A husband and wife had split. But the man came back one day and sexually assaulted her. The next morning she got her old father to look after her two children, a 4-year-old daughter and a 20-month-old son, while she went to the police to report. When she got back home in the police car, the man had just knifed her father, their two children and had slashed himself. The police and the woman were near witness to this slaughter, and even a bullet from the police failed to stop the man from his murderous mission.
This happened in Wilberforce, near Sydney, in Australia recently.
Australia is home to less than 20 million people about the same as that lives in just one of our major Indian cities, Mumbai. On an average there are over 50, 000 divorces every year. In almost half of these cases, women take out Apprehended Violence Orders (AVO). Women seek such orders fearing not just physical assault but also death in the hands of their former spouses.
The above-mentioned case is not a lone example. Such violent incidents, many in breach of AVOs, have occurred making a mockery of the police system, the legislative system and human values.
For instance, some years back, a divorced Mathematics teacher from Darwin in Northern Australia bought a rifle telling the salesman that he wanted one suitable "for killing pigs". His wife had taken out an AVO against him and had moved to Adelaide in South Australia to be away from him. He tracked her down and shot her dead.
But what happened recently in Sydney was straight out of a Bollywood spine chiller. A twelve-year old marriage had had a bitter break-up, and enmity escalated between the families involved. After a series of attempted rapes and death threats, the feud finally finished off people in their prime in a spray of bullets. The police have reported that at least a hundred bullets were pumped in one horrific murder.
The Premier of New South Wales State, Bob Carr, came out with this statement in condemnation: "We’re not going to see, step-by-step, civilisation dragged back to medieval standards of revenge cycles".
That the Premier should have made such a statement only when this horrendous act occurred within the Muslim community and not when similar violent acts occurred in the other Australian communities has irked Islamic sentiments here.
The Premier had also said that Australian society was being "degraded by this sort of revenge killing" and so "you obey the law in this country or you ship out".
The British used Australia a couple of centuries ago to ship out and dump criminals from Britain. Wonder where homicidal men can be shipped out after they obtain divorce to preserve society and civilization?
Adam Graycar, former Director of the Australian Institute of Criminology, has noted that three-quarters of all homicides involve intimate partners where males kill females. He also has stated that, "family breakdown is the precipitating factor in almost one in five filicides".
Men, who are unable to handle the situation after separation from wife and children turn nihilistic and resort to killing. Murder is perpetrated on the wife (termed ‘uxoricide’), on one’s own children (called ‘filicide’) and in extreme cases upon self (‘suicide’).
Although sanity prevails in several instances when a husband and wife are separated, it is the lack of it that is scary. Many a man firmly feels that the former wife can be used for the gratification of his primal urges, can be raped, and can be condemned if she enters into a relationship with another man. Above all, the man pronounces "Death" after divorce for her.
This pattern is not unique to Australia. It occurs all over the ‘civilized’ world.
What is it about the male psyche that drives him to destroy his former family? It defies all human rights and norms as it occurs in every stratum of society. With family breakups and divorces increasing, this is certainly cause for concern.
Malcolm Brown, editor of Bombs, Guns and Knives: Violent Crime in Australia, pins it down on to the sanctity of the family unit: " Family relationships might be seen to have something to do with immortality, the hallowed place in someone’s mind of the sacredness of his or her own genes. It is an area where the object of the frustration can become more important than life itself ".
While women have been biologically oriented and traditionally known to place their ultimate value in ‘family’, Malcolm Browns’ conclusion seems to be that it is men who in placing utmost value on ‘family’, can’t bear to only break it but have to annihilate it when it fails to live up to their expectations.
The implication then is that women in order to avoid death by divorce have to adopt tolerance to tyranny from husbands.
Wonder what feminists will make of all this.
G. Sujatha is a Social Anthropologist from the University Of Madras. She now lives in Sydney, Australia.
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