Stalking wasn't considered a crime until fairly recently. The High Court declared stalking of girls and women illegal, and directed the government to consider the offence as sexual harassment in 2011. Until then sexual harassment was referred to as "eve-teasing".
"Eve-teasing", still socially referred to as such, has been commonly and conveniently used across South Asia, for public sexual harassment or molestation of women by men, the name "Eve" alluding to the very first woman, according to the Biblical creation story. The woman, who infamously tempted the man to eat the forbidden fruit of the tree, and consequently caused him to err and transgress.
Beyond semantics, the two-fold connotation of using "eve-teasing" to describe public sexual harassment is as follows. Firstly, "teasing" is playful. There's no significant harm that can come of it. And if it does, the harm caused is a result of overreaction. Of not being able to take a joke. Secondly, it was, after all the Eves who're doing the tempting. The temptress is inviting the teasing. So of course, it is not the fault of the teaser.
But what are the consequences of assault, so casually conducted?
In July 2017 alone, 22 females were stalked according to a report in the Star Weekend magazine. A report in The Daily Star published in July, covered the story of a girl who refused advances of her stalker and as a result was stabbed on her face and hands in Nabinagar upazila. On December 8, The Daily Star reported that a Class IX student in Brahmanbaria was assaulted in her classroom by her stalker after she rejected a proposition he made earlier that day while she was on her way to school.
On December 16, a schoolgirl was stabbed to death allegedly by a young man in Dirai of Sunamganj. A national daily reported the following morning that the victim was Munni Akter, a class X student of Dirai Girls High School. The victim's relatives said a local miscreant, Yahiya, used to stalk Munni on her way to school. They also said that the matter had been previously settled once in a local arbitration. But Yahiya had continued his misconduct.
Yahiya entered Munni's residence around 8:00pm that night, and stabbed her brutally, leaving her critically injured. Munni was first taken to Dirai Upazila Health Complex and later shifted to Sylhet's MAG Osmani Medical College Hospital. That is where she was declared dead.
Why? I wonder. What causes so much anger that you sear bodies you claim to love?
The discipline of psychology advises, while speaking to a child, to avoid using negatives. Our brains aren't wired to take rejection so it cannot process the word "No". Instead, we are told to offer the child an alternative. For example, instead of saying, "Don't sit over there" we say "Sit here". That way the child processes the direction better with little pressure on his brain.
We are also advised to practise something called delayed gratification i.e. the ability to resist the temptation for an immediate reward and wait for a later reward. A person's ability to delay gratification relates to other skills involved in self-regulation such as patience, impulse control, self-control and willpower. So for instance, if a child is crying for a piece of chocolate, we are advised not to give in to his demands right away. We are advised to wait. To teach him to wait. Teach him that it is good behaviour that merits rewards. So, to not reward a crying child with a chocolate is the ideal thing to do.
My friend and I were discussing Munni, and she mentioned that she had read somewhere that the SSC examinee happened to be a brilliant student. Her stalker, however, had been described in The Daily Star report as a "rotten egg". There was a time, and maybe this holds true in many cases, an SSC examinee would be forced to drop out of school if she had a suitor, regardless of the suitor's qualifications. She would be asked to marry instead of continuing her education. She would be told, her dreams could come later.
Not Munni's parents. Her parents said she would continue to study. She was empowered enough to be able to say no to her suitor. Her parents focused on raising a strong, capable daughter.
On the other hand, her stalker (and any other person who feels such sense of entitlement) had probably also been empowered. Empowered enough to not take no for an answer. This sense of entitlement possibly came from society as much as it did from his parents. He was probably told, if not in other cases, than at least in the case of female attention, that a positive response was his right. That he deserved his advances to be only met with enthusiasm and nothing less. And God forbid if one resisted.
When the High Court declared stalking as a crime in 2011, the ruling came amid growing incidents of stalking that led many victims to commit suicide. In fact, the HC bench delivered the verdict following a public interest writ petition that had been sparked by over two dozens of deaths resulting from such stalking. These deaths were mostly suicides.
The recent cases, however, saw a large number of stalking incidents ending in murders or rapes. Whether or not stalking leads to more murders or suicides is a question that warrants more research. But if indeed there are more murders than suicides as a result of stalking what would that indicate?
Two things, I believe. Firstly, we are doing something right with our women. We are raising strong, independent girls who are capable of drawing firm boundaries and saying "No". Secondly, we are doing something terribly wrong with our men. We are raising insecure men who have no idea how to respect boundaries and don't know how to process a "No". Men, who are firstly, unable to approach women in an appropriate manner, and secondly, take as a huge blow to their ego, if a woman happens to be disinterested. And as a result they have no qualms ending lives of those who they claim to love.
The Prevention of Repression against Women and Children Act, 2000, under section under section 10 (2), defines sexual harassment as: “if a man, with a view to fulfilling his sexual desire outrages a woman's modesty or makes erotic gestures, such act of the man will amount to sexual harassment”. Under Section 9 (ka) of the Act, it warrants a punishment of 5-10 years' jail and an indefinite amount of fine for a person who forces a woman to commit suicide as a consequence of dishonour or sexual harassment or assault.
The law, to me, seems adequate. What about the society we are building?
Shagufe Hossain is the founder of Leaping Boundaries and a member of the editorial team at The Daily Star.