Are you being stalked? Warning signs to look out for — and what to do if you are

Don't take stalking lightly. Apart from threat of violence, stalking victims can also suffer lasting psychological damage.

ByChetana Belagere

Published Oct 15, 2022 | 1:28 PMUpdatedOct 17, 2022 | 9:25 AM


For days, Shwetha, then a Bengaluru college student, would see a man waiting by his bike watching her walk to the metro station. She ignored him, and decided to avoid that particular road.

It didn’t help.

The man, who Shwetha guessed was around 30 years, started showing up wherever she went: At the metro station, near her yoga class, her tuition class, her college or near a friend’s house, and even at her native village, 120 km away.

Shwetha didn’t lodge any complaint, having decided to ignore him.

This didn’t help either; it merely prolonged the harassment over a year — till her fiance came to meet her. She started receiving notes at her house from the next day.

“The notes said things like, ‘I want to be your boyfriend’, or ‘You are only mine’, ‘Stop talking to other men or else I know what I have to do’,” Shwetha told South First.

“Thankfully, the torture of being stalked stopped after I got married and moved out of Bengaluru,” she said.

Shwetha, now settled in Tumakuru, said she was lucky matters did not get any worse. “But even now, I dread going to our old house in Bengaluru to meet my mother,” she added.

Shwetha was lucky. But as the murder of 20-year-old Sathya in Chennai on Thursday, 13 October, shows, stalking can have tragic consequences.

A nation-wide menace

Shwetha’s case is just one among thousands of other instances of stalking in the country. For instance, according to the statistics from the National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB), there were 9,307 victims of stalking in India in 2021.

The two southern states Andhra Pradesh and Telangana are among the three states worst hit, with 1,185 and 1,265 victims respectively; Maharashtra leads the stalking charts with 2,131 cases.

These numbers are worrying, as stalking victims can suffer lasting psychological damage, say psychologists.

Pragya Vats, head of campaigns at child rights protection group Save the Children, said that, in her experience, “almost every woman or girl in India” will have been stalked, either when growing up or in adult life.

Given the NCRB numbers, this suggests that stalking is grossly under-reported.

“It’s not a coincidence that every third woman in India fears violence, rape, stalking, and harassment when out in public spaces,” Vats told South First.

“This issue has to be taken seriously and the stalkers punished under the law.”

Understanding stalking: Rule of 4

Dr Mahesh Gowda, psychiatrist and founder of Bengaluru’s Spandana Hospitals, described stalking as behaviour that “can be defined as repeated patterns of unwanted intrusions into a person’s life that causes worry about safety or physical or psychological harm” to that person.

Representational image of stalking

Representational image of stalking. (Creative Commons)

He said a good way to identify a stalker is to apply the Rule f Four: Is his/her behaviour Fixated, Obsessive, Unwanted and Repeated?

Moreover, while physical stalking can be scary, embarrassing and even dangerous, what is equally worrisome is cyberstalking, he said.

In this connection, Dr Gowda referred to people “blindly uploading a lot of stuff” on social media pages, especially o Instagram and Facebook.

“Personal information is easily accessible to stalkers. They begin to chase the person on all social media platforms and many times begin to track the victim’s address too,” he said.

Why do people stalk?

But why would anyone want to do stalk anyone?

They do it, explains Dr Satish Kumar CR, consultant clinical psychologist at Manipal Hospital, because “they are mostly people who have anti-social disorders”.

“These people tend to show anti-social behaviour by not even caring for what the other person is feeling or going through,” he said.

Such behaviour can be traced to loneliness or isolation, obsessive behaviour, narcissism, social incompetence, or even violence from a primary caregiver such as mother, father or other close family members, Dr Kumar explained.

Moreover, he said, stalking can be of two types: Aggressive and non-aggressive.

Falling in the first group are those who want attention. “They are the types who threaten the victims, blackmail them, and say things like, ‘I will kill you, kill your family members, etc.”


Cyberstalking is a reality. (Representational image/Wikimedia Commons)

Non-aggressive stalkers are those with no intention of gaining attention. “These are the ones who are hiding somewhere, not letting the other person know; it is a non-harmful but a creepy way of following someone,” Dr Kumar said.

Dr Ashwini NV, Director, Muktha Foundation, an initiative to prevent abuse and promote mental health, said reasons for stalking could vary from one stalker to another.

“It could be to seek intimacy with the person being stalked, or a reaction to being rejected by the one who is being stalked, or to torture the victim,” she said.

“The reasons could also vary depending on whether the stalker is known to the victim or not.”

That apart, stalking can also be associated with a mental illness such as narcissistic personality disorder, delusional disorder, or substance use disorder, she added.

Not an expression of love

Often, stalking is portrayed as an expression of love.

“This is a myth,” said Dr Ashwini.

“If anything, it is about control, manipulation, and intimidation. It is an abusive behaviour, which is violating the other person’s boundaries and the right to be safe and free.”

In this connection, she pointed to the practice of Indian filmmakers to make movies with the lead actor stalking the leading lady and winning her over. “Such movies should never be encouraged,” she told South First.

“Romanticising stalking in movies or portraying it as harmless and almost an inevitable part of intimate relationship are definitely not ideas to be welcomed and accommodated.”

Warning signs: You’re being stalked!

A few signs that Dr Ashwini says can be indicative of stalking are:

  • Anonymous phone calls on a regular basis;
  • Repeated presence of one particular person wherever one is; it might seem like a coincidence at first, but can be more than that;
  • Unwarranted attempts to speak, interact, help or ask questions regarding routine and plans.

However, in the end, one has to trust one’s gut feeling, said Kamna Somanath, a software engineer from Mysuru, who was stalked for a month in Bengaluru when a student.

“People actually have a natural instinct when it comes to sensing danger,” she said. “Trust your gut. If a behaviour of anyone, be it friend, neighbour or anyone, feels wrong, it most likely is.”

Somanath said she made a big mistake by running away from the situation and not alerting anyone about it, not even her close friends.

Her advice to everyone: “Please report such instances to the police or at least family members. Do not try to handle it by yourself.”

Impact of stalking on victim’s mental health

According to Dr Kumar, stalking can leave an impact on the victim’s mental health in the form of anxiety, guilt and depression for years.

“I have seen patients come in with severe forms of anxiety,” he said. “There are some who can forget and move on with their life but others develop various forms of anxiety and even depression-related issues.”

For instance, he said, a victim may develop post-traumatic stress disorder, experience flashbacks, face difficulty getting close to new people or being intimate, and become depressed or lose hope.

“Many patients reported severe panic attacks and a have constant feeling of being watched. They are afraid to be alone in the room even when in their own homes,” Dr Kumar said.

Like Mysuru’s Somanath, who says she is still haunted by her experience.

“I constantly felt like someone was watching me,” she told South First, recalling the harrowing experience.

“It was so bad that I fell ill and had severe panic attacks, and had to quit my engineering (studies) and return to Mysuru.”

Incidentally, even online stalking can lead to depression and a feeling of loneliness and hopelessness.

Is it only men who stalk?

Both men and women can be stalkers, said Dr Gowda of Spandana Hospitals, as Sudhanshu Mehta, a private sector executive in Bengaluru, found out.

Mehta said he was so harassed by his ex stalking him that he even tried to lodge a police complaint.

“Our break-up was smooth and we had parted ways after a thorough discussion,” he told South First. “But just two months later, she began to send me WhatsApp messages, abusing me.”

Mehta said when he responded by blocking the her on WhatsApp and changing his phone number, she created some 20-30 fake profiles on social media and continued harassing him.

“She even threatened to post some intimate pictures of ours,” he said. “She stalked me through all my social networking sites.”

Mehta said the police refused to take any action.

“I am so scared that I rarely use social media now,” he said. “It may sound silly if men complain of being stalked, but it’s a harsh reality. Not many come out and speak about it.”

Signs of Stalking

  • Repeatedly calls on your phone, even after warnings
  • Follows you and shows up wherever you are
  • Damages your property, home, car etc.
  • Sends letters, texts, emails, flowers, gifts
  • Uses technology such as hidden cameras or installs GPS to track your movements
  • Drives by your home, school, college, work space, etc.
  • Threatens to hurt you, your family
  • Uses other people to communicate with you, like children, family, friends.

Feelings that haunt a victim

  • Fearful of what he/she may do to you
  • Feel vulnerable, unsafe, do not know whom to trust.
  • Feel depressed, angry, hopeless, anxious, irritated, on-edge, hyper vigilant.
  • Disturbing thoughts, memories of stalker
  • Feel confused, guilty, frustrated, isolated
  • Tendency to miss school, college, office for the fear of seeing the stalker
  • Abhorrence for social media accounts

What should you do?

  • Call 100 for immediate assistance.
  • Alert others. Keep family, friends, co-workers, neighbours informed. Police should be alerted too
  • Document the stalker. Maintain a log of encounters with the stalker, his calls, public sightings, emails, etc.
  • Take all threats by him/her seriously. Do not ignore. Report to the police
  • Have a safety plan in place — example, whom to connect for assistance, etc.
  • Teach your children, and family members how to act in case of an emergency
  • Seek the help of a psychologist, if need be

Cases if stalking in 2021

  • Andhra Pradesh: 1,185
  • Karnataka 178
  • Kerala 393
  • Telangana 1,265
  • Tamil Nadu 41
  • (Source: NCRB)