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Crimes of Passion

Last Updated: Wednesday, July 13, 2011 - 12:20

Shobhika Puri

Three years ago, a man killed another man on finding his fiancée with the latter. Thereafter, the killer and the fiancée chopped the body into 300 pieces and disposed it off. Recently, the verdict of the case was announced by a Mumbai court. The male accused was found guilty of culpable homicide not amounting to murder and sentenced to 10 years imprisonment while the female co-accused was convicted for three years on charges of destroying evidence. This case needs no further introduction. The Neeraj Grover case, as it is popularly called, is talk of the town these days. It has shaken the nation.

The main cause of distress is the rationale given by the judge for such a mild punishment. According to the judgement, the main accused, Emile Jerome Mathew, did what he did in a fit of rage over what he saw. It was a ‘crime of passion’, a crime committed under extreme circumstances when emotions take over man. How else is a man expected to react when he sees his fiancée with another man? It just happened!

So, what is this ‘crime of passion’ that just happened? What is this crime that can lead to a murder and yet, get away with a few years of imprisonment? How is this crime different from other murders? What is so disturbing about the crime that has appalled many?

Crime of passion, in popular usage, refers to a crime in which the perpetrator commits a crime, especially an assault or a murder, against someone because of a sudden strong impulse such as a jealous rage or heartbreak rather than as a premeditated crime. This is too simplistic a definition for such a heinous crime.

If, for a moment, one were to agree with the Neeraj Grover case judgement, then there are other similar cases that too can be classified as crimes of passion.

‘Dishonour killing’ is another term coined for categorization of a type of murder. It is done in the name of preserving the honour of a family. When a father or a brother sees his daughter or sister with a man from another caste, he becomes so passionate for preserving the honour of his family that he loses control over his senses and kills the innocent girl, whose only fault was to fall in love. So, can this also be categorized as a crime of passion? Yes, if the Neeraj Grover case judgement is referred to.

Everyday there are numerous cases of rapes, many a times leading to murders or suicides or handicaps or trauma for life for the victim. So, what causes this? The passion of lust overtakes the man. Another case of crime of passion? The passion of lust, of getting what one wants and the passion of instant gratification.

Female foeticide is very common in our society unfortunately, even amongst the urban educated people. So, what leads a would-be-father or a would-be-mother to aborting an unborn child just because she is not a boy? Passion of a boy child, passion of passing on the inherited property to the family heir, of carrying on the family business, of carrying on the family name, of demanding a good dowry when the son gets married etc. Hence, another case of crime of passion.

Terrorism has become a sad fact of life across the world that has not even spared a superpower like the US. What leads to an act of terror? Passion of preserving one’s religion, passion of creating fear or the passion of revenge. Islamic terror, Saffron terror, Hindu terror etc are all names of acts of terror. It is just that the motive changes but the passion leading to the act remains the same.

Shiv Sena is the self-anointed custodian of the Maharashtrians. It can attack any non-Maharashtrian taxi driver for being in Mumbai, it can threaten any film producer for exercising his creative freedom, it can burn any public property in the name of religion, it can ban any book for expressing facts or a different point of view, it can do anything anytime anywhere. So, what are the passions leading to such crimes? The passion of preserving only the Maharashtrian culture in Maharashtra; the passion of maintaining its dictatorial powers.

Naxalism is another form of terrorism that owes its birth to domestic problems like economic and social inequity. So, what is the passion governing their acts of violence leading to deaths of innumerable innocent people in whose very name they seem to be fighting? The passion of justice for the wrongs done by the government. What is ‘wrong’ and what is ‘justice’ is another matter.

Anti-Sikh riots of 1984, ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Pandits in 1990, Babri Masjid demolition in 1992, Gujarat riots in 2002 and the list goes on. All these acts are examples of communal riots that have plagued our country for many decades and continue to do so. The passion behind such acts is the passion of preservation or dominance of one’s religion, with complete disregard for another’s even in a secular country like India. Another crime of passion?

Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated by a Hindu fanatic. Indira Gandhi was killed by two of her Sikh bodyguards to avenge the military action at Harmandir Sahib. There are many more cases of assassinations each with their own set of objectives. But, one main reason underlined all. This was the passion of revenge; revenge of killing of their loved ones, revenge of threat to their religion, revenge of acting against their beliefs, revenge for the sake of revenge. This passion of revenge led to many such heinous crimes.

Human emotions are a vast ocean of various types of passions, each being capable of leading to a crime. If some husband or wife or boyfriend or girlfriend is jealous of somebody, the passion of jealousy can lead to a murder. If somebody rejects another’s proposal and the latter feels rejected, he can take revenge for the rejection. If some businessman wants to bribe a government official or grab somebody’s property, there can be no stopping him on his way to success. If the official or the land owner refuses, passion of success can take over any time. Our patriarchal society demands subservience of women in many parts of our country. If some woman dares to assert her rights by an act as simple as refusing to marry somebody not of her choice, she can be killed with the passion of superiority.

The list of passions discussed here are definitely not exhaustive. Each crime can have a justification of a passion governing the act. If one were to go by the logic of the Neeraj Grover murder case, then most of the crimes committed can be justified even though some may be premeditated. In cases of premeditated crimes, many times the passion underlying the crime so overtakes a person’s senses that it just increases with each passing day. It clouds a person’s judgement like in the case of terrorists.

What makes such crimes and their justifications even worse is that the criminals can get away with mild punishments that can embolden other criminals, notwithstanding the grave injustice to the victims.

If the logic of passion has to be followed then it could be in cases of victims of crimes defending themselves. For example, presuming Maria Susiraj’s version of the incident is correct, on seeing Mathew kill Neeraj, if she had killed the former then it could have been an act of crime of passion. Seeing somebody kill somebody brutally can be very shocking for a normal human being with good intentions and that person can get overcome by passion of revenge.

If a woman kills somebody who is trying to rape her, then it can be classified as a crime of passion; passion to protect her dignity. If a mother does not want to kill her female child but her husband forcefully tries to kill their daughter and she kills the husband to protect her child, then this could be a crime of passion; passion of motherhood.

A murder is a murder, calling it a ‘crime of passion’ or ‘dishonour killing’ or by any other name is just pure semantics. Nothing justifies a murder, no motive, no passion. If such an inhumane logic like ‘crime of passion’ is to be applied then it should be applied in the cases just mentioned. Justice denied anywhere diminishes justice everywhere. Neeraj Grover’s parents cannot get their son back, but the least they can get is justice. And they are still waiting, while Maria is walking free like a celebrity, giving interviews and possibly signing a Bollywood movie. So much for a crime of passion!

(Shobhika Puri is a freelance writer.)

First Published: Wednesday, July 13, 2011 - 12:20

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