NEW DELHI: Pledging support to a proposed private member bill for making stalking a non-bailable offence, Member of Parliament Shashi Tharoor said on Wednesday that he would try to introduce it in the Lok Sabha in the Budget Session next year.
The draft of the bill is being prepared under the aegis of an online portal, guided by a team of lawyers, activists, and feedback obtained from people through a campaign ‘Talking Stalking’ launched since the Varnika Kundu case in August.
Shashi Tharoor, a senior Congress leader, at an interactive session hosted in New Delhi, as part of the campaign, said, he pledged his support because there was a need to “really crackdown on stalking, not just as a crime in itself, but as a possible precursor to worse crimes”.
“The impunity many offenders have is compounded by the fact that the offence is bailable,” he rued.
As per the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, stalking is a punishable offence under Section 354D of the IPC, with imprisonment of up to three years for first time offenders.
The private member bill also proposes to make the offence “gender-neutral”.
“I assure you that at the beginning of the Budget Session (of Parliament), which follows very quickly, on the heels of this session, we will have it queued up first in the line,” Mr Tharoor said, when asked if he would raise it in the Lok Sabha.
“It just needs amending a national law, pass it and we can expect the state governments to implement it,” he said.
A senior official of The Quint, the portal helming the campaign, said Supreme Court advocate Karuna Nundy, advocate Kamini Jaiswal, and several other people have lent their support to this cause.
The Thiruvananthapuram MP suggested the team to collect all the material, draft related to the bill, the online petition by Varnika, the feedback obtained from people, and “pitch it to Union Minister for Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi”.
“Your team should go to her and ask would her government be willing to sponsor the bill…. If yes, I will be more than willing to step aside and support them. It will be more effective if the government takes the ownership,” he said.
Asked if the BJP will show up, he said, “If the government chooses not to adopt it (proposed bill), they will not show up.”
“Whether we have the willingness on part of the government to amend the existing laws, especially just four years after it was passed, I don’t know. But the only way is to try, and I’m willing to stick my neck out for it,” Mr Tharoor said.
He also referred to some lyrics in Bollywood films, that suggest that pursuing a woman is commonplace.
“When I was a teenager, I used to hear songs like ‘Tera Peech na chhorunga soniye…’ and somehow, the society accepted it as normal. It is time, we say it is not ok…Stalking is a bailable offence, so many a time offenders’ misbehaviour extends to acid attack and other cases, and in one or two cases, to rape and murder,” he said.
He alleged this Lok Sabha has been “more regressive”.
“One of the troubling things unfortunately is that this Lok Sabha has been heading in a more regressive direction on many of the issues. We have already seen the juvenile justice bill, again a political reaction… decision to try children as adults,” he claimed.
Varnika Kundu, the 29-year-old daughter of an IAS officer, who was allegedly stalked at night in August by the son of an influential politician in Chandigarh, also shared her story at the event. Laxmi Saa, an acid attack survivor, urged all women to speak up and fight for their rights.