Stalking. It’s only ever happened to me once in India, that I know of. Once is enough to give you that sickening feeling in your stomach and ask yourself, “What could have happened?”
The sun was setting in Ranchi, the capital of one of the poorest states in India, Jharkhand. I’d just left my hotel at 4:30 pm to pick up some cough losengers from the nearby market.
As I searched the busy Upper Bazaar for a medicine shop a man wearing dark sunglasses that hid his eyes, dark blue jeans, a white t-shirt, and a brown leather jacket walked past me singing to himself.
He looked like a typical Bollywood gangster with his hair slicked back. And after all, I was in the state of gangsters as depicted in the bleak crime film Gangs of Wasseypur.
He looked strange with the glasses on (often criminals try to hide their eyes, just like how we fail to keep eye contact when lying). He stared at me as he walked past, I knew something wasn’t right there and then. I kept walking, keeping an eye on him from the corner of my eye.
That’s when I saw him turn and begin to follow a few meters behind me. My instincts kicked in. Just with that small interaction, I knew there wasn’t something right about him. The way he was conspicuously dressed and his turning immediately after seeing me confirmed it.
Always trust your gut
As I reached the end of the market, I turned around, and he began pretending to look at a clothing stall.
I stared at him, so he knew I was watching him. I took a right turn and began circling the market. I turned around again, to find him still behind me. I stood there staring blankly at him. He knew I was watching him. He passed me and then began pretending to look at another clothing stall.
Mimicking my movements
I quickly made my way out of the small market lanes and onto the nearby main road. I turned around as I walked and there he was, following.
While I was in the busy market with people around I was safe.
While I was on the main road, I was safer as Police often have posts on the main roads. I found some kind of enforcement vehicle that wasn’t Police, so I stood there for a minute, and my stalker disappeared.
At this point, I knew without a doubt that he was following me. I was creeped out. It reminded me of another traveler’s story where in Amritsar she was followed and ran into a public toilet thinking he wouldn’t enter, but he did. He told her he wouldn’t leave until she paid him.
I’d lost sight of my stalker. But he hadn’t lost sight of me.
I finally found a medicine store and bought what I needed. The store was raised off the road. I looked out from my vantage point over the market for him. Then I looked to my left. It felt like a scene from a horror movie. There he was, two shops away, staring at me.
I kept staring back at him. I thought about taking a photo of him. But I didn’t, I couldn’t see any Police nearby, and I didn’t want to annoy him without them nearby – after all this state is famous for gangsters and violent far-left radical communist terrorists called Naxalites.
Find the police
A second later, as I kept looking across the market for Police, I saw two paramilitary officers patrolling with AK-47s slung across their backs.
I walked slowly down the stairs and ducked through the food stalls in my way and jumped a small fence to get closer to them.
I turned to watch my stalker; he stood there watching me cross the market. He hadn’t put two and two together yet. As soon as he saw me greet the army officers, I watched him casually and methodically escape into the crowd. He didn’t want to be pointed out.
After explaining to the officer I was being followed, he, of course, asked me, “Which man is following you?” But it was too late. He told me to come back to him if he bothers me again.
I wasn’t going to risk bumping into him again, not after dark, so I retired to my hotel for the night. Luckily my hotel was in the opposite direction the stalker went.
What did he want with me exactly?
I had been warned not to go out after dark in Jharkhand because of the Naxalite tensions. But I didn’t know about the kidnappings there.
I thought this guy just wanted to rob me when I went into a quiet alleyway. But as my friend told me when I got back to Delhi, it was likely more sinister than that.
The Naxalites pay people to monitor the markets for kidnapping targets. Foreigners, politicians and their kin are the targets.
Luckily, following my own travel safety advice for this scenario paid off.
Here’s what to do if someone is following you in India
This advice below is taken from my quintessential India Survival Guide (Quick-Start Safety Guide), it’ll have you prepared and feeling confident about travelling in India as you enjoy reading it on the plane ride over.
- Keep calm and breathe.
- Verify you’re being followed by turning around multiple times to check if your turns are being mimicked. Stop and see if they pass you or not, then continue and look again.
- The moment you’ve verified it, begin making your way to a safe place like a bank, showroom, international brand’s store, or main road – anywhere with people. Do not isolate yourself or go into a place like a public toilet where there may be nobody.
- As soon as you’re somewhere safe, inform people you’re being followed.
- Call the Police on 100 or ask someone to take you to a nearby officer. The stalker should leave once they see the Police. Have the officer walk you to your hotel or assist you to your next destination.