May 31, 2020
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Home-Made Homicides

Three killings, all of women; three killers, all known to the victims

Home-Made Homicides
Illustration by Sorit
Home-Made Homicides

It is indeed painful to write about the recent killings of three hapless women in three cities—Bangalore, Mumbai and Jodhpur. My heart aches to think of them; I won’t hazard a guess as to which one was most cruel. On August 10, Satish Gupta (30) of Bangalore, an executive with Infosys, is alleged to have done away with his wife of three years, Priyanka (28), a teacher at Delhi Public School, by slitting her throat. Priyanka was not in the pink of health, and the married life of the childless couple is said to have been turbulent. Also, she apparently didn’t get along well with her in-laws and didn’t want her husband to have anything to do with them.

In the Mumbai incident, Ajay Dongarshi (35) was so obsessed with his niece Kiran, ten years his junior, that he wanted to marry her. Possibly depressed at having lost both his wife and his job recently, and unable to take a ‘no’ from the unrelenting woman, he killed her. He then slit his wrists in a suicide attempt and wrote her name in blood on the walls of the house in which they lived in a joint family.

The Jodhpur killing was of an American tourist, aged 50, who had checked in at a hotel with a 15-year-old boy, said to be her son. The boy, arrested while trying to flee India, is the suspect. The two are said to have had a violent quarrel over the teenager’s demand that she rejoin her estranged husband.

All three killings are repulsive, if not wholly out of the ordinary. Over the past few days, I have been agonising over what exactly could have been responsible for the loss of these three lives, two of them in their prime. At least one of the alleged killers, the Infosys executive, could be said to have had everything going for him, except perhaps that his wife was a bit demanding. But then, couldn’t he have just walked out of the marriage? There’s no evidence that the Guptas ever thought of this. Was this a commuter marriage, with the two living away from each other and meeting only occasionally? Priyanka was reportedly taunting her husband for his alleged impotence. If in fact he did suffer so, why didn’t the couple seek medical advice? On the face of it, no blame attaches to Satish’s employers. But I refuse buy that his immediate supervisor couldn’t have had an inkling of what was happening on the domestic front of one of his team members. Large, modern organisations have become so impersonal that concern for employee morale and welfare is too nominal to avert tragedies of this kind.

The Mumbai killing shows how easily an individual—perhaps already mentally disturbed to begin with—can tip over from a tabooed infatuation to the brutal killing of the subject of his obsession. It also shows how sexual undercurrents within a family often do not receive the attention they deserve. Sexual harassment and exploitation in a domestic setting is often subtle. It rarely gets uncovered unless the victim is daring. In fact, the Mumbai victim had reported her uncle’s amorous advances to her parents. They did admonish him, but failed to bar his access to the unfortunate girl. The only way to prevent such occurrences is through the focused education of parents on the dangers a child or young woman might face from predators who, in many cases, are part of (or known to) the family.

The American tourist’s killing was perhaps the most bizarre of the three. Little information is available at this stage, but psychiatric examination of the suspect may offer clues to his state of mind and how it might have led to the killing, though there can be no single ‘Why?’ The incident possibly represents the impact of a disturbed home on a juvenile, an area in which not much research has been done in India.

I know that the police couldn’t care less when such murders are reported. They are usually treated as mere jots on tables of crime statistics. But then, all three killings were the offshoot of domestic disputes which weren’t probably brought to the notice of the police. Even if they were, I’m not sure the police would have intervened appropriately. The police role in domestic disputes is hazy the world over, and police personnel in India are particularly untrained in handling them and therefore ham-handed, if not crude.

The three cases also make a classic study for the criminologist and the practitioner of criminal justice. Does the fact that they all took place in an urban setting throw up any pattern? Or were they just aberrations, with women in rural areas being equally vulnerable? However vague or difficult such exercises might seem, police officers in leadership roles need to study homicides of women and come up with a broad set of guidelines for personnel working at the grassroots.

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