Friday, December 12, 2008

Killer women on the rise in India

Figures Say Women Criminals In India On Rise, With More Getting Booked For Murder

If movies and television soaps are to be believed, then women are as diabolical as their male counterparts. They scheme, plot and cold-bloodedly murder with an ease that would put even hardened mafia dons to shame. Think of the guntoting Gudiya in Bollywood potboiler Tashan or the deadly duo of Sonia and Sophia in Race.

But real life has a different story to tell. While women criminals are still a minority — they comprise only 5% of the criminals convicted for heinous crimes — their numbers have been going up in the last few years. National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) figures reveal that the number of females arrested for criminal activities in 2003 were 15,1675, and this shot up to 15,4635 in 2006. Also, women criminals in Tihar Jail, the country’s largest prison, has increased from 490 in 2006 to 525 in 2007. Interestingly, the nature of crimes committed by them, too, is gradually witnessing a sea change. Though, softer crimes like drug trafficking and prostitution are the favourites, women are now trying their hands at kidnapping and murder. So far, 3543 women were arrested for murder in 2005 and 3439 in 2006 (NCRB figures). In most western countries, too, there has been a slight increase in the absolute number of female prisoners, though most of the females booked are for non-violent offences like shoplifting, theft and substance abuse. According to a study conducted by the Australian government’s Institute of Criminology on female prisoners from 1995 to 2002, the slight increase in the number of prison inmates might have some relation to prior imprisonment. The percentage of females who have faced prior imprisonment is relatively higher than male. Considering the nature of crimes, the study says, it appears that most of the female offenders are habitual rather than professional criminals. There has also been an increase in violent crimes done by female offenders.

Even law doesn’t believe in being soft on women. In August 2006, the Supreme Court upheld the death sentence given to two women from Maharashtra for committing a series of murders of minors. The two sisters, along with their mother Anjana Bai, had kidnapped 13 children and killed nine. In his book, Serial Murderers and their Victims, author Eric Hickey describes females who murder as ‘‘quiet killers.’’ His study of these women throughout the 19th and 20th centuries has led him to believe that unlike their bombastic and zealously motivated male counterparts, female serial killers are much more subtle. He says that they are sly, deliberate and careful in plotting their murders and performing them. Scenes of bloody rampages are rare, replaced by such modus operandi as poisoned foodstuff and staged domestic accidents. The Atma Ram murder case is a good example of this. While giving his verdict, the additional sessions judge, Bharat Prashar, observed, ‘‘the prosecution story as unfolded by the police shows as to how vicious a lady can be in the lust for love and power.’’ Sharda Jain was resentful of Atma Ram’s growing relationship with another woman councillor, Memwati Barwala, and decided to get Atma Ram killed. Psychologists believe that women criminals are better as strategists and have a number of physiological advantages in carrying out a crime. For instance, they can stand for longer hours and, if caught, can endure torture. And often, they come out stronger and tougher than the guys.

‘‘Women are also being recruited in gangs because they are the least to be suspected. It’s easier for a woman to gather information without raising suspicion,’’ says psychologist Rajat Mitra.

Women who commit crime in order to earn some quick bucks are mostly in the age group of 21 to 30. ‘‘Women are equally tempted to material and consumer goods, be it mobile phones, iPods or any other modern gadgets. That’s why they indulge in forgery, theft and even prostitution,’’ reasons sociologist Mala Kapur Shankardass.

The social environment contributes a lot to the making of women criminals. ‘‘If people have been abused, the chances of their taking to crime are high. But in most cases, it is more to do with the patriarchal society. Men get women into crime,’’ says psychologist Achal Bhagat. ‘‘Women taking to crime is a greater threat to society than men. This is because when women are put in jails, they leave behind their children and family. The husbands of such women tend to remarry, leaving the children to survive on their own. This results in the children taking to more heinous crimes,’’ adds supercop Kiran Bedi. In most cases, women act as accomplices to their male counterparts, and rarely work alone. According to the NCRB prison statistics 2005, more than six out of ten arrested under indecent representation of women and immoral traffic act are women. Other offences, which account for more than 20% female offenders, are dowry deaths, cruelty by husband and relatives, child marriage act and Indian passport act. Who said, women were not smarter.

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