Protect innocents from the menace of familicide

A 52-year-old man stabbed his estranged wife to death and assaulted his daughter over some argument at Kalyan town in Thane district of Maharashtra on April 26. In a separate incident on April 21, a jobless man killed his wife, 5-year-old son and twin 4-year old children by giving them sleeping pills in liquid and then stabbed them with a knife in Ghaziabad in Uttar Pradesh.

In yet other incident, a 60-year-old man killed his wife with dumbbell, killed their pet dog by throwing off sixth floor and jumped and committed suicide in Bengaluru on April 23. Three familicide incidents were reported in Telangana’s Medak district in April alone, claiming lives of five children in less than 10 days.

The incidents of familicides — where a perpetrator kills multiple close family members in quick succession, most often children, relatives, spouse, siblings, or parents — are not rare in the country. Sadly, the cases where an offender killed or attempted to kill their current or former spouse/intimate partner and one or more of their biological or stepchildren have received relatively little attention. Apparently, not much work has been done to investigate typologies of these incidents or examine risk factors for different types of familicides.

It is crucial to study the circumstances in which familicides take place to prevent these incidents and protect families. Familicides have devastating consequences not only for those directly involved and individuals close to the perpetrator and the victims, but also for surrounding communities.

A close look at such incidents suggests that familicides were almost exclusively committed by men and about half of these cases led to the suicide of the offender. Mental health problems, relationship problems, drug addiction and financial difficulties were prevalent in most of the cases.

Although the incidents of familicide cases are relatively few, they are the most common form of mass killings. However, statistical data are difficult to establish due to reporting discrepancies, particularly in India. Familicide differs from other forms of mass murder as the murderer kills family members or loved ones rather than anonymous people. This has a different psychodynamic and psychiatric significance, but the distinction is not always made.

A study of 30 cases in Ohio found that most of the killings were motivated by a parent’s desire to stop their children’s suffering. In Australia, a study was done of seven cases of familicide followed by suicide. Some common factors such as marital discord, unhappiness, domestic violence, sexual abuse, threats of harm to self or others were found in varying degrees. It was not clear what could be done for prevention.

Psychologist Bandi Harishankar, a counsellor at Sangareddy Jail in Telangana, offers a solution. “There is a need to appoint community counsellors to track behaviour of such people. Early intervention could save lives of children at risk as well as of disturbed persons,” he says, adding that the governments should intervene to keep children away from depressed people. The earlier it is done, the better it would be for both individuals and societies. After all, it involves the lives of innocent people, including minors.