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Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Gathering dark...

It would be putting it mildly to say that I was horrified to read this news item in today’s newspaper. It would be better to say that I still keep reading the papers daily to see, in Max Weber’s words, ‘how much more of it I can take’.

A young woman in New Delhi conspired with her clandestine boyfriend to kill her mother in a barbaric fashion. This woman is a schoolteacher, and belongs to a 'normal' middle-class family.

Reflection no. 1: It would be worth pondering over what kind of a teacher she must be.

Reflection no. 2: One psychiatrist, who hasn’t examined her, has dubbed her just a criminal, but the police claim that she had been warped and goaded beyond endurance by a mother who had nagged her too badly for too long. Knowing how badly how many kids are nagged and bullied by their mothers all through their childhood and adolescence, I wonder what is the breaking point for a human being… when do all normal taboos and inhibitions break down? I do, do hope that a lot of mothers would read, or somehow get to know about this incident, and reflect on whether they need to mend their ways a bit.

Reflection no. 3: How many people will read this news item and pass over, glibly assuring themselves – ‘Oh, this was just an unfortunate aberration; we are different, and nice and good people, we’d never do things like that’? How few would like to find out (say, by talking to journalists, policemen and doctors/psychiatrists, as I found out in my youth) how frighteningly common such atrocities are all around us? It’s just like every rash driver thinking ‘an accident will never happen to me’, denying the stark reality that he knows a lot of people who have been killed or crippled in accidents, and hears about more such stories all the time!

Reflection no. 4: If this is what people do to their own families, why should anyone be shocked when they do ghastly things as teachers, or politicians, or whatever? After all, they are the same people still, aren’t they?

Reflection no. 5: Would this problem be neatly and fully 'solved' by hanging the murderer and her boyfriend?

20 comments:

Shilpi said...

Horrifying and sickening it is...
Not a teacher that a school child would want, and not a teacher I want teaching in any school.

Your second and third point are related in a way. Mothers will read this and shudder and say "How horrifying...what monsters!" - never even imagining - let alone considering that they need to change their ways. Never for a moment assuming that their children could ever do something like that. And they will think that this story is an aberration. People would much rather believe that and be comfortable until something upsets their little cart.

And no, the problem wouldn't be solved by hanging the girl and the boyfriend.

That's all I can write for now.
Take care Suvro da.
Shilpi

Sayan Datta said...

Dear Sir,
Since I read this post a plethora of thoughts has been so running riot in my head, that, after some effort I could bring into focus only a few of those.
That someone can kill her mother is beyond all imagination and the grotesqueness of the killing makes the crime even more appalling. Isn't this the kind of crime we associate with lunatics and the most deplorable in society? I hope a threadbare investigation reveals a lot about the events that led to the horrifying act, but, what I shudder to think is what lies beneath the tenuous Human exterior. It won't be out of place to mention an eye opening film by Sandip Ray titled 'Nishijapon' where he brilliantly depicts how the flimsy masks that ensconce us wear off in the face of really adverse circumstances.
Both you and Shilpi di are right, Sir. The article will not create enough of an impact on the minds of most mothers to make them mend their ways; infact I think most of those who read the article have quietly, nonchalantly and deliberately forgotten it. One can't do much if philistines choose to remain so. But what multiplies my worry is the fact that incidents like these are rapidly becoming common. And with the multitude having veneered their shoddy interiors, sooner or later the atavistic animal instinct is bound to take over.
A surge of helplessness runs through me as I wonder as to how much we can actually do other than trying to do our work well and trying to live the good life. I also wonder why I wasn’t born in a slightly better world. Sounds childish I know, but didn’t Mithun make the same remark in Buddhadeb Dasgupta’s ‘Tahader Katha’?

debasish said...

Dear Suvro-da,

this article is really a symbol of how a compassion-less world can be, which we live now and think of everyday success.

Such incidents do occur now and then and have happened before when kids have murdered their family members. It also happened in USA when class mates and teachers were shot dead. They just show that in the pressurized society where "human compassion" and "brotherhood" are nothing but elusive memories, there can never happen a better outcome.

I was not born when "hiroshima" and "nagasaki" was bombed and "a thousand suns" glowed, but saw "gulf war" and "iraq attacks". Do we have an answer about those mass slaughter?

best wishes,
dev.

vaishnavi said...

Dear Sir,
My dad tells me that a lot of inmates in our prisons are "victims" of a spur-of-the-moment crime. That split second when all traces of reason vanish and a person finds himself/herself committing an unspeakable act. That has existed since Man evolved I think, those sporadic horrible things/instincts one cannot easily understand. As for parental nagging, well, that has also existed since forever!! I don't know, it is difficult to completely believe all of that was due to some bad nagging (however bad), there must have been something more. Not to cast aspersions against the mother, but cases like these are usually murkier than meets the eye. Yes, the world has its Josep Fritzels and such like monsters, people who kill just for its own sake, sick at mind sick at heart, wring havoc. But the world also has normal people, how nice the word "normal" sounds sometimes isn't it? People who take life as it comes with the good and the bad.

There is no doubt though, that such incidents are on the rise. How does one tackle them? Do people who need emotional help ask out for it? Do people pay attention even if they do? How many people hear always but seldom listen? Most.

These are serious issues Sir, I could be optimistic, indeed I maybe, but none of us can deny the fact that issues like these are becoming a part of a vicious cycle.

Thanks a lot Sir, for bringing this to our notice.

Regards,
Vaishnavi

Sumitha Kurien said...

There are those who kill their mothers, and then there are those who yearn for the company of theirs'...

She should not be hanged; I would say, she should be "spared" so that each passing day would make her realise the enorimity of what she has done. Though whether a person like her would be able to "think", so to say, is doubtful...

Sudipto Basu said...

There are a lot of uncertainties lurking around your posers, Sir. The one certain matter is that hanging the accused will not solve the matter. The dying thought in the daughter's mind will be that she has been wronged by both her mother and the law. And indeed if we look neutrally, the girl has her case. Children are treated with a heavy hand because some (most?) parents believe they have a divine right to correct, dictate, and monitor incessantly, and without any understanding or compromise. Such unjust and crippling attitude is far more widespread than brutal acts of retaliation like the one at hand. Murder is blasphemous and undignified, but isn't a authoritarianism close behind. Both are dastardly systems/acts of violence, both unjustifiable. Capital punishment will solve nothing because it will try to answer violence for violence with violence - which is something any rational mind should want to avoid.

The trouble with the first four points is that few people are really troubled with any of them. Moral introspection and constant revision of opinions/views requires much patience, perseverance and, most significantly, an unfettered mind. Not everybody is ready for the effort.

To slightly veer off into a sidetrack, Sayan-da, I think that mankind's conscience can possibly be revived and reinstalled in its due throne only after it has sunk deeply into the abyss once. The dark shall engender light (but then I think of post-WWII world and sigh!). Does that sound too nihilistic? Or is their a brighter panacea for the most troubling illnesses of man?

Anonymous said...

Hi - I have'nt read the article. It really does sound sad and drastic.

If we expect her (and by default all teachers) to be role models, her actions would fail her. But who knows, up until this surfaced she may well have been a good teacher ! If not, people who know her might say they saw it coming !!

It is imprinted in basic human instinct to love and fiercely defend blood relations. This plot would therefore surely bewilder and stoke the interests of scholars of the mind to unravel what might drive a person to this. For me, I just may die wondering !

There's been many a person caught up in situations unfathomable - anything can happen, anywhere, anytime to anyone. Rule nothing out. And God forbid it happens to me, I'd hope and pray for compassion and redemption.

It never ceases to amaze me how many people who seem to have made it big in public life (be it in politics - think Bill Clinton, sport - think Shane Warne, or any other endeavour) have left their own friends and family aghast by some of their actions.

For someone who is pro-life, I can never see the noose, however quick it might be, as solving anything.

Interesting and mind expanding posts, I've come across here.....Best wishes.

Shilpi said...

In between other things - this piece has been nagging away at me. It also reminds one of some other various sickening crimes....and not just those committed by other people.

What keeps coming back to me is the brutality of the crime. Unlike some (most?) others - I am not horrified just by the fact that a daughter killed her mother. I am likely to think (although I have no evidence for thinking this way) that it would probably happen far more frequently if thoughts could translate into actions in the wink of an eye - this doesn't happen (thankfully enough). Where the link breaks down for me is the horror of the crime. It wasn't one angry stab which killed the mother and it wasn't just one sudden gunshot either....and it must have taken time.

The difference between crimes of this sort and wars is that in the latter you don't even know the people you're killing, and for the most part you're not gunning down people with faces. You're dropping bombs over pieces of land. Even gunning someone down doesn't seem to be half as bad as killing them through slow torture.

What is perplexing is indeed the point where the barriers break down within a human being so that one can systematically hack away at a person while that person is screaming away....and maybe especially when one knows/has known the person. I have, I realise, not the faintest idea what this barrier is all about. I don't know whether it can be explained in terms of sanity and insanity either. I don't even have any theories about this.

Take care Suvro da.
Shilpi

devdas said...

Hi Shilpi,
let me first of all say that I do not quite agree with your comments that dropping bombs on people whom one does not know is a "smaller" sense of torture than a face to face attack.
Mind is like a container. If hatred is not cured it can just "overflow the wine-cup" and what we observe as the outcome is something which we have never wanted to do. The "six devils" which we are made aware by "hindu shastras" is something we very often fail to practice and also how often do we stand up when we are oppressed in our every-day life? No crime is without a reason. If it is just for fun then that also has a "history of hurt" somewhere lurking behind.
This sort of crime does have a cure and thats "compassion". Until and unless individual "compassion" is reinforced by each one of us with our "logical sense" we shall always wonder and ponder.
good luck to us!

dev.

Shilpi said...

You don't have to agree with me, Dev. And if you look over my comment you'll notice that I did not say that dropping bombs on a piece of land is a "lesser" crime than hacking away at a person and/or torturing a person through other means. I said that dropping bombs on a piece of land was different.

What I did say: gunning a person down does not seem half as bad as torturing a person to death. And this I still will side with, and for a very simple reason. I would rather be shot in the head and die a quick death than die by some slow torturous means and I would wish the same (a quick painless death) for the people I know and love, and for all human beings if that were possible.

Hatred is one thing but it's not so much hatred that leads to terrible crimes. Indifference, apathy, ignorance, and a tendency to go alongwith the crowd (a feature of riots for one thing) are some of the far more terrible factors at a mass level, at an individual level, and even on an everyday level, which lead to horror.

I'm not sure whether the rest of your statements are directed towards my comments in particular, so I'll just end off with a couple of observations.

I wouldn't ever poo-pooh compassion and kindness - but I'm not exactly sure which sort of crimes would end with the practice of compassion. Nor am I sure that all crimes have reasons. Out of all the horrors that exist in the world - I don't see much reason in children being abused, raped, and victimized, and I have no idea what the "history of hurt" could be behind such violence against children.

I have no clear idea which "six devils" from the Hindu Shastras that you are talking about - but I daresay that we are not meant to "practice" them!

Shilpi

Anonymous said...

Shilpi its nice to have your thoughts. I do appreciate your preferences and as you have rightly pointed out we all need the dignity till death. Yes we all do, but do we get that?

But why dont we? Why are some people not what they are supposed to be? I guess that is what Suvro-da wanted to raise in his blog.

Yes child abuse is a heinous crime. But if we just punish will it stop? I doubt.
Men who see violence being committed on their mothers by the males in the family, end up disturbed and often tend to have a personality problem leading to themselves bashing their own wives and children. Its a known research.

I have this article on "psychopaths" from Scientific American :

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=what-psychopath-means

It clearly says that "Psychopathy is treatable" .

best wishes,
dev.

Anonymous said...

Shilpi, its nice to have your thoughts. I do appreciate your preferences and as you have rightly pointed out we all need the dignity till death. Yes we all do, but do we get that?

But why dont we? Why are some people not what they are supposed to be? I guess that is what Suvro-da wanted to raise in his blog.

Yes child abuse is a heinous crime. But if we just punish will it stop? I doubt.
Men who see violence being
committed on their mothers
by the males in the family,
end up disturbed and often tend to
have a personality problem leading to themselves bashing their own
wives and children. Its a known research.

I have this article on "psychopaths" from Scientific American :

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=what-psychopath-means

It clearly says that "Psychopathy is treatable" .

best wishes,
dev.

Rashmi said...

Sir,
It is the most atrocious act I have ever heard of. And that a daughter could do something like that to a mother is even more horrifying!
But in the little world that I have seen, I have seen adolescent frustration due to parental nagging too closely. I have witnessed minor acts of violence. The brutality of the act in this case clearly shows the spite the daughter accumulated over the years for her mother. No, I don’t want to sympathise with her, neither do I endorse this horrendous act. All I want to say is that she is not entirely unreasonable in having a grudge.
As far as mothers contemplating on this and mending their ways, I am not at all hopeful. We tend to gush more on crime news and analyze less. The sighs and horrified looks are far more superficial than one would admit. And so am thankful there is still a proportion of the society that thinks through your blog.
Sir, I have a doubt. This is associated with your second reflection.
Is childhood and adolescent frustration and their acts of retaliation a recent phenomenon? Were the generations of my grand father and his father more peaceful and amicable? If yes, does that point out that they understood parenting better?

And another based on the last reflection-
Sir, what is the purpose of capital punishment in the first place? The person who is supposed to learn a lesson dies anyway. Does it teach the others any other lesson than the fear of death?


Please pardon me if the questions are way out of the context or too trivial.

Warm regards
Rashmi

Shilpi said...

Dev, Kindly read something carefully before commenting. You seem to be misreading and misinterpreting my comments. Did I, anywhere in my comment, talk about dignity unto death? No, I didn't. When I do - I'll clearly say that that is what I'm talking about.


I hate digressing from the topic but it's silly to assume that psychological "research has made it known" that disturbed children grow up to be disturbed as adults. This is the kind of moronic and reductionist research (and that theory and similar kinds have been around for donkey years - some strands emerged to protect certain types of people from being legally convicted for crimes they committed) that leads to incomplete and dangerous knowledge. Do these theories explain why many people who have disturbed childhoods grow up to be kind, considerate and loving? And do they explain why a vast majority of individuals who do not go through any greater levels of psychological trauma than many others - and probably less than many others - grow up to be seriously maladjusted individuals? In any case I'll refrain from talking about psychopathological individuals. Psychopathology is simply an umbrella term which describes a constellation of symptoms - and these symptoms are not things that can be objectively measured. Medicine itself is still an art - how much more so are the disciplines which deal with the human mind and its workings. Psychology and neurology are only beginning to understand the mysteries of the human mind (and some experts would say that we haven't even begun...) - and if you read some serious psychiatric literature and especially the history of medication and treatment (start with a google search) - you'll know that psychiatrists and neurologists understand very little of these so-called disorders and admit to it too. "Treatment" is more by accident and only a handful of exceptional psychologists, neurologists, psychiatrists and philosophers have ever bothered to look into alternative and more holistic explanations of human behaviour and the human mind.

In any case, Suvro da's essay was not meant to be a discussion on psychopaths nor on psychology and neurology. I have already stated in relation to one of Suvro da's reflections (Reflection no. 2) that the barriers between brutality and none is something that perplexes me greatly.

Kindly read my previous comments. Also reflect if you can over the fact that many of the horrors that we read about or get to know about are committed not by certified psychopaths but by seemingly normal people.

That said, I am much less likely to think that all criminals or more specifically, individuals who engage in brutal behaviour are psychopaths or that all forms of pathological behaviour are "curable". This is not simply a matter of my own likes, dislikes, and "cum' by-a" beliefs - this is a belief that has come about after reading some of the psychological, sociological and psychiatric literature, which is available. I have not read anything as yet which has made me seriously reconsider my own understanding regarding the same - if and when I do, I shall reconsider. That said - you are free to believe whatever you wish to and doubt whatever you wish to, only please don't assume that what you think you know is something that all others must also believe in.
********
All my apologies to Suvro da for digressing from the topic inspite of my best intentions!
Shilpi

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Three things, 'Dev',

1. In future, if you write again, please use your full and real name. Anonymous comments are not as a rule posted here. I made an exception in your case, but I cannot go on doing so.

2. You have said several noteworthy things, but, as Shilpi has twice pointed out, they are not in contradiction to things she wrote ... please do us all the courtesy of reading and comprehending what we have said before criticising or contradicting. Otherwise you put words into our mouths, and needless confusion, discord and distraction ensues.

3. Be very careful about putting too much trust in 'research findings'. Today there are far too many 'researchers' and 'research papers' published by the million annually, and most of them are superficial at best and misleading trash at worst. In fact, a lot of research papers are written only to contradict and cancel each other out!

Suvro Chatterjee said...

... and Rashmi,
I shall answer your first question very cautiously. These days we hear more about such atrocities, it's true, but that may be simply because a few generations ago the population was much smaller and the media's reach was not so vast and fast as now, so maybe the same sort of thing happened in the olden days, but they went less noticed. It may also be that as society gets more permissive and liberal, a lot of people are beginning to think that certain forms of behaviour are okay, which would have been considered bad or even horrifying some time ago. Think of the soaring graphs of teenage pregnancy and divorce!

Capital punishment is too big and complex an issue to discuss right now. But let me mention this much: in those countries where it is still given (such as India and USA), it is justified in terms of its 'deterrent effect' on future criminals, but most of us know that that is nonsense; there is very little actual deterrence. In reality, it only reflects society's thirst for 'appropriate revenge' on those it considers serious wrongdoers. The law is, after all, in large part an expression of society's collective will (which in fact reflects a lot of old habit, superstition, and the preferences of dominant cultural groups...)

devdas said...

Dear Suvro-da and Shilpi,

there are always chances of some mis-interpretation but I hope that I did not offend anyone even if we may/do differ. I personally feel that such healthy differences suggest mental growth rather than being a "yes-man" corporate syndrome.

I should say who I am . My name is Debasish Das, and now involved in the search of "mini big bangs" in USA. Maybe sometime I can share those excitements of particle physics. An ex-xaverian and thats how I know Suvro-da.

I am a research man and true many such research can be junk. But many are true also. I must admit I know much less of psychology and neurology so I do believe in citation. I am not sure if Shilpi is by profession associated with biology, and if yes maybe I would like to learn more from her since I am associated more with physics and mathematics.
Suvro-da has pointed in his item-2 about the psychiatrist's comments and that triggered me to search a few papers.

I think that if there is something happening there "has" to be a cause. And
if some sickness propagates somewhere then there is a cure. Sorry, if others feel different.

I am thinking of a solution, but some/many may feel that there maybe none. I strongly differ. About capital punishment I am as always against it.

best regards,

Dr. Debasish Das.

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Thank you, Debashis.

Just for the sake of information, Shilpi is 33, married, and finishing her delayed doctorate in sociology at Purdue University. Her husband is doing post-doc work in a certain branch of biology. But the reason she is a very good friend is that a) she is very well read, and that is not confined to her narrow area of specialisation, as it is with so many people these days, b) she has learnt, through great personal suffering and reflection upon it, the virtue of humility, meaning the perpetual awareness not only that I may be wrong, but lots of so-called learned people may be wrong also, so we should all treat one another with gentleness and courtesy and a genuine desire to understand more and criticise less.

And now I should like comments from other people too, please.

devdas said...

Hello Suvro-da,
thanks for your comments. I do agree that we should follow utmost humility and age old indian dictum "vidya vinayan dadati". Unfortunately the western world does not attest such thoughts which I feel every now and then in my last eights years of collaboration with USA and Europe. But thats beside the point for this discussion.
I have been taught by my university teachers to follow Socrates's quote "An unexamined/uncriticized life is not worth living". I am very much aware that I shall not be able to take any of my education in my grave, but can definitely enrich my short human life in healthy debates and discussions.

best regards and sorry again,

Dr. Debasish Das.

Shilpi said...

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/8366113.stm

.....some parts will make one guffaw though (0-5 year olds 'abusing' their parents?!).