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Till death do us part
Attention, attraction and a sense of power are some of the things that make women fall in love with prisoners on death row
When Charles Sobhraj announced his engagement to Nihita Biswas - a girl less than one-third his age - tales of the allure and charisma of the 'bikini killer' made for breaking news. Sobhraj's fiancee knows all there is to know about his murky past. She is his lawyer's daughter.
Austrian Josef Fritzl, convicted for rape, manslaughter and incest with his own daughter, has received about 200 letters from women all over the world, showing their love, affection and concern for him.
In yesterday's release Once Upon A Time In Mumbai (loosely based on the life of Mumbai's celebrity gangster Haji Mastan), his actress girlfriend tells a tough cop, "Let me see how fearless you are in his (the gangster's ) presence." The woman is proud of her lover, so what if he's a crook and a killer?
It isn't new for women to be attracted to bad boys. Everyone wants to reform the rake, be his last and eternal romance, the 'only one he truly loved'. What makes the guy with the gun so macho and compelling to women? And what is it that makes some women obsessed with wanting to love men who are convicted killers, rapists and terrorists? Men who are behind bars for life, who have reached the point of no return and who will never be free again?
Can't hurt me: It was while researching questions like these that American journalist and author Sheila Isenberg realised that there was no work done on the subject. She then proceeded to write her first book Women Who Love Men Who Kill (Simon & Schuster, 1991). Isenberg interviewed three dozen women who were in serious relationships (some even married) with men who were in prison for life. "Most women were in these relationships to feel safe. They all had previously been in physically, emotionally or sociologically unsafe relationships and having a man who would love them but not abuse them was a huge draw," said Isenberg, in an interview over the phone from Woodstock. "Also, if you are in a relationship with a man behind bars for life or a man on death row, then you have a lot of control over the relationship. You can decide when to make the visit, when to accept the phone call, or if you will accept the call, and you are that man's primary link with the outside world. It's a very powerful position to be in, " she adds. Mrs Somebody: Of course, there's also the shared sense of supremacy that comes with being Mrs Somebody. You get the glory, the sympathy, the eyeballs and the headlines.
"Many of these women feel a sense of power because they're in love with a man who is fearless, tough and sometimes even a killer," explains psychiatrist Dr Sanjay Chugh. "It's almost as if they (the women) have become all-powerful themselves. In such situations, it's not enough for the woman to just be in love with the man. She wants to be 'the only one' in his life, which is why - more often than not - it is the woman who brings up the idea of marriage to a man she will never spend a single day with," he adds. All I do is think of you: Attention is another big reason why certain women have relationships with men behind bars. When a man sentenced to death writes 'all I do is think of you' in a letter, the woman knows he's telling the truth for he really has nothing else to do - there's no distraction and no competition.
"It's not like a regular relationship that begins with great passion, goes on to deep love and then to comfortable companionship," says Isenberg. "When you're in love with a convict, there's always high drama. It's an irresistible combination of the unending absence, the desperate and unfulfilled physical attraction, outpourings of eternal love till death (literally) does them part." Crazy li'l thing: In the course of her research, Isenberg came across women who themselves went to prison while trying to help their man escape; some who left their husband and children to move to a place closer to where their lover was jailed;one who was on the jury that convicted the man of murder; another who fell in love with the man who murdered her grandmother. . . And they cut across all socioeconomic profiles. They are teachers, nurses, social workers, waitresses, office workers, and housewives. "While there is no justification for the love, they all justify the crime," says Isenberg. "If at all they agreed that he did kill or rape, they're certain that he's now a 'changed man'."
Hybristophilia is the condition of being sexually aroused or attracted to people who have committed an outrage or a gruesome crime. In popular culture, this phenomenon is also known as Bonnie and Clyde Syndrome.
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