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Stalker held for cellphone photo in privacy test case

Calcutta, Sept. 11: A suspected stalker has been arrested for clicking a woman on his cellphone at the Netaji Bhawan Metro station, setting the stage for a test case dealing with privacy in public places in the age of ubiquitous digital gadgets.

The accused, a 35-year-old mechanic living near Park Street, has been charged with “insulting the modesty of a woman, by word, gesture or act” under section 509 of the Indian Penal Code.

Section 509 also states that a person is liable to face punishment for “intruding upon the privacy” of a woman. Offences proved under the act are punishable by simple imprisonment for a year or fine, or both.

According to the complaint lodged by the 30-year-old woman, a resident of Dum Dum who works neat Bhowanipore, the mechanic used to board at Park Street the train in which she was travelling and get off with her at Netaji Bhawan. He also walked behind her till she left the station, the complaint said.

The lady, who did not want her identity to be revealed, said this practice had been going on for the past five months but she had not complained because he had done nothing to offend her till today.

However, this morning, the complaint said, the mechanic tried to introduce himself after getting off the train at Netaji Bhawan. He also whipped out his cellphone and clicked her picture.

At this, the woman took offence and raised a cry. Other passengers gathered around them and took the accused to Metro Railway police. Stationmaster Rathindra Nath Dey heard out the two before informing Bhowanipore police station.

“The woman said Rao had been following her for sometime now but today, he crossed the limits and took her photo on his cell phone,” Dey told The Telegraph. “The lady was very upset. The man claimed that he was in love with her.”

Police said the mechanic was a resident of Marquis Street and worked in a garage in Bhowanipore. He will be produced in court tomorrow.

Although taking photographs in a Metro station without permission is prohibited under the Metro Railway Act, he has not been charged with this offence.

According to the police, the act of taking a photograph of a woman without her consent amounts to “intruding upon her privacy”. An officer said: “The woman concerned has mentioned in her complaint that she had objections to (the person) taking her photograph. So we arrested him,” an officer said.

The arrest comes at a time several people have raised concerns about safeguarding privacy in public places — an issue that assumes added significance with the explosion of camera phones. Complaints have also arisen about people being clicked at unguarded moments by strangers, some of who circulate the clips after morphing the images for nefarious purposes.

However, legal opinion is divided.

“Someone’s privacy is of utmost importance to the person. If anyone takes her photo without her consent, it amounts to violating this privacy and so police have every right to book him under section 509 of the IPC,” said advocate Sourav Ganguli.

But another advocate of the Calcutta High Court, Jayanta Narayan Chatterjee, said the charge against Rao would not stand scrutiny in a court.

“There is no ban on taking photographs of someone in a public place. However, if this picture is circulated among the public, the accused can be tried under the Information Technology Act,” Chatterjee said. “If someone goes to a place of pilgrimage and takes pictures of women taking a dip in the river, can that person be arrested? Not according to me.”

A year ago, a French national had taken a picture of a girl outside her college in Gariahat. She took him to the police and he was allowed to go after he deleted the photographs. The girl did not press charges.

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