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Familicide

Why do people kill their own family members? A phenomenon that’s on the rise in urban India 

This story is not about honour killing. This is about the worrisome trend of people killing family members in urban settings. The urban life is more about nuclear families, a break from the past where joint families existed under one roof with a solitary kitchen. Now with the advent of consumerism, the family as an institution is challenged by growing individualism and unbridled ambition.

But how do you explain this?  A 16-year-old boy, resident of Greater Noida, in December last year, murdered his mother and sister and later confessed to his crime. According to police, he mercilessly pounded them to death using a cricket bat. The boy was upset about being scolded by his mother over studies when, perhaps, he wanted to play video games. The police suspects his addiction to playing video games, particularly violent kinds like the Gangster in High School, perhaps inspired him to afflict fatal injuries to his own mother and sister. Violence here was a solution or means of settling a score. The distraught father, after having lost his wife and daughter, is still hopeful that he’ll be able to ‘stabilise’ his son.

This is equally bizarre. In Thane, a couple of years ago, a 37-year-old woman conspired with her young lover—a manager in an electronic shop—to kill her husband. Her 19-year-old daughter spilled the beans about the murder to the police that lead to their arrest. There was no remorse. They were just removing a roadblock. Like the case of this juvenile bus conductor in his late teens, who operated on the Ghaziabad-Noida route, fell in love with a girl, also a minor, who used to commute daily accompanied by her mother. Mother sensed brewing love between the two youngsters. She approached the boy and promised he could marry her daughter on the condition that he will help her remove the stumbling block: her husband, who’d never agree to this marriage.

He was obliged to stab to death the father of the girl he loved on the instigation of her mother. After the murder, the boy and the mother made love besides the dead body. When the reporter met him at a juvenile reform home, the boy, docile to look at, with childish enthusiasm, while narrating the incident in Hindi, said, “I stabbed him only one time. He didn’t die of my stab injuries. He died of subsequent stab injuries inflicted by his wife.”

This phenomenon is not confined to any particular class or strata of society. There are plenty of examples from the affluent and the educated class as well. Not to forget the famous murder case of Sheena Bora who was allegedly strangled inside a car by her mother, Indrani Mukerjea, the former owner of a TV channel, with the help of her second husband Sanjeev Khanna and her driver Shyamwar Rai. Indrani was not happy with her daughter’s relationship with Rahul Mukerjea, son of her current husband Peter Mukerjea, a media baron. Indrani introduced Sheena as her sister, but later confessed she was her daughter. Months later, Peter Mukerjea was also arrested for being a co-conspirator with Indrani in the murder. While they were in jail, Indrani sought a divorce from Peter. The cause of the murder, as per Indrani’s handwritten note to a special CBI court, “may have lost her life on account of greed, betrayal, jealousy, lust and ill-will of persons whom she dearly loved and trusted.”

Dr Rajat Mitra, a clinical psychologist and director of the Swanchetan Society for Mental Health, says, “Families harbour secrets, and the coming out of secrets can lead to strong reactions, a family member may feel betrayed in some significant ways,” he says.   This ‘secret’ that stand exposed causes resentment with a family member, or fuels hatred, and can result in violent outbursts, many a times fatal.

Mitra gives an example to explain his point. In a middle-class family, the wife had an affair with a younger man. She hated her husband and the child she had with him. Her affair remained a secret, but she behaved badly with her husband and son, for she held them responsible for her deplorably divided life. Her son was attached to his father. A year after the death of his father, already a young man, he came to know of his mother’s affair that clouded his family life. He killed her in a fit of anger because he could not deal with the ‘secret’. He held his mother responsible not just for his bad childhood but for his father’s untimely demise.

In Devbhoomi Dwarka district of Gujarat, last year in June, a 19 year-old-man strangled his father to death after he came to know of the latter’s incestuous relationship with his daughter.  In another case, Manoj, 28 years of age, bludgeoned to death his 65-year-old father Narayanaswamy with a hammer over a property dispute at his house in Koudenahalli, Ramamurthynagar a year ago. Manoj was unemployed and lived with his mother and sister separately, and he came to know that his father denied him his legitimate share in his wealth.

This is how Ruqiya Begam Khatti Larnoo village of Kokernag in Anantnag district of south Kashmir reacted when she came to know of her husband’s affair with a women in the neighbourhood, she attempted to annihilate the whole family.  Two years ago, she killed her two children — four-year-old Imran and two-year-old Chandni — before inflicting injuries on herself. They weren’t fatal.  This she did “to teach her husband a lesson” as she suspected him of an extra-marital affair with a woman in the neighbourhood, as per her statement to the police.

Sandhya Singh, sister of film actresses Sulakshana and Vijeta Pandit, was murdered by her son Raghuveer alias Bhola. He was a drug addict who would steal money to fund his addiction and they often fought over money.

In another sensational case, wife of a sub-inspector of police, Deepali Ganore, was murdered by her teenaged son in suburban Santa Cruz in Mumbai. The boy  allegedly slit her throat for haranguing him to study more. He wrote a message on the floor using the blood of his mother: “I am tired of her. Catch and hang me,” before decamping with cash worth Rs 2 lakh.

“Such cases are on the rise,” says Dr Mitra, “for it’s harder to keep a secret. Technology helps in unravelling secrets. Now there’s hardly any opportunity to carry a secret to the grave.” Further, he says, “The police doesn’t focus on this aspect (of a secret being unravelled), because they think it will dilute their case by presenting the human face of the assailant.”

The common link in most of these cases is that a family member is suffering from deprivation, marginalisation, bullying or disgrace within a family. The career of prolific BJP leader Pramod Mahajan was cut short when he was shot at in broad daylight by younger brother Pravin in the former’s Worli residence in Mumbai.  The reason was sense of insult at the hands of his successful brother, Pravin said Pramod treated him “like a pet dog.”