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While the rise in ambitions and financial independence of women are leading to greater promiscuity, it is intolerance and a lack of life skills that are eliciting more and more violent reactions to acts of adultery, as seen in the Grover murder case

Vibha Sharma
ONE morning in the May of 2008, naval officer Emile Jerome Mathew walked into the apartment of his fiancée, small-time actress Maria Susairaj, and killed media executive Neeraj Grover after finding him there. Jerome and Maria, we are told, later chopped Grover’s body into 300 pieces and disposed them off through a well-executed plan, carried out almost with military precision.

Three years later in June 2011, the court declared Jerome guilty of culpable homicide not amounting to murder and sentenced him to 10 years’ imprisonment.

Maria, having already spent three years of her sentence on charges of destroying evidence, walked out of jail, much to the chagrin of Grover’s angry parents and friends. Jerome has approached the higher court, saying that Maria and only Maria was responsible for the heinous crime.

A murder most macabre had been topped by a verdict most surprising.

What followed was a press conference quite bizarre, which saw a tearful Maria pleading innocence and being booed and berated by Grover’s friends, before she smartly disappeared from public glare in spite of having big-ticket film offers, leaving everyone wondering how and why an act that had left the country shaken was not perceived as being grave by a court of law.

The macabre Neeraj Grover case, showcasing the changing trends in the sense and sensibility and morality of society, is not the first nor the last crime resulting from the complexities of the man-woman relationship, when primordial instincts overtake the civilised veneer, when the heat of the moment blinds logic with a cloud of rage so intense that everything else ceases to matter.

Says supercop Kiran Bedi: "Crimes of passion have always been there, only they are making more news now. Passion, desire, love affairs, desertion and revenge are all part of human nature and prisons are full of men and women who have committed such crimes."

So, what is this crime that can lead to a murder and yet the perpetrator gets away with a few years of imprisonment?

Criminal lawyer Vivek Sood, who has authored books on cyber and criminal law, explains how the court’s verdict in the Neeraj case was "correct".

"When a man walks into the apartment of his fiancée and sees another man there in a compromising situation, what is he supposed to do?" he questions. Explaining the difference between a murder and culpable homicide not amounting to murder, Sood says that in a premeditated murder there is "intent," but in the second case the death is caused but the intent is not there.

Jerome was certainly not expected to invite Grover for a drink when he saw him with his fiancée, but he also did not have to kill the man and then dissect his body into little pieces, presumably with the help of Maria.

So, what makes one man react so violently to a situation, which may not evoke a similar response from someone else?

Prof Adarsh Kohli, a clinical psychologist in the PGI, says aggression, when directed inwards, tends to hurt the self but when turned outwards it causes intense reactions. "At times like this, the mind perceives killing as a quick solution to the presented problem. At that time, consequences are not considered," she adds.

Whereas the result of both actions — a murder and culpable homicide not amounting to murder — is the death of a human being, the law takes into account the emotional status of a person when the crime is committed under "unusual circumstances".

"Different situations call for different solutions. A man killed his wife by smashing her head against the wall after finding her in a compromising situation with another man. He got away with a light sentence because the judge realised that sudden and grave provocation can cause men, as also women, to react in extraordinary ways. Each crime is special with a different degree of culpability. A 200-rupee bribe cannot be equated to a 200-crore scam. Crimes of passion are committed in the heat of the moment and cannot be treated on a par with premeditated crime, as both belong to different categories," Sood says.

But then what is stopping someone with premeditated intention to smartly manipulate it into a spur-of-the-moment act, especially when the court draws inferences based on circumstances. After all, the intent of a person is in his mind, and to decipher it there is no magic formula.

Rewind to 1959, the year of the first high-profile crime of passion in modern-day India.

Thinkstockphotos / Getty ImagesInterestingly, the perpetrator was again a swashbuckling Naval officer, Commander Kawas Manekshaw Nanavati, and the victim a philandering high-society playboy. Nanavati killed his friend Prem Bhagwandas Ahuja for alluring his wife Sylvia, but not before he had asked the lover whether he intended marrying her.

Ahuja is said to have dismissed the proposal, saying that he could not possibly marry every woman he slept with and was rewarded with three bullets by Nanavati.

The incident featuring high-society "Bombay" caught the imagination of the entire nation in the print media blitzkrieg that followed even in those relatively saner times, when 24x7 TV channels were not there.

The fact that Nanavati carried a loaded weapon on him when he went to confront Ahuja meant the "intent" to kill was there, but he got off with a mild punishment because of the support he received for killing a man who had violated his wife’s honour.

Almost the same rationale was given by the judge for a mild punishment to Jerome, saying that the main accused did what he did in a fit of rage over what he saw.

Crimes of passion have taken place since time immemorial because emotions are a part of human behaviour.

Whether it was Nanavati in 1959 or Jerome in 2008, emotions have remained the same, the difference lies in society’s perceptions towards morality and values. It was Nanavati’s frequent absence that led Sylvia to Ahuja. In Maria’s case, it was her quest for making it big in the country’s glamour capital that drove her into the arms of media professional Neeraj Grover.

Maria was willing to pay the price for success in the glamour world. Grover, unfortunately, was unable to fulfill her aspirations.

Jerome, to whom Maria turned to when she realised she was getting nowhere with Grover, carried out the duty of a jealous lover.

"The person who commits such a crime is emotionally disturbed. Had he been a practical individual, he would not have reacted in this way," explains Prof Rajesh Gill, head of the Sociology Department, Panjab University.

"Crimes of passion are rising because sexual affairs are no longer taboo in our increasingly promiscuous society. Cheating is considered being practical and granting of sexual favours for professional gains is all right," she adds.

Technically, a crime of passion is committed under extreme circumstances, when emotions take over, forcing ordinary people with no history of violence to commit heinous crimes. In US civil courts, for instance, a crime of passion is referred to as "temporary insanity", a defence first said to have been used by Congressman Daniel Sickles in 1859 after he had killed his wife's lover.

That a jealous lover can make the worst enemy, the 29-year-old Naina Sahni learnt the hard way one night in July 1995.

The ghoulish case, rendered famous as the tandoor kaand, saw Naina being shot by her husband Sushil Sharma when he found her cheating on him. Sharma then wrapped Naina’s body, took it to a restaurant, chopped it into small pieces and tried to burn it in a tandoor.

"Jealousy can make logical people to react in most illogical ways, clouding the rational reasoning process," says Gill.

Shivani (name changed) feels fortunate that she managed to get out of the extreme jealousy that consumed her, after her boyfriend married another girl, without causing any physical harm to anyone.

"I couldn’t sleep. I spent days and nights devising ways to teach him a lesson, hurt him and his wife. I made thousands of blank calls to his house, tried to ruin his career by calling up his office and sending anonymous mails to his boss. My whole life revolved around devising ways and means to punish him. It surprises me now but I even barged into his house and broke whatever I could lay my hands on. I even made a plan to kill him and his wife. It was hell as I went through the most depraved phase of my life, ignoring friends and family, who told me to see reason. All that I could feel was this intense hurt, burning rage and the desire to punish," she says.

There are several such cases when people have committed similar crimes after their relationship failed to work out.

Delhi University student Radhika Tanwar was shot in broad daylight by an obsessed stalker. For three years, he nursed a grudge after being beaten up in public for stalking Radhika and in March this year, Ram Singh, alias Vijay, killed her to avenge the insult.

The Priyadarshini Mattoo case is another example of a jilted lover turning violent. The young law student was raped and murdered by her senior Santosh Kumar for turning down his proposal.

"Not that these incidents were not there in the past, but they were rare. Now, it is not unusual to find a woman uniting with her paramour to get rid of her husband or a husband killing the lover of his spouse or a boy ruining the life of the girl he cannot get by throwing acid at her or killing her. Intolerance and heightened aggression are all leading to a situation where crime on the whole is increasing," says Kohli.

Not many of these incidents may be reported, but crimes of passion are increasing.

It is also not necessary that all of them result in murder, but such acts of desperation have become common and psychiatrists are getting more and more cases resulting from the reactions of those who lack the life skills to deal with emotional problems.

"Such people start believing that their existence is based on one relationship and when it does not work out, they feel they are being targeted. While emotional control is definitely lacking, some of these personalities can also be paranoid. Suspicion of their spouses is a symptom of the disease," says Kohli.

On the whole, the inability to handle frustration, impulsiveness, acting on the spur of the moment, inability to delay gratification, coupled with a decline of values, are leading to a degradation of societal values.

The changeover to nuclear families is turning each one to the "me first" mode.

The ambitions, the quest to make it the top and financial independence in women is leading to situations where promiscuity is acceptable and further on to the disturbing trend of an increase in crimes related to uncontrolled passion.

In terms of definition, a crime of passion refers to that in which the perpetrator commits a crime, especially an assault or murder, against someone because of a sudden strong impulse, such as a jealous rage or heartbreak, rather than as a premeditated crime. The killing of Madumita Shukla, technically not a crime of passion, definitely resulted from the forbidden passion, pursued outside the norms set by society.

The case had all the elements of the quintessential Bollywood potboiler — an extra-marital affair, treachery, betrayal and murder — Love, Sex aur Dhokha, the mantra of today’s youth. Madhumita, the young poetess known for her theatrical delivery, was pursued by much-married UP politician Amarmani Tripathi, a former bahubali and minister in Mayawati's government of 2003. The story ended with Madhumita’s bloody end in 2003, when, after getting pregnant with Amarmani’s child, she became too demanding for the politician’s liking.

In that term even the Shivani Bhatnagar murder does not classify as a classic crime of passion. But it is also an apt example of a violent end to the ambitions of a much-married journalist, who became too close to a top officer and a politician in pursuance of her dreams.

Shivani was found murdered in her flat and R. K. Sharma, a senior Haryana cadre IPS officer, was found to be the prime accused. Sharma, in turn, accused Union minister Pramod Mahajan for having a "love affair" with the reporter and being responsible for her death.

With morality trading place with ambitions and the granting of sexual favours no longer considered taboo, the office space is increasingly providing the time and space to the modern-day women to be more daring.

Gill says earlier such affairs used to be behind closed doors, with close relations like a brother-in-law or maybe a neighbour, but now the working woman has this wonderful option of workplace romance.

Men and women develop relationships called "office husbands" and "office wives" to relieve stress at work. "Proximity in the office leads men and women to share problems, to develop psychological intimacy where they arrive at a level of comfort which they may not be able to share with their respective spouses. No strings attached, no responsibilities make this relationship exciting than the conventional, boring husband-wife relationship," says Gill.

But beneath the veneer of development, there still remain highly educated men who cannot handle empowered women and their newfound reasons for love out of wedlock.

Sood has a positive outlook for future as women discover their new-found empowerment. He says that at present the Indian society is at a point where men are finding it difficult to accept the liberalism. Possibly, in future, as more and more women step out of their homes, men may begin accepting that women too can create relationships outside the house, just like them.

Love sex aur dhokha 

With women stepping out of their homes in the quest of equality, sociologist Rajesh Gill pegs the ratio of men and women indulging in extramarital affairs at a an equal ratio of 50:50. "Women have become more ambitious, they believe that they have only one life and want to make the most of it," she says.

Unlike many real-life cases, in some reel portrayals, like in Murder, the husband is shown forgiving his adulterous wife
Unlike many real-life cases, in some reel portrayals, like in Murder, the husband is shown forgiving his adulterous wife

India’s changing attitude is well documented by films and television. Interestingly, Gill blames films for playing a major role in the change in the perception of the society. "Earlier, when a hero was jilted he would walk away singing khush rahe tu sada, while today an Emraan Hashmi tries to get right back into the life of his married ex-girlfriend Mallika Sherawat at the first given opportunity. The husband is shown as a tolerant person, who forgives his erring wife in the end," she says.

Gill says that the society in general is also becoming more tolerant toward extra-marital relationships and this is also reflected in cinema and TV serials. "Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna celebrated the physical intimacy between married protagonists Shah Rukh Khan and Rani Mukherjee. It is now an accepted fact that if a woman does not find satisfaction at home, she has the opportunity to look elsewhere," Gill adds.

Films also depict metros as places where you can get away with everything. They are shown as places where you can hide your actions behind anonymity and get away with anything.

"Films, in fact, encourage people to believe that being emotional is positive, that public display of affection (PDA) is good. When I see young boys and girls in the university openly indulging in PDA (public display of affection), I feel majority of them are doing it deliberately, as a blatant show of their individuality," Gill says. — VS