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Don't kill me, ma
On the morning of March 8, 2011, Nidhi Gupta had breakfast with her sister-in-law Sunita, told her she was going to drop her three-year-old daughter Mahika to school, and walked out of their threebedroom apartment in Mumbai's Malad (East). Gaurav, her six-year-old son, accompanied them. Instead of going down to street level, though, Nidhi Gupta took the lift to the top floor of the 19-storey building. Once out of the lift, she walked with her children to the periphery of the terrace and threw first her son, and then her daughter, down 19 floors before herself jumping towards instant death. Before the final plunge, Nidhi Gupta had fastidiously remembered to take off her slippers.
A little more than a month later, 31-year-old Deepti Chauhan spent eight hours on Mumbai's local trains, shuttling aimlessly between Borivili and Churchgate stations with her son Siddhesh in tow. The next day, Chauhan threw her son from the top floor of their Dahisar apartment before jumping down herself.
On April 15, Bangalore's Saritha Hussain smothered her six-year-old son Zakir to death before hanging herself. Having married engineer Asif Hussain in the teeth of family opposition - the reason is obvious from their names - Saritha increasingly felt alienated by her husband's family, says inspector Balaramegowda of the Hulimavu police station, where the case was registered. Her husband was planning to move back to Chittoor in Andhra Pradesh to be closer to his family. It was probably the breaking point for Saritha.
It is telling how much relative publicity these three cases, not without strong internal resemblances, got in the media. While Nidhi Gupta's case was discussed threadbare, with reports attempting detailed reconstruction of the day's events and active follow-up stories about the arrests of family members, Deepti Chauhan's case seemed to warrant less attention;beyond the fact of her frantic, pathetic train travel, and that she had a fractured relationship with her in-laws, not much is known about her troubles and motivations. Saritha Hussain was forgotten within a day. Were we becoming inured to this most horrifying of all crimes: a mother killing her children before taking her own life?
It could be put down to the depressing regularity with which we have been hearing of such tragedies lately. Googling the words 'mother', 'kill', 'children' and 'suicide' together throws up news of at least one such incident each month in the past six months. While the majority of them are about 'suicide pacts' within a family - usually linked to financial reasons, and no less depressing for that fact - three educated, middle class women with no overwhelming financial trouble taking this horrifying route within the space of a month begs a different explanation.
"It is hopelessness and helplessness that makes a woman lean across a balcony wall and jump... as a team, " says the Mumbaibased Dr Harish Shetty, who has performed 'psychological autopsies' in several such cases. "While performing psychological autopsies in cases where filicide-suicide was attempted or committed, several facts come to light, " he says. "Modern mothers store a lot of pain in the form of perceived insults. Insinuations from years past are viewed as disrespect and insult. There is turmoil as the woman struggles to get a strong foothold in the subtle power-wars of the family."
According to Prasanna Poornachandra, CEO and founder trustee of the Chennai-based International Foundation for Crime Prevention and Victim Care, most women with young children contemplating suicide talk about 'taking their children with them'. "Most of these women are severely abused by their husbands and their families, whether physically or emotionally. They don't trust their husbands to take care of their children once they are gone, " says Poornachandra.
The 'altruistic' motive for filicide is a welldocumented one. In the oft-cited paper on murder-suicide, 'Filicide-Suicide : Common Factors in Parents Who Kill Their Children and Themselves', helmed by forensic psychiatrist Dr Susan Hatters Friedman of Case Western Reserve University, specific motives for filicide are classified under five categories -- altruistic;acutely psychotic;accidental filicide (fatal maltreatment ); unwanted child and spouse revenge filicide. "Altruistic filicide is murder committed out of love to relieve the real or imagined suffering of the child. Altruistic filicide may be associated with suicide. For example, a mother who is suicidal may not be willing to leave her child motherless in a 'cruel world', " says the paper, published in the 'Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law' in 2005.
Dr Ajit Bhide, head of the department of psychiatry, St Martha's Hospital, Bangalore, agrees that while in most such cases the motive is altruistic and stems from the mother's wish to spare her children future suffering, in some cases anger and a wish for vengeance cannot be discounted. "Like in the Greek play Medea, in which a scorned wife kills her children to avenge herself on their father who has betrayed her, in some cases a mother could kill as an act of vengeance against her husband and in-laws. Coupled with an erroneous belief that they 'own' their children, this could be a strong motivation, " says Bhide.
Poornachandra also mentions that for many Indian women, children are an extension of their own self. "Several suicidal women I have counseled have no sense of separation from their children. They assume that their children's choices and destiny are completely linked with their own, especially if the children are really young, " says Poornachandra.
But what pushes a mother to take this irrevocable step in the first place? According to Dr RS Deshpande, director, Institute for Social and Economic Change, increasing socio-economic pressures are responsible for creating disparities between ambition and capability, leading to stresses within the family. It has been revealed in Nidhi Gupta's case that her husband was treated as the non-performer of the family and that they, as a unit, were financially dependent on his elder brother and his wife. They had to share a threebedroom flat with her husband Pawan's parents, his brother and sister-in-law and their children - a total of 10 people living out their frustrations and desires in a Mumbai flat.
India is a society in transition, and while traditional support structures have broken down, alternate ones based on mutual, shared experiences have not emerged to take their place, says Johnson Thomas, director of Aasra, the Mumbaibased suicide helpline. Alongside, "The stigma that continues to be attached to mental health issues has resulted in a deep denial of the mental health crisis in our society, " says Thomas. "Mental health is not on the government's agenda."
According to Bhide, proper value education from the beginning of a person's life is important. Emotional resilience can be inculcated, he says, and this is the first level of prevention. The second level is for the potential victim's friends and family to watch out for signs of acute emotional distress such as depression, withdrawal, demanding long periods of isolation and anger.
Poornachandra raises a very poignant point when she talks about the children who have been silent, equal victims in such tragedies. "There should be more support for children from homes where there are many tensions and a build-up. There must be avenues for them to speak out, reveal their fears. Often, mothers express their ideas before the kids, she might even discuss her plans saying 'we are going to die', but there is no option for the children to reach out to someone and seek help."
That is the real tragedy.
In 2009, 1, 27, 151 persons ended their lives in a suicidal act. Bengal (11. 5 per cent), Andhra Pradesh (11. 4 per cent), Tamil Nadu (11. 3 per cent), Maharashtra (11. 2 per cent) and Karnataka (9. 6 per cent) accounted for more than half all suicides in the country
The five southern states registered 40 per cent of total suicides in the country. Four cities of Bangalore (2, 167), Chennai (1, 412), Delhi (1, 215), and Mumbai (1, 051) together reported nearly 44% of total suicides among the 35 mega cities of the country
Bangalore city had the highest rate: 38. 1 per 1, 00, 000 population. In the total series, 1 out of every 3 suicides occurred in the age group of 15-44 years with an overall male to female ratio of 2:1. However, in young children less than 14 years, male to female ratio was almost equal. One out of every 5 suicides was registered among housewives
FROM A NIMHANS STUDY TITLED 'INJURY AND VIOLENCE IN INDIA: FACTS AND FIGURES
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