When murder accused Ramkumar was arrested, nobody could have known that other men would actually threaten women with what he did to Swathi.
While it is shocking that men have used to the case to threaten other women, Chennai-based psychiatrist Dr Jayanthini says that it is quite common for people to try to capitalize on the fear generated in the aftermath of sensational cases.
“Any girl would be afraid of meeting the same fate as Swathi and these men were possibly using these threats to bully and frighten them,” she says.
That these young men threatened to emulate Ramkumar without fear of condemnation or repercussions is not just disturbing, but also an indication that perhaps the debate created by the media over the murder somehow failed to convey the right message, says Devika J of the Centre of Development Studies in Thiruvananthapuram.
“The message people are drawing from the media discourse is clearly not what you want them to because the media often fails to produce political anger around the issue” she says.
The immediate response to sexual assault is an outrage that is oriented towards and limited to punishment. Political anger over sexual assault however, is different, Devika says. Anger is directed at the politics of the crime, but it is often lost in the outrage over the sexual assault, she says.
Kerala-based human rights activist Jolly Chirayath points out that both media reportage and popular media (like films and television shows) often paint a one-dimensional picture of the woman as ‘victim’ as opposed to an individual with an autonomy. And even in a case like Swathi’s, the emphasis was on arresting the murderer without going into why he did what he did, says Jolly.
Renuka, Executive Director at Center for Women’s Development and Research adds that lack of public empathy also spurs on stalkers, recalling that no one helped Swathi when she was hacked to death in broad daylight at a bustling railway station.
So what can be done to prevent young men from glamorizing stalking?
Dr Jayanthini says that in the world we are living in, there is no stopping the flow of information. “It’s a mixed bag. If someone practices responsible journalism, there are others who will not. Things will find their way into public domain any way,” she says.
She adds that many times, young boys read something and imbibe it without knowing the repercussions. And while the law should take its course, it is also crucial to tell them what they stand to lose, she says.
Dr Jayanthini also insists that sensitivity is key. “If say, a girl’s wards further threaten the boy, they may provoke him to become more violent,” she says.
Renuka emphasizes on public action and proactivity. “If people begin to speak up, things will get better,” she says.
Chennai Police have come across two or three such cases in the past two weeks, says K. Shankar, Additional Commissioner of Police (South) and the investigating officer in Swathi’s murder.
But he added that threats of violence against women weren’t new. “Sometimes we get such cases after a relationship breaks. The man will threaten the woman saying he will kill her if she does not marry him. Nobody has the right to do that. We do not want to encourage anyone to do this. Violence is not a solution. We have been instructed to take strict action in such cases.”