As cheap as dirt

Aug 23, 2012, 07:53 IST | Asha Mahadevan

A recent spate of murders for seemingly trivial reasons makes experts analyse why human life is fast sliding down the pecking order of values and what can be done to arrest this slide

Recently, we have got used to newspaper headlines screaming murder, one killed, two dead, young woman loses life, for what seems to be a small reason. While no reason is big enough for murder, triggers like ‘humiliations’, ‘rejection’ and even road rage are pushing people over the brink, where lives are often taken to ‘avenge’ a perceived humiliation or teach the other person a lesson. While many blame stress, others point to a culture of instant gratification.

blood-stained floor
Gore at home: The blood-stained floor of a Thane flat where a professor allegedly killed his wife and daughter before attempting suicide. Pic/sameer markande

Varkha Chulani, clinical psychologist and psychotherapist, Lilavati Hospital says, “Whether it is road rage where we want to kill somebody or when you are fighting for space in a train and push someone out of it in the process, we are becoming dehumanised. The space for emotion is being replaced by animal instinct.

Varkha Chulani
Mind it: Varkha Chulani

This is because the population levels are so high that India is bursting at its seams.” Dr Zirak Marker, child and adult psychiatrist and psychotherapist, believes the problem is in the religious, financial and political disparity amongst people. “In Mumbai itself, we have people who are super rich and people who are very poor.

Watchman accused of murdering, lawyer Pallavi Puryakastha
Caught: The watchman accused of murdering lawyer Pallavi Puryakastha in Wadala is produced at the Esplanade Court. Pic/shadab khan 

People come to the city with dreams of making it big. When those dreams go unfulfilled, there is anger.” Agrees Dr Sarala Bijapurkar, associate professor of sociology, KJ Somaiya college, “The value for human life is not there. People are experiencing immense rage that they are not able to handle. The want to hurt the person who caused that anger is more important than the value of human life.”

Dr Yusuf Matcheswala
Mind is a bomb: Dr Yusuf Matcheswala 

This was evident recently when the cops finally solved the case of starlet Laila Khan’s disappearance. The main accused Parvez Tak is alleged to have fatally beaten Laila’s mother in a fit of rage during an argument at their home in Igatpuri. Since Laila and her siblings witnessed the crime, he allegedly killed them too and buried all the bodies. Then there is the incident in Thane where a professor allegedly killed his wife and daughter following a heated argument.

Manju Singh interacts with kids
Instilling values: Manju Singh interacts with kids during a workshop

The Jessica Lall case in Delhi, in which the model was killed for refusing to serve a drink, is a sensational and most potent reminder of how cheap human life has become. Dr Yusuf Matcheswala, psychiatry professor at Grant Medical College, thinks the Lall case is symbolic of the malaise and says, “Nowadays, we see a lot of deterioration of the human mind which leads to micro-psychotic episodes (in which individuals experience symptoms of psychosis, a mental disorder, for short durations) and temporary insanity. There is no fear of police, of the law or of God,” adding, “In the last 20-25 years, our social fabric has deteriorated. Many of these killers are known to the victims and they are white-collar people, not professional killers. We are losing our cool because of the stressful lives we are leading. We often feel as if our mind is a bomb about to burst.”

Dr Zirak Marker
Disparity is the cause: Dr Zirak Marker. Pic/Datta Kumbhar

Matcheswala, who is also affiliated with the Mumbai police, added that the nation’s transformation from a rural to a semi-urban to an urban-ised society has also affected our value system adversely. “Due to urbanisation, we’ve gone from a joint family system to a nuclear family system. In the joint family system, children learnt to respect elders and if there was a small problem, everybody would get worked up and jointly find a solution. That is not there nowadays,” he ends.

B P Bam
Top cop: B P Bam  

Law and disorder
The lack of fear of the law is a problem, agrees BP Bam, retired Inspector General of Police and now a sports psychologist. “Individuals are becoming increasingly selfish. Both the haves and the have-nots just want to grab whatever pleasure they can. Anyone who comes in the way of their pleasure, they just kill them. Even if they are caught, they get bail or some minor punishment. The function of punishment is to be corrective and to act as an example for others. But in this scenario, there is no fear of getting caught,” he says.

 Cops gear up to search for Laila Khan and her family's bodies at Igatpuri.
Murder in their midst: Cops gear up to search for Laila Khan and her family’s bodies at Igatpuri. Pic/Sameer Markande

Missing values
Having said that, Bam believes that fear of punishment should not be the only reason for not committing a crime. “Your conscience should stop you, but nowadays there is no one to instill moral values. It is the parents’ duty to do so. After all, the child carries their name. If he or she commits a dacoity what will happen to their name? But no one is interested in the child.” Marker agrees that we have become a depraved society. “Our sense of morality is low. Who are our role models today? Half the population is crazy about Bollywood and Page 3 celebrities. There is a lot of sexual content in our newspapers today. Combine this with the lack of education and the mind will definitely create havoc.”

Parent trap
The thought – that the root of all troubles lies in the lack of a proper value system – is shared by Manju Singh, the founder of WorldKids Foundation, which aims at educating children in values through entertainment. “Children are born with basic goodness, so where does it get lost? The problem is that the gap between the poor and the rich has increased, but the exposure to the media – films and advertisements for consumer goods – is the same. In such a scenario, the balance of priorities is lost. It reaches our children, whose natural goodness is replaced by materialism,” she explains. She also feels that when parents expose children to only negative influences, they will think in a negative manner.

If a child watches the media highlight the fact that a murderer is not remorseful, they will begin to think that there is nothing wrong in killing someone. That’s why it is necessary for parents to ensure that their children receive positive influences too — about heroes who are doing the right thing. She firmly believes that parents should lead by example. “If parents are rude to the maid servant or to someone who scratches their car, then how will the child learn to be polite?” she asks.

Nature vs Nurture
Singh’s views on the role of parents and the media find an echo with Bijapurkar. “Our cinema glorifies violence. Kids who are three or four years old watch violent films with their parents. Parents should explain to the children that it is just a projection and it is not so in real life, but parents don’t bother to do so.” She agrees that materialism has become a problem.

“Parents give children everything they ask for. So it becomes difficult for these children to accept ‘no’. They are not able to overcome intense feelings of anger. We are sending the wrong kinds of messages.”

Matcheswala approaches it from another perspective and advocates improving mental health. “If there is a psychological illness or behavioural disorder, please address it,” he says. “We need to inculcate fear of the law, and a sense of value for life and property. All religions preach non-violence so spreading religious sentiments can also help. We should also learn to manage stress.” He advocates regulation of illegal substances as several crimes that recently came to light were committed under the influence of alcohol and drugs.

‘No simple answers’
According to Dr Ashish Deshpande, psychiatrist, the value of life has always gone down whenever something else has taken its place. He adds that it is his understanding that in urban society, pride about money has superseded the role of pride about religion and caste. “People expect to get a certain amount of respect due to their money. When they don’t get it, it brings out adverse reactions in them.”

Life is much simpler in the rural areas, he says. “The village community is more closely knit. The rural society intervenes when there is trouble, but this is not the case in urban areas. There is a saying that when crowd increases, the individual becomes isolated. We can say that kids need to be disciplined, and law should be more strict, but the fact is, there are no simple answers.”

Bam believes that the whole society has to wake up and correct its own course, and this process has to begin with ourselves and the values we impart to the children. “Destructive power should be converted to empower progress — just the way we do with electricity. We have to check this power ourselves, police oneself through moral standards because no police in the world can do it.”

He recalls an incident when a male friend reached late for a meeting because he had to escort a woman travelling alone on the streets to her destination. “Why should society be such that a woman can’t even walk alone on the streets and needs an escort to protect her? No one can protect everybody — only the person who is going to commit a crime can stop himself and protect the other person.” Singh, on the other hand, is more optimistic and insists, “Basically, people are good.” Now if they were only conditioned in the same way, the world would be a much better place to live in. 

Case file
>> Bangalore, August 15, 2012: A 29-year-old tailor allegedly rapes and then murders his nine-year-old neighbour.
>> Jaipur, August 14, 2012: A male houseguest allegedly murders two children — a 13-year-old boy and an 11-year-old girl — because they objected to him drinking alcohol at their home.
>> Mumbai, August 13, 2012: Two college-going boys allegedly kill their friend and demand a ransom of Rs 8 lakh, but settle for just Rs 3 lakh.
>> Mumbai, August 9, 2012: A watchman allegedly murders a young woman because she scolded him for staring at her. 

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