Making a case for tougher anti-stalking laws
(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily of Reuters)
Should any well meaning law proposed in a democratic parliament be shelved because it risks being misused in some form?
Unless we go into specifics, it is hard to generalize the question, but the eighteenth-century English scholar William Blackstone made a strong argument: “It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer.”
As lawmakers in India’s parliament were debating the contents of an anti-rape bill on Tuesday, Biju Janata Dal MP Tathagata Satpathy moved an amendment to make stalking a non-bailable offence.
Some parliamentarians objected, suggesting such a law could be misused and could make a criminal of the common man as “everyone has stalked women at some point”.
Satpathy’s proposed amendment fell through and stalking was made a bailable offence in the first instance (with a repeat offence made non-bailable).
Critics who feel the amendment could be misused by women with a personal score to settle or due to misunderstandings have a point. India’s landmark anti-dowry law has also come in for criticism from the Supreme Court because of many instances of women lodging false cases against husbands and relatives.
But as a married man with a daughter living in New Delhi, India’s “rape capital”, and quite a few bad experiences, I have to ask myself: would I want someone stalking people close to me to be freed on bail and brace for a possible repeat of the offence … or worse?
An acquaintance in the city was once followed by a stranger on the street who kept asking for her name. When he tried to grab her, she ran into a shop and stayed put till the man eventually moved away.
The concept of a first-time offence and a repeated infraction could throw up legal loopholes because of the nature of the crime.
Supreme Court lawyer Karuna Nundy told Reuters: “Stalking is a threatening act, and only persistent acts of harassment may be complained of. The word non-bailable is widely misunderstood. It means the person accused can still get bail just not as a matter of right, it leaves that discretion to the judge”.
For all practical purposes, a complaint of stalking would be made after the accused has followed or harassed the victim over an extended period of time.
So will tougher anti-stalking laws be a deterrent?
There’ll always be people who commit a crime without weighing the consequences. But if it makes other likely offenders think twice before making unsolicited advances, I’d be happy to live with the risk of misuse.
(Follow David on Twitter @confusedat30 )