against the woman’s will, and making sexually colored remarks. Before Section 354D, this Section was used to deal with cases related to stalking as most sexual harassment cases begin with stalking the other person.
  • Section 354B of the IPC addresses the offence of assault or use of criminal force with the intent to disrobe a woman. While not directly related to stalking, it deals with a specific form of assault that can be associated with cases of stalking, wherein the stalker intends to cause humiliation or exert control over the victim.
  • Section 354C of the IPC pertains to voyeurism, which involves capturing or recording the image of a person engaged in a private act without their consent. This Section punishes the one who disseminates such images or recordings. It is also read with Section 354D of the IPC as it involves following a person and invading his/her privacy.  
  • Section 292 of the IPC deals with offences related to obscenity. While not directly linked to stalking, it can be applicable if the stalker uses obscene materials or communications to harass or intimidate the victim by sending messages to a victim via social networking sites, text messages, or email.
  • Section 506 of the IPC addresses criminal intimidation, which can be relevant in cases where stalkers use threats or intimidating behavior to instill fear or exert control over their victims.
  • Section 509 of the IPC deals with the offense of insulting the modesty of a woman by using words, gestures, or acts. It can be applicable if the stalker engages in behavior that insults the modesty or dignity of the victim. 
  • Section 66E of the IT Act deals with voyeurism through the internet, commonly as a result of cyberstalking, and provides punishment for the same whereas Section 354C read with Section 354D of the IPC is voyeurism that happens with physical stalking. Therefore, Section 66E of the IT Act is also related to Section 354D of the IPC which deals with stalking.

How to deal with stalking in India?

Dealing with stalking in India requires a proactive and multi-faceted approach that prioritizes personal safety, seeks legal protection, and involves appropriate authorities. Some of the steps to be followed while dealing with stalking in India are mentioned as follows:

  • Document everything including any obscene letters or unwanted messages received from the offender.
  • Inform trusted individuals including family members, friends, or colleagues. 
  • Contact the Police and file a complaint providing them with all relevant details and evidence of the stalking incidents. If being stalked online then inform the Cyber cell and file a complaint.
  • Apply for a restraining order that prohibits the stalker from contacting or approaching you. Also, seek legal advice from lawyers regarding the matter. 
  • Raise awareness and be cautious about sharing personal information online and consider adjusting privacy settings on social media platforms. Keep records of incidents, including dates, times, and descriptions, to provide evidence if needed. Take screenshots, save copies, and back up all evidence.  
  • Follow up regularly on the progress of the case and stay informed about laws in force regarding stalking. 

Related Case Laws

1. Is stalking a bailable offence under Indian Law?
2. Which Section of the Indian Penal Code deals with stalking in India?