Monday, January 26, 2009

Murder most foul

A doctoral thesis asserts that most crimes are committed between the ages of 18 and 35. A look at the reasons why

By Shevlin Sebastian

Rony decided to kill his father when he was having dinner at their home in Kochi. So he bought a knife and informed his mother about it. His elder brother and sister were doing professional courses in Coimbatore.

“When my father sat down at the dining table, I approached him from behind and hacked his back,” says Rony, 18. “My father immediately said, ‘My son, why are you doing this to me?’ I did not reply. Instead, I struck again and cut off his hand.”

At this moment Rony took out a sheet of paper from his pocket: it contained several charges against his father. Each time he would read out an accusation, he would swing the knife.

As his father neared his end, he said, “My son, please give me a little water.” A frenzied Rony filled a can with kerosene and poured it into his father’s mouth. As his father spat it out, Rony’s mother took the weapon and slashed her husband a few times.

Both mother and son did not run away after the murder. Subsequently, they were arrested and jailed for life. Three years later counsellor Dr Jose Karekatt met the young man.

Rony told Karekatt that his father, Jacob, and mother, Prema, quarreled often when they lived together as a family in Kannur. Then Jacob left for Jeddah for a job. Prema soon started having affairs. Sometimes she brought the men home.

When Jacob came to know, he returned, and took his family to Kochi where he opened a stationary shop. Rony assisted his father in the shop. But Jacob and Prema continued to fight. Once in a fit of anger, both burned the other’s clothes.

As the youngest Rony fell under the influence of his mother who repeatedly told him, “When you grow up if you kill father I will confess to the crime and spend time in prison.’”

So Rony decided to fulfill his mother’s wishes. “I felt there would be peace in the family if my father died,” he says. “The chances for my sister to get married would improve if he was not around.”

When Rony finished telling his story Karekatt told him that Jacob was a good man. “Your father did not want to break up the family,” he told Rony. “If he wanted he could have easily divorced your mother. Instead he gave up his job and moved away from Kannur to preserve the family. And I think he also loved you.”

When Rony heard this, surprisingly, he agreed that his father had shown affection towards him. “I was brainwashed by my mother,” he said. “She always spoke against my father to me.” At this moment he started crying and said, “I am sorry. I have made a terrible mistake.”

Suresh also felt he had made a terrible mistake. His father died when his mother was pregnant with him. His step-father, Sreedharan, was a drunkard and often beat his mother.

“From my childhood, I have only seen violence and fights in my family,” he says. “I have never received a father’s love. I had a tremendous anger and hatred towards my step-father.”

One day after yet another fight in the family, Suresh, then 19, took a knife and killed Sreedharan. “A father, to me, is a frightening person, a person to be hated, but I should have never committed murder,” he says.

Apart from Rony and Suresh, Karekatt has met numerous criminals over the course of a 16 year long counselling work in various prisons in Kerala. A Catholic priest, he is the state director of the Snehasramam Society which works for the rehabilitation of prisoners.

So what are the reasons behind a young person taking to crime?

“The lack of a proper relationship at home,” says Karekatt. “The relationship with parents is the primary force in a person’s life. A father is a role model, while the mother is the tender, affectionate and loving presence. If that goes wrong the person lacks something very important.”

Karekatt says that around 70 per cent of crimes are committed by men with traumatic and abused childhoods. The other reasons are a depressed socio-economic background and falling into the wrong company.

But what Karekatt discovered was that nearly all the crimes were done by men between the ages of 18 and 35. This became his thesis which he presented successfully at Salesian University, Rome, for his doctorate in theology.

“Between these ages men are moved less by reasoning and more by impulses,” he says. “A person at this age is adventurous and ready to take risks. Look at the ages of the terrorists who attacked Mumbai. They are all in this age group.”

Once they reach 35, they lack the courage and the physical strength to indulge in crimes and are consumed by remorse over what they have done. So they look forward to a peaceful life. The many years in prison have also had a profound impact on them.

Emotionally weak, they sink further when they are imprisoned. “The initial reaction is to feel desperate and sad,” says Karekatt. Says John, a murderer: “Outside we have the freedom to walk around. But the situation is different inside. You need an order to come, an order to go: nothing can be done without permission.”

Says Prof. Vicki E. Bowman of Northwestern State University, USA: “The life skills and attitudes necessary to succeed in the outside community -- decision-making, assertiveness, self-reliance, autonomy and self-esteem -- are subjugated to authority.”

Karekatt says another psychologically damaging effect is the rejection by the family.

The family suffers from anger, shame and sadness, and usually cuts off all ties with the criminal, he says.

The result: the prisoners have no one talk to. “When one prisoner looks at the other, he sees a murderer who has no family relations, and does not lead a normal life,” says John. “I see the same dejected and frustrated faces. How can I talk to them? How can I trust them? I suffer from an intense loneliness.”

Because of this isolation, the criminal craves for some sort of a contact. Keshav, who is serving a life term for murder, says that whenever parents and relatives come for a visit, it brings joy and consolation. Unfortunately, like the prisoners, most parents become deeply troubled because society looks down upon the criminal and the family.

“The attitude of society is completely negative,” says Karekatt. “When a person is sent to prison the tendency is to forget him forever. But we should follow what Mahatma Gandhi said. ‘Prison should be like a hospital where a person is treated. The sickness is of their thinking, attitude and mind.’”

But, as of now, the stigma remains as intense as ever. Karekatt remembers meeting Meenakshi, an affluent woman whose two sons had been jailed for murder. She said, “However well I dress, whatever gold ornaments I wear, whenever I go out, people point at me and say, ‘There goes the mother of two murderers.’”

(Some names have been changed)

(The New Indian Express, Chennai)

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