Women, anywhere in the world, must wonder what it must be like to live without looking over their shoulders when walking down streets, to open the door to deliverymen without wariness, to turn down a proposal of love or marriage without fear of reprisal. Exercising agency in the last instance is alleged to be the cause for the murder—in public—of one woman in Tamil Nadu in the last week and cause for the serious injury of another. The women had turned down men who regional media and frequently films romanticise as having nursed a ‘one-sided’ love. However, they were not love-stricken misguided boys, but dangerous stalkers who unleashed unspeakable violence in the face of rejection.
The frequency of such attacks raises two issues, the first regarding the short-term safety of women, and the second, related to the long-term changes in society. The question must be asked why stalking—and any gender-based violence—is normalised to the extent that the victims do not feel empowered to approach law enforcement.
It must be also noted that when victims do approach law enforcement, they are frequently fobbed off by police and their complaints are not taken seriously. This obviously needs to change. Police must be trained that stalking is a serious offence that can escalate with fatal consequences for victims. It cannot be brushed aside as youthful folly. Further, it is an act which, through creating an atmosphere of fear, curtails the freedom of the victim.
The second issue that needs to be addressed is the entitlement that permits some people—mostly men—to indulge in such behaviours, especially when they face rejection. Films and popular culture have come in for their share of deserved blame for glorifying such behaviour. While the producers of media must evolve to depict the horror and reality of such crimes, the education system must formally take steps to address the gender divide and ensure that gender sensitivity is part of curriculum at every level.