FEMALE MURDERERS IN I N D I A — RAM AHUJA* A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY ...
FEMALE MURDERERS IN I N D I A —
RAM AHUJA*
A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY
Various explanations have been given for
their social organisations and their inter-
the analysis of the deviant behaviour of a nalised cultural values.
person. Starting from the pronouncements
of Social Darwinists like Lombroso that THE PROBLEM
the criminals are born and not made upto
The present paper concentrates only on
the presently widely accepted Cloward one type of female offenders, viz., the mur-
and Ohlin's sociological theory of Blocked
derers and has two major purposes: (1) to
Opportunities, in between we have had discover motivation in murder and concep-
many other explanations by scholars like tualise on the role of family in the criminal
Sheldon, Goddard, Healy and Bronner, homicide of women, (2) to study how the
Sutherland, Bonger, Quetlet and Merton. family adjusts itself in a situation of crisis
Most of these writers have explained crime
created by the absence of a woman due to
as a homogenous phenomenon without re-
her imprisonment. Our approach to the
ference to the question of sub-types or dif-
analysis of female's murder is based on
ferences in the form it takes. However, "Family-centered explanation". To treat
the murder committed by a woman in
some of these explanations have become terms of all or even some of the above-
outmoded and have lost their scientific mentioned explanations would have intro-
validity though some have their champions
duced a complexity unmanageable within
even today. Recent studies in Sociology, the confines of this paper. For this reason,
Psychology and Criminology have indicat-
we have been primarily concerned with the
ed that criminals cannot be understood pattern of family relationships. By analys-
fully except in the context of the total so-
ing the structural problems of family orga-
cial and genetic situations within which nisation and by studying the types of func-
they live and try to adjust themselves. tional problems in women's families of pro-
During the past one or two decades parti-
creation, an attempt has been made to test
and verify the hypothesis that a high pro-
cularly, there has been growing awareness portion of murders committed by women
and recognition of the fact that anti-social are due to maladjustment in interpersonal
behaviour can best be comprehended in relationships within the family. The hypo-
terms of the interrelationship between per-
thesisation and the doctrinaire interpreta-
sonality, culture and social systems. The tion is however tentative.
criminal behaviour of women has also to
be understood within this frame of refer-
The study is based on the case studies of
ence, i.e., in terms of the interrelatedness
136 murderers interviewed in the three
between their personality characteristics, states of Rajasthan, Punjab and Madhya
* Dr. Ahuja is Reader in Sociology, University of Rajasthan, Jaipur.

272
RAM AHUJA
Pradesh in India.* Out of approximately
come from villages, therefore, female mur-
200 female convict prisoners every year in
der is necessarily a rural phenomenon. In
each of these three States, about 65 percent
fact, of the total population, 83.07 percent
are those whose term of imprisonment is
in Rajasthan, 80.4 percent in Punjab, and
less than six months while 35 percent are
82.3 percent in Madhya Pradesh is rural.
those who get more than six month's im-
This shows that when only 16.93 percent
prisonment. In the later group, about 20 of the population in Rajasthan, 19.6 percent
percent are murderers. The interviews of
in Punjab and 17.7 percent in Madhya
all the murderers in the jails in the three
Pradesh is urban, 24.0 percent of the mur-
States at the time of study i.e. 50 in Rajas-
derers in Rajasthan, 29.6 percent in Punjab
than, 27 in Punjab, and 59 in Madhya Pra-
and 20.3 percent in Madhya Pradesh in our
desh provided a basis for the present ana-
sample had an urban background. It may
lysis.**
be concluded thereby that urban areas pro-
duce more female murderers than rural
areas.
THE SAMPLE
The study indicated that the popular
The age variation in female homicides
belief regarding the relationship between revealed that young women commit more
female homicide and some sub-cultural va-
murders than the middle-aged or the old.
riables like caste, residence and social class
The analysis of the commitment age show-
etc. is misleading. 70.6 percent murderers
ed that 61.8 percent women were young
in our sample were caste—Hindus, 16.1 (below 30 years), 32.3 percent were middle-
percent Sikhs, and 13.3 percent scheduled
aged (30 to 50 years) and only 5.9 percent
tribals, Muslims and members of backward
were old (above 50 years). The peak age
castes. Of the 96 caste-Hindus, 37.5 per-
of murder was found to be varying from
cent belonged to upper castes, 40.6 percent
25 to 35 years, the mean being 30.8 and
to intermediate castes and 21.9 percent to
median 26.3. This is the age at which a
lower castes, indicating thereby that it person is both chronologically and mental-
cannot be inferred, as is commonly done, ly matured and is biologically and socially
that the female murderers in particular and
capable of understanding and performing
female offenders in general come from the the marital and other social roles.
lower castes.
The indication of the relationship bet-
Further, 76.5 percent offenders were ween the crime of murder and membership
found to have a background of rural life in lower-class group was suggested by the
while 23.5 percent came from towns and fact that 8.5 out of 10 murderers' husbands
cities. From this it should not be inferred
were engaged in lower-class occupations.
that because 7.6 out of every 10 murderers
56.6 percent respondents' husbands were
• Though the number of murderers studied is small and may appear to be inadequate
for warranting generalisations made in this paper, but considering the fact that the total
number of murders committed by the females in a year is always very small, these cases give
enough background for developing and verifying hypothesis for exploratory purposes.
** All Women convicted and imprisoned in Rajasthan are kept in the Female Reformatory
in Central Jail at Jaipur, while those of Punjab and Delh are kept in Ludhiana District Jail
and of Madhya Pradesh in Jabalpur Central Jail. 32 murders in female Reformatory in
Jaipur (Rajasthan) were studied in May-June 1966 and 18 in November-December 1968,
while 27 murderers in Ludhiana were studied in December 1968 and 59 murderers in
Jabalpur in October 1969.

FEMALE MURDERERS IN INDIA — A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY
273
agriculturists, 25.0 percent were engaged in
VICTIM IN MURDER
some service, 15.4 percent were self-emplo-
yed (tailors, goldsmiths, pujaris, shop-
In large number of cases, the offenders
keepers, bidi-makers, potters, milk-sellers, and the victims were found to be hetero-
contractors, wood-cutters etc.), 1.5 percent
geneous with respect to sex and age. Only
were unskilled labourers, and 1.5 percent in 15.6 percent cases, the offenders' victims
were unemployed or retired persons. Wolf-
were persons of their own sex and in 42.6
gang's (1958, 178) study of 588 victims and
percent cases of the same age group.
621 slayers in Philadelphia between 1948
and 1952 had also revealed that 9 out of
This heterogeneous characteristic of
10 criminal homicides were in lower class
homicide in offender-victim relationship in
occupations.
our study is just the anti-thesis of homo-
geneous relationship found by Edwin
Driver (1961, 153-158) in his study of 144
The data on the income of the family cases in Madhya Pradesh, or by Harlan
showed that as many as 85.3 percent offen-
(1950, 744) in his study of 500 male and
ders come from very poor or poor families
female murderers in Alabama, or by Berg
(with less than Rs. 300 p.m.), 11.0 percent
and Fox (1947, 115) in their study of 200
from middle-class families (with Rs. 300-
male murderers in Michigan, or by Suther-
600 p.m.) and only 3.7 percent from upper-
land (1950, 543-554) in his study of 324
class families (with more than Rs. 600 p.m.).
female murders.
Though this economic status does not ne-
cessarily indicate the role of poverty in fe-
Further, in 81.5 percent cases, the vic-
male murder, yet it is significant in the tim had some kinship relationship with the
sense that low income is an important con-
offender. In 103 cases, the victim was a
tributory factor to family tensions, and a member of the offender's family while in
combination of unsatisfactory social rela-
8 cases, he was outside the family (Hu Si
tionships and poverty is conducive to cri-
So = 2, SiDa = 1, Si SoSo = 1, DaHuFa
minal behaviour. Further, the upper-class
= 1, distant Kin = 2, Hu Si Da-in-law
behaviour system prescribes norms that are
= 1). Of the 103 family members involv-
different from the behavioral norms of the
ed as victims, 92.2 percent were members
lower class. There exists a cultural anti-
of the family of procreation and 7.8 per-
pathy between many rationalisations of cent were members of the family of orien-
women of the lower class on the one hand
tation (FaBrDa = 2; FaBrSo = 2; Brwi
and the behavioral norms under which the
= 2; BrDa = 1 and Si = 1). Out of 95
women of the middle and upper class live members from conjugal families, in 55
on the other.
cases the victim was husband, in 18 cases
the woman's own child (So = 10; Da = 8),
in 4 cases ego's secondary kin (Sowi = 3,
The discussion of various components SoSo = 1), in 3 cases ego's Co-wife's son,
above indicates the role of sub-cultural and in 15 cases, the husband's primary or
factors in female murder. Bearley's (1932) secondary kin (HuFa = 2; HuBr = 3;
and Wolfgang's (1958) studies of homicides
HuSi = 2; HuMo = 3, HuBrWi = 2;
in the United States also give us such in-
HuBrSo = 2; HuFaMo = 1). This fact of
sights into what the later terms the 'Sub-
victim being usually a kin or a close asso-
ciate of the offender in crimes of murder
culture of violence'.

274
RAM AHUJA
TABLE 1
HOMOGENEITY AND HETEROGENEITY IN AGE GROUPS OR OFFENDERS
A N D THEIR VICTIM
Age-group of
Offender
Victim
Number
Percentage
Homogeneity
Very young
Very young
1
0.8
Young
Young
35
25.6
Middle-aged
Middle-aged
21
15.4
Old
Old
1
0.8
58
42.6
Heterogeneity
Very young
Young
4
3.0
Young
Infant
15
11.0
Young
Very young
7
5.1
Young
Middle-aged
12
8.8
Young
Old
9
6.5
Middle-aged
Infant
8
6.0
Middle-aged
Very young
4
3.0
Middle-aged
Young
7
5.1
Middle-aged
Old
6
4.4
Old
Infant
1
0.8
Old
Young
2
1.5
Old
Middle-aged
3
2.2
78
57.4
TOTAL
136
100.0
(Infant = Below 5; Very young = 5 to 16;
Young = 16 to 30; Middle-aged = 30 to 50; Old = Above 50).
was also found by Bullock (1955, 572) in that primary relations need more to be
his study of urban homicides in Texas, by
controlled in the case of female murder-
Svalastoga (1956, 40) in his study of 172 ers.
Danish cases, and by Sutherland (1950,
548) in his study of 324 murders of females.
MOTIVATON IN MURDER
Wolfgang (1958, 212) however, had found
As explained earlier, the etiology of fe-
such relationship only in 23.13 percent male murder can be understood best on
cases in his study of 588 homicides.
the basis of the conjunctive approach of
personality and situation, but as already
Out of 25 non-family members involved pointed out, we shall concentrate here
as victims, 23 were members of the pri-
only on the analysis of the structural and
mary groups viz.; the neighbourhood and functional problems of women's families
the village (village = 11, neighbourhood leading to homicides.
= 12) and 2 were strangers (patient = 1;
husband's friend = 1), showing thereby
Out of 55 cases in which the husband

FEMALE MURDERERS IN INDIA — A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY
2 7 5
was the victim, the murder was committed,
Out of the 22 cases in which the vic-
in 25 or 45.5 percent cases due to illicit tim of the murder was some member of
relations of the offender with some man; the husband's family (other than the hus-
in 6 or 10.9 percent cases, due to illicit re-
band or the child), in three, the husband's
lations of the victim with some woman; father and in one each HuMo, HuSi and
in 15 or 27.3 percent cases due to conflict HuFaMo were murdered because they ill-
with husband and/or maltreatment by hus-
treated the respondents; in two, the sons'
band; in 3 or 5.4 percent cases offenders wives were murdered because they had
accepted committing of husband's murder
failed to bring expected dowry; in two,
to save their son, brother and paramour the hubsand's brothers were killed because
respectively; in 5 or 9.1 percent cases, the
either they tried to molest the ego or for
offenders showed their innocence and re-
cibly marry her against her wishes; in
ported false implication for the offence; three, the co-wives' children were killed
and in 1 or 1.8 percent case murder was due to conflict with co-wives; in four-
committed because husband wanted to teenth, the husband's brother's son was
criminally assault ego's daughter from the murdered because the respondent's hus-
first husband.
band had developed illicit relations with
his brother's wife and the respondent
In the first 25 cases, 10 women had illicit
wanted to retaliate by killing the woman's
relations with husband's brothers, 7 with
child; in fifteenth, the hubsand's brother's
villagers, 3 with husband's friends, 2 with
wife, who was also ego's real sister, was
husband's brother's son, one with sister's killed because ego's husband had deve-
husband, one with the Patwari of the vil-
loped illegitimate relations with the vic-
lage and one with a colleague-doctor.
tim; in sixteenth husband's brother's son
was killed while ego, victim, and victim's
Out of the 18 cases in which the victim
friend were drinking wine and they came
was the woman's own son or daughter, in
to blows in the state of intoxication; in
7 cases the murder was committed because
next three cases victim was killed either
the children were illegitimate and the because of conflict with her (HuBrWi)
women were afraid of social ostracism; in
over property or because she (HuMo) ob-
4, women had altercations with their hus-
jected on ego's 'nata' (marriage without
bands and in the heat of anger they killed
obtaining legal divorce) with her husband's
their children; in 2, it was the result of
brother (i.e. victim's son) or because she
mental aberration of the women (offen-
(SoWi) had illicit relations with some vil-
ders); in one, the woman reported false lager; and in the last three cases in which
implication by some unknown person and respondents were charged for killing hus-
police; and in each of the remaining four
band's brother's son or husband's mother
cases, the child was killed either because or husband's sister, they claimed false
the son often reported his mother's (ego's) implication.
illicit relations to his father, or because of
the ego's conflict (with son) over property,
Out of 8 cases in which victims were the
or because the woman wanted to propiti-
members of ego's family of orientation,
ate the goddess, or because the woman in two cases in which father's brother's
tried to commit suicide along with her
daughter and father's brother's son were
child due to in-law's maltreatment (she was
victims, egos denied having committed
saved but the child was killed).
the offences; in three cases brother's dau-

276
RAM AHUJA
ghter, father's brother's daughter and in one, the neighbour's child of seven years
father's brother's son were killed because was thrown in a well by the ego being
respondents quarrelled with victim's par-
mentally upset due to her own child's
ents; in one, sister was killed because she death; in one a villager was murdered be-
had developed illicit relations with ego's cause he tried to criminally assault ego's
husband, in one brother's wife was killed
sister; in one, the ego-nurse killed her
in the state of intoxication; and in the last
patient of forty years age while helping
case, brother's wife was burnt alive be-
her in the abortion of an illegitimate child;
cause her father had insulted the ego over and in the last case of a villager's murder,
dowry issue.
the respondent claimed false implication
by the relatives who wanted to get rid of
In the murder of eight kins who were her in order to take over her property.
not the family members, in one case hus-
band's sister's son was killed because of
This analysis gives us five important con-
ego's dispute with her husband's sister; in clusions :—
another, sister's son's son was killed to
propitiate goddess, in third daughter's hus-
(i) The largest group, little more than
band's father was killed because he ill-
two fifths, (42%) of the murders grew out
treated ego's daughter; in fourth, husband's
of sexual infidelity and little less than two
sister's son was murdered in the state of fifths (39%) were the result of disputes and
intoxication; in fifth, husband's sister's altercations. In other words, the major
daughter-in-law was killed because ego situations which motivated murders were
had developed illicit relations with vic-
illicit relations and ill-treatment by hus-
tim's husband and she (ego) wanted to band or in-laws and disputes.
get rid of her (victim); in sixth, sister's
daughter was killed due to mental aber-
(ii) Women's murders can be explained
ration; and in the last two cases the res-
in terms of their contradictory or ill-de-
pondents who were also real sisters killed fined roles in the family. Role collision
their distant uncle because he objected (in which two different individuals
to one of the respondent's marriage with — either husband and wife or daughter-in-
a boy of her choice.
law and parents-in-law etc. — have roles
which are in conflict in some respect), role
Lastly, in the homicide of 25 non-family
incompability (in which the same indivi-
members, 8 villagers, 5 neighbours and a dual—the woman—plays roles which have
villager's daughter were killed as the re-
contradictory expectations), and role con-
sult of a dispute over land or some other fusion (in which there is a lack of agree-
issue with the victim or victim's primary ment among group (family) members about
kin; in four cases victims (tenant = 1; hus-
the expectations for a given role) create
band's friend = 1; villagers = 2) were kill-
struggle for a woman which sometimes
ed because they tried to molest egos; in compels her to indulge in felonious act.
two cases a village-girl and the land-lord's
wife were killed because they had deve-
(iii) In 60.3 percent cases, murders were
loped illicit relations with the respondents'
committed due to familial maladjustments.
husbands; in one, the neighbour was stran-
gulated because she had seen the ego and
(iv) 50.7 percent crimes were victim-
her paramour in a compromising position; precipitated.

FEMALE MURDERERS IN INDIA — A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY
277
(v) 52.9 percent murders were the pro-
or illicit relations of ego's husbands (9
duct of provocation rather than a sudden cases) or ill-treatment by husbands (19
impulse or premeditation.
cases), while 18 cases involved disputes
between respondents and the members of
Before we analyse role conflicts and their families of procreation. The other
familial maladjustments, some reference to parties in these later disputes were either
victim-precipitated crimes is necessary.
the husband's parents (5 cases) or husband's
siblings (3 cases) or husband's brother's wife
VICTIM-PRECIPITATED CRIMES
(2 cases) or ego's co-wife (3 cases) or ego's
own son or son's wife (5 cases). Of the 7
Victim-precipitated crimes are those in cases of conflicts with the ego's members
which victim is a direct and positive con-
of families of orientation, in 4 cases the
tributor to the criminal act by inciting the
conflict was with father's brother, in 2
offender to overt action. (Wolfgan : with brother's wife and in one with real
1962, 388). Of the 69 V.P. cases in our sister. Even of the 20 women who denied
sample, in 12 cases, the immediate pro-
the offence and reported false implication,
vocation was husband's infidelity, in 24 11 said they were falsely implicated by
cases, it was ill-treatment of the ego by their family members (HuBr=5; H u F a =
the victim, in 18 cases, it was the use of
1, HuSi=il, H u B r S o = l , and husband's dis-
vile names by the victim during an argu-
tant uncle = 2). The reasons given for
ment between the offender and the victim,
false implication were : conflict over pro-
in 8 cases it was either striking a blow perty = 3; conflict on issue other than
by the victim (husband or father-in-law or
property = 2, jealousy = 2, desire for
neighbour) in an altercation with the ego illicit relations = 1, to save oneself from
or the use of some weapons in attacking prosecution = 1; and not known = 2.
her, and in 7 cases it was victim's attempt Knowing thus the important role of intra-
to molest ego or her near kin.
family conflicts in female murder, it is
necessary to investigate the causes of stres-
ses in the family.
FAMILIAL MALADJUSTMENTS
Many murders take place after a long
In the analysis of stresses leading to
period of interpersonal difficulties for murder, we will first see how familial mal-
which murder represented a possible so-
adjustments are related to age at marriage
lution. Most murders of this cumulative and then analyse the family structure, the
type arise out of these long-standing per-
stresses and the resultant crime.
sonal frictions. They may involve dis-
putes between husbands and wives, or
The mean age at marriage in our study
between daughter-in-law and some close was 13.6 years and the median 15.2 years
relatives of in-law's families, or between while 87 (or 65.0 percent) women had
daughters and some members of families married in childhood i.e. before 15 years
of orientation. The study revealed that of age. This, however, does not mean that
in 82 or 60.3 percent cases, the murders immediately after marriage, they had gone
were committed due to prolonged personal
to their husband's house and started lead-
disputes. Of these 82 disputes, 57 cases ing a married life. 47 or 35.1 percent
involved disputes between spouses either women had gone to live with their hus-
due to the illicit relations of egos (29 cases)
bands before 15 years of age, 70 or 52.3

278
RAM AHUJA
percent between 15 and 20 years of age
Table 2
and 17 or 12.6 percent between 20 and 25
TYPE OF FAMILIES AT THE TIME OF
years of age. We can say that on an ave-
COMMITTING MURDER
rage, the woman started leading a mar-
ried life at the age of 15.4 years. It
can also be said on the basis of the
above figures that 117 or 87.4% women
were not ready physically and/or men-
tally for shouldering responsibilities of
marriage. Marital adjustment, involving
interaction between husband and wife, is
a complex problem. The basic assumption
in adjustment is that the personality
characteristics and past behaviour of the
person control his or her future conduct.
The development of the personality traits
and characteristics in turn depend upon
chronological age and many other factors.
Since in 96 or 71.6 percent cases, women
in our sample were very young at the time
of marriage (i.e. below 18 years of age), 119 cases in which women were living
they had not developed their traits fully with their husbands and/or in-laws, the
to help them in familial adjustments. They marriages were happy. Marital unhappi-
lacked patience, perseverance and pru-
ness is far more pervasive than statistics
dence necessary for preserving the marital pertaining to joint residence of husband
union. This created tensions in many and wife or woman and her in-laws. In
families. Of those women who reported fact, 54.6 percent respondents had des-
conflicts in their families, 70.3 percent cribed their relations with husbands as
were married before 14 years of age. In not so well or extremely unwell. The rea-
many cases these conflicts ultimately re-
sons for the failure of marriages (66 cases)
sulted in homicides.
were described as : adulterous relations
of respondents (39.5 percent), husbands'
As far the relationship between adjust-
unfaithfulness (12.1 percent), maltreat-
ment and family structure is concerned, ment by husband or in-laws (36.4 per-
it was found that besides facing the pro-
cent), conflict with co-wives (4.5 percent),
blem of adjustment with husbands, 32.3 husbands' chronic illness (3.0 percent), and
women had also to face the problem desertion by husband (4.5 percent). Here,
of adjustment with kins other than it is worthwhile to see how long our res-
husbands in their families of procreation. pondents stayed with their husbands after
The following table describes the family marriage and before conviction. 9.9 per-
situation of the respondents at the time of
cent lived with their husbands for less
committing the crimes.
than one year, 9.1 percent between 1 to 2
years, 18.2 percent between 2 to 5 years,
Though Table 2 distinctly shows that 20.7 percent between 5 to 10 years, 13.2
only 2.2 percent marriages had failed yet percent between 10 to 15 years, 11.6 per-
it should not be presumed that in all the cent between 15 to 20 years, and 17.3 per-

FEMALE MURDERERS IN INDIA — A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY
279
cent for more than 20 years. Thus, since tions which produce female murderers, we
the majority of marriages (62.8 percent)
can set up a typology. Four types of fami-
were in existence for over 5 years, we can
lies can be referred to in this context:
say that the women had sufficient time to
understand their husbands' nature and ad-
(1) Families in which there is a great dis-
just themselves to their new homes. In-
parity of age between husband and
spite of this long period available for ad-
wife.
justment, nearly one half of the offenders
as already stated, had disputes with their
(2) Families where husbands and wives
husbands or in-laws. Marital discord spe-
have several strained relations.
cifically refers to a situation where there
is a discrepancy between the role expec-
(3) Families where women have to face
tations and role behaviours of husband and
traditional and uncompromising in-
wife in relation to each other. It may,
laws.
therefore, be maintained that it was be-
cause of this heavy strain in family and (4) Nuclear families having no kinship re-
intense emotional conflicts experienced by
lations with any other families and in
our respondents that had ultimately led
which the husband because of the na-
them to commit murder. The situation
ture of his work remains absent from
was produced in part by the irresponsible
the house most of the time.
behaviour of their husbands and in-laws
and in part by the fact that the wives had
On the basis of this typology, we may
problems of their own which their hus-
conclude that crises in the relations of a
bands were unable or unwilling to handle.
woman with her husband and in-laws cen-
This supports Abrahamson's (1960, 185) tre round (i) infidelity (ii) upsurge of hosti-
broad viewpoint that the force which com-
lity due to ill-treatment and (iii) major
pels a person to commit homicide is a emotional disturbances.
conscious or unconscious feeling of social
inadequacy, often caused by frequent CATEGORISATION
frustrations. However, it is to be recog-
nised that individuals vary in the amount
In the light of the above discussion, we
of conflict which they experience, in the may now categorise women murderers into
techniques they utilise in the solution of various groups on the basis of preplanning
conflict and in the degree to which they and emotionalism, and the personality and
utilise particular techniques. In other the situation involved. Our data show that
words, a wide variety of personality pat-
68 or 60.2 percent murders were preplann-
terns showing varying degrees of organi-
ed and perpetrated by some kind of wilful,
sation and disorganisation need be analys-
deliberate and premeditated means while
ed in a woman's criminal behaviour, be-
45 or 39.8 percent were committed in a
sides analysing the situation which com-
sudden heat or anger and without preme-
pels her to commit murder.
ditation.* Banay (1963, 232) also has re-
ferred to murders committed in sudden
But concentrating on the family situa-
anger. Classifying murders on the basis of
* These figures relate to murderers who had confessed their crimes. 20 murderers had
denied the offence and 3 maintained that they h a d accepted crime to save somebody.

280
RAM AHUJA
the situation in which they occur, he has
They committed murder either be-
given 3 types: (i) which result from a long
cause they were incited by their para-
period of hostility i.e. prolonged interper-
mours or were compelled to commit
sonal disputes or longstanding personal
murder in a conscious or unconscious
friction, (ii) which occur in sudden anger
feeling of sexual and/or intellectual
or crisis situation, and (iii) which are com-
inadequacy. These murderers were so
mitted in connection with another crime.
completely dominated by their inner
But if we apply his classification on our
forces that no means were too foul for
sample, we will be able to explain only a
achieving their goal. In this group,
small percentage of our murders. We have
we may also place those women who
to take into consideration both the person-
killed their children born out of wed-
ality of the murderers and the situation in
lock. The immediate motive in their
which they had killed persons in their cate-
crime is obvious — they did not want
gorisation. On this basis, we may divide
to make their life complicated. Fear
them into 5 groups:
of their parents and/or in-laws and of
society created a desperate desire in
their minds to get rid of their illegiti-
(1) Frustrated murderer : To this group
mate children.
belong women who could not adjust
themselves to the new life after marri-
age. They were under almost con-
Of the 114 murderers in our sample, who
stant strain. Frictions and conflicts had accepted the committing of crimes,
arose in their lives which brought forth
18.4 percent may be said to be of the first
criminal activity.
type, 23.7 percent of the second type, 12.3
percent of the third type, 26.3 percent of
the fourth type and 19.3 percent of the fifth
(2) Emotional murdere : In this type, type. This shows that in no case, murder
roused emotions of the women releas-
was the result of a woman's disregard for
ed their pent-up feelings and caused
law, or that murder was committed in con-
murder. The women lost their self-
nection with another crime.
control and acted impulsively.
Borrowing Erikson's (1959, 121) idea, we
(3) Revengeful murderer: This includes may suggest positive and negative alter-
women whose hate and contempt for natives available to the woman as she seeks
the culprit led to a desire for revenge.
ego identity during sociological crises. Ta-
ble below reveals this scheme in compact
(4) Accidental murderer : These are wo-
form.
men who had no intention of committ-
ing murder but did so accidentally ei-
ther while saving themselves from be-
ing seduced or while protecting them-
selves from physical assault. Apparent-
ly their crime was carried out without
forethought.
(5) Misled murderer : These are women
who were clinically sane and normal.

FEMALE MURDERERS IN INDIA — A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY
281
Here we have associated the type of the
cause of these crises are; The sexual ad-
murderer with her social capacities and justment, the management of children,
culturally provided opportunities and limi-
shame and guilt, hostility by the kinship
tations. It shows that personality unfolds groups and loneliness. Seen as a primary
through woman's readiness to be aware of group, woman's family consists of three
and to interact with a widening social ra-
sets of role-relationships: (1) those between
dius.
wife and husband, (2) those between
mother and children, and (3) those between
From the point of view of punishment of
householder (or housewife) and her depen-
these murderers, we may give three basic dents. With the imprisonment of a wo-
types: (1) whose murder is under provoca-
man, the social roles of wife, mother and
tion, (2) whose murder is in self defence, householder cease to be performed in the
(3) whose murder is felonious. Since mur-
family as they were performed formerly.
der under provocation is committed by ac-
The absence of a woman thus requires a
cident or misfortune or in the heat of pass-
reorganisation of role-relationships and re-
ion, this type of murderer deserves sympa-
allocation of role-functions in the family.
thy and very lenient punishment. It would The complexity of such re-alignments calls
be worthwhile to experiment on these upon the biological, psychological and so-
offenders by releasing them on probation to cial adaptive resources of the individual
assess whether the scope of probation family members.
could be extended to cover even some so-
called heinous crimes. In the case of mur-
The study of the adaptation by the child-
ders in self-defence, we suggest confine-
ren requires the analysis of the structure
ment in a penitentiary for a very short pe-
of the households in terms of the number
riod, for this type of murder is committed of children in the family and the age-
in self-defence or as a result of threats or groups to which they belong. 40.3 percent
menace sufficient to show that the woman's respondents in our sample had no children,
life was in danger. Lastly, since Felonious
15.7 percent had one child. 15.7 percent
murder is committed wilfully, the murderer had two children, 10.4 percent had three
may be given deterrent punishment.
children and 17.9 percent had four or more
children. The age of these children was:
below 3 years = 8.1 percent; between 3
CRISIS AND FAMILY'S ADAPTATION
and 5 years = 16.7%; between 5 and 10
The criminal behaviour of a woman is years = 31.9 percent; between 10 and 15
dysfunctional to the family in which it years = 28.7 percent; and above 15 years
occurs in the sense that the family has to = 14.6 percent. These figures show that
face a crisis of what Hill (1949) 'calls dis-
only 80 women were faced with the prob-
memberment' and 'demoralisation'. The lem of the care of their children and the
former refers to the crisis of absence of a total number of children to be looked after
member due to imprisonment and the later by them was 198. Of these 80 women, 23
refers to social disgrace and social stigma had brought 31 children with them in the
of the family due to its member's crimina-
jails (8 women had one child each, 4 had
lity. Both make woman's husband and her two children each and one had five child-
children suffer emotional and social depri-
ren). Thus, only 167 children of 57 mothers
vations. The important problems faced by required some care in their (mother's) ab-
the husband and other family members be-
sense. Of these 167 children, 86 were -

282
RAM AHUJA
above ten years of age and assuming that
serious problems of unadjusted personali-
these children could look after themselves, ties for the society.
only for 81 children of 62 mothers, some-
body had to adopt the role of mother in
Husbands' adjustment depends upon
the family. The mean age of the children their reactions about their wives' crimes
who required the care was 5.2 years.
and convinctions and the length of sepa-
ration. Since husbands could not be inter-
The data collected showed that out of 62 viewed personally, their reactions were ac-
persons who had to look after 81 children, quired from their wives, assuming that
in 23 cases the mother's role was taken by their answers would be unbiased. Hus-
child's father, in 11 by father's mother, in band's feelings about their wive's crimes
8 by elder brother, in 4 by elder sister, in included feelings about (i) whether they
3 by mother's brother's wife, in 6 by felt their wives were actually involved in
mother's mother, in 3 by father's brother, crimes or not i.e. degree of wive's guilt and
in 1 by sister's husband, in 1 by father's (ii) if guilty, what forced them to commit
brother's wife (widow) and in 2 by Anatha-
crimes. Their feelings about convictions
lya (orphanage). Thus, in 35 or 56.4 per-
were to include feelings (i) at the time of
cent cases the roles were taken over by the
arrest (ii) fairness of trial (iii) feelings of
primary kins of the children in the family shame and guilt and (iv) length of sen-
of procreation, in 21 or 33.9 percent cases tence.
by secondary kins (14 in family of procrea-
tion, 6 in family of orientation and 1 kin
Out of 62 husbands alive,* 23 or 37.1%
outside family), in 4 or 6.5 percent cases by felt that their wives were falsely implicated
tertiary kins (3 in family of orientation and in the offence while 39 or 62.9 percent acc-
1 in family of procreation), and in 2 or 3.2 epted the crime committed by their spous-
percent cases by strangers. Or it may be es. The causes of crimes as seen by these
said that in 50 or 80.7 percent cases, some-
39 husbands were: influence of others, i.e.
body from the respondent's family of pro-
provocation = 12; victim's vilification = 7;
creation, in 9 or 14.5 percent cases, some-
being carried away by emotions = 7; de-
body from the family of orientation, in 1 sire to be faithful to husband = 5; intellec-
or 1.6 percent case some kin outside the tual deficiency = 5; and unsatisfactory
family, and in 2 or 3.2 percent complete home conditions due to domestic quarrels
strangers took up the roles of mother and
= 3. Such feelings were bound to affect
householder for the children in the absence
their (husbands') feelings at the time of
of . their mothers. Knowing something arrest of their spouses. 16 or 25.8 percent
about the role of various individuals in the
respondents said that their husbands could
Socialisation processes by which children not swallow the accusation and felt horri-
assume one or another styles and roles, we ble; 27 or 43.5 percent said that their hus-
may maintain that the adoption of roles of
bands assured them of their sympathy and
a cook, mother and a householder by per-
cooperation; 14 or 22.6 percent said that
sons not directly responsible for child's their husbands became very angry and
care in the absence of his mother creates refused to help them in any way; and 5 or
* Out of 136 cases studied, in 55 the husbands were killed, in 13 the respondents were
widows at the time of committing crime, in 2 the husbands were convicted along with their
wives, in 2 the husbands had deserted their wives, and in 2 the respondents were unmarried.

FEMALE MURDERERS IN INDIA — A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY
283
8.1 percent said that their husbands told remain alone in 56 cases for more than 10
them it (punishment.) would teach them a
years, in 5 cases for 5 to 10 years and in
lesson. It was because of such reactions 1 case for 2 to 5 years. All this data shows
that only 28 or 45.1 percent husbands tried
that though in large number of cases wife's
to get some legal aid for their wives' trial.
crime evoked strong tension in husband's
But this also does not mean that in the re-
mind, yet the reaction was not very severe
maining cases, husbands did not try to en-
as to create serious problems of adjust-
gage lawyers due to their antagonistic re-
ment.
actions to their wives. In fact, in large
number of cases, husbands could not
To conclude, it may be maintained that
arrange for the legal aid because of their
since murder committed by women is due
poverty.
to maladjustment in family and not be-
cause of criminal tendency or disorganised
Regarding the feelings about the fairness
personality, there is a great need for a
of the trial, 12 or 19.4 percent husbands flexible sentencing policy for female mur-
considered the trial extremely unfair; 9 or derers. As all female murderers are first
14.5 percent husbands considered it as un-
offenders i.e. they do not have criminal
fair; 32 or 51.6 percent husbands consider-
careers, or criminal behaviour is not a sig-
ed it as fair, and 9 or 14.5 percent husbands
nificant part of their life organisations,
considered it as extremely fair and just. their banishment from society into a cor-
Their reactions about the length of sen-
rectional institution, whatever rubric it
tence were: too severe sentence = 33.9 claims, is not sufficient to bring about the
percent; little harsh sentence = 24.2 per-
required change in attitudes and values
cent; proper sentence = 37.1 percent, and inimical toward society. The sentence has
less sentence = 4.8 percent. And lastly, to be adjusted to the character and the
as far their feelings of shame and disgrace treatment needs of the offender, consider-
were concerned, 13 or 20.9 percent hus-
ing the causal factors in their crimes. The
bands felt ashamed in the beginning and present system of police investigation and
did not dare to go outside though gradu-
punishment needs be replaced with a sys-
ally they have now become reassured. One
tem based on social investigation and con-
husband divorced his wife and six con-
sideration of personality make-up and cir-
tracted 'Nata' (remarriage) after some time.
cumstances in which the felony was com-
The length of separation from the wives mitted. Sentences wholly unrelated to the
is also one important factor in the degree feelings, attitudes and values of the offen-
and type of adjustment made by the hus-
der, and the compelling situations and cir-
bands. After taking into consideration the
cumstances in which they are developed
remission to be earned by the prisoners, it
are less likely to succeed in their retribu-
was estimated that the husbands had to tive, deterrent, or reformative aims.
REFERENCES
1. Abrahamsen David, The psychology of crime, John Wiley & Sons, New York, 1960.
2. Banay, Ralph S. "Study in murder", The Annals, Nov. 1952.
3. Berg Irving A and Fox Vernon, "Factors homicides committed by 200 males", Journal
of Social Psychology, Aug. 1947.
4. Brearley H. C, Homicide in the United States, Univ. of North Carolina Press, Chapel
Hill, 1932.

284
RAM AHUJA
5. Bullock Henry A. "Urban homicides in theory & Practice", Journal of Criminal Law,
Criminology and Police Science, Jan.-Feb. 1955.
6. Caldwell, Robert G., Criminology, The Ronald Press, New York, 1956.
7. Clinard, Marshal B., Sociology of deviant behaviour, Holt, Rinebart, and Winston,
New York, 1963.
8. Clinard Marshal B. and Richard Quinney, Criminal behaviour systems—a typology,
Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New York, 1967.
9. Cyril Burt, The young delinquent, Appleton-Century-Crofts, New York, 1925.
10. Driver Edwin, "Interaction and criminal homicide in India", Social Forces, Dec. 1961.
11. Erikson, E. H., "Identity and the Life Cycle", Psychol Is., 1959.
12. Harlan Howard, "Five hundred homicides", Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology",
March-April, 1950.
13. Hill Reuben, Families under stress, Harper Bros., New York, 1949.
14. Morris Pauline, Prisoners and their families, George Allen & Unwin, London, 1965.
15. Sutherland Edwin H., "The sexual psychopath laws", Journal of Criminal Law and
Criminology, Jan.-Feb., 1950.
16. Svalastoga Kare, "Homicide and social contact in Denmark", American Journal of Socio-
logy, July 1956.
17. Vold George, "Theoretical Criminology."
18. Wolfgang, Marvin E., Patterns in Criminal Homicide, Univ. of Pennsylvania Press,
Philadelphia, 1958.
19. Wolfgang, Savitz and Johnston, The sociology of crime and delinquency, John Wiley
and Sons, Inc., New York, 1962.