Taslima Nasrin writes: Why ‘sane men’ of our patriarchal society are more dangerous than psychopaths

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By now we have all heard about Aftab Poonawala, the man who strangulated his girlfriend Shraddha Walker, butchered her body and stored the pieces in his refrigerator, before gradually disposing of them in bags in various abandoned places. It’s been six months since this happened and the police have arrested Aftab a few days ago. Aftab and Shradha previously used to stay in Mumbai where they had been employed at a call-centre.

Eventually, they relocated to Delhi and moved into a rented apartment. Allegedly they used to quarrel frequently with each accusing the other of being unfaithful. In fact, apparently Aftab did have a string of affairs with other women. Shraddha had been pressurising him to tie the knot and Aftab has confessed he used to find himself unable to stand the pressure and that it used to make him very angry. One day this tipped him over the edge and he choked her to death. A habitual watcher of crime shows on television, Aftab has claimed that he has learnt all about how to kill people and how to hide evidence of the crime from the TV series Dexter.

Aftab’s grisly act reminds me of Rajesh Gulati of Dehradun. Back in 2010 US-returned software engineer Rajesh Gulati had murdered his wife Anupama in a similar manner. Rajesh had been disgruntled about the fact that he had never gotten the amount of dowry he had demanded from Anupama’s family. He too had first strangulated his wife, then gone and bought an electric saw from the market with which he had proceeded to hack up her body into seventy pieces. He had stored the pieces in the freezer for two months and then under the cover of night gradually disposed of them in bags in faraway places. Rajesh Gulati is now in jail.

I have never watched Dexter and I am not exactly aware as to what they show in it. However, I do believe Aftab learned much of what he did from Rajesh Gulati — how the murder was committed, how Gulati bought the saw, chopped up the body and froze it, and then threw the pieces away in woods and abandoned areas. Aftab Poonawala has done the exact same things that Rajesh Gulati had done 11 years ago. The other day on Twitter when I pointed out the resemblances between the two incidents a horde of anti-Muslim pounced upon me at once with their fangs and talons bared. As per them, Aftab is a Muslim and he was inspired by his holy book to lure in the non-Muslim girl with love and brutally murder her.

On the other hand, most Muslims are unwilling to even consider Aftab a part of the community, because he used to drink, be with non-Muslim women, was in a live-in relationship, used to support same-sex relationships and did not pray or offer namaz. Usually a common accusation of virulent Right-wingers is about Muslim men engaged in ‘love jihad’, whereby they believe Muslim men entice young non-Muslim girls with promises of love into converting their religion for the sake of marriage. To them this is not love or marriage but a sort of jihad of conversion. Consequently, Muslim haters are placing all blame of Aftab’s brutality on his religious identity. They are unwilling to accept the fact that non-Muslim men are capable of just as much violence. Of course this unwillingness is communal and its objective is entirely political. Whenever a social issue is made into a political weapon many uncomfortable truths need to be hastily brushed under the carpet.

Some time ago in the Madanpur Khadar area of Delhi a 30-year-old man named Rahul was arrested for the murder of his 22-year-old girlfriend Gulshana. Just the other day in a video from Jabalpur in Madhya Pradesh a man named Abhijit Patidar can be seen in a hotel room having slit his girlfriend’s throat after accusing her of having an affair with his friend Jitendra. In the video he can be seen showing her bleeding and dying and then raising a finger to issue a warning, ‘Don’t be unfaithful’. Last month a government school teacher in Delhi named Sanjay Pandit hacked his wife to death in front of their nine-year-old daughter. Many people believe it is a worse crime to mutilate someone’s body after murdering than the act of killing itself.

Criminals resort to such measures to get rid of evidence and escape punishment, some flee or go into hiding. Murder is the biggest crime here. Whether a murderer chops up a body or flees a scene of crime, their punishment ought to be the same. There have been numerous such incidents in the recent past. Last month an ayurvedic massage therapist Bhagaval Singh and his wife from Kerala were found to have sacrificed two women Padma and Roselin and chopped up their bodies in a ritual meant to bring them financial gains.

In June this year, an 18-year-old girl in Uttar Pradesh was hacked to death and her remains were scattered all over a sugarcane field by a man named Santosh Verma. A few years ago a French citizen named Madhuwanti Pathak was killed by her husband Girish Pati who chopped up the body into pieces and stored it in a freezer, all because she had wished to go back to France, a crime for which Girish is now serving a life sentence.

An equally gruesome murder was reported in Bhuvaneshwar a few years ago where Col. Somnath Paridar had hit his wife Usashi on the head with an iron rod and slit her throat. Then he had hacked her body into three hundred pieces which he had proceeded to store in two iron trunks bought from the market and around 22 tiffin boxes. Reportedly he used to sit and talk to her severed head. Why had he committed such a crime? His wife had been unhappy with his closeness to a young woman and the army medic had been unable to tolerate her resistance.

Some are saying Aftab is a psychopath. Psychopaths, however, are not supposed to be treated the same as other criminals because of their mental illness which makes them commit crimes. This illness is not their fault and the theory is that their crimes are not consciously committed. It’s only the perfectly sane men who deliberately indulge in cold-blooded murder. Aftab is such a perfectly sane man — a man who dates women, sleeps with them, has a job, is on Facebook and Instagram, who treats women as sexual objects, asserts his dominance over them, physically abuses them to affirm his masculinity, and when he finally kills them, tries to erase all evidence and goes around society with his mask of decency intact. More than psychopaths it’s these perfectly sane men of our patriarchal society who are the most dangerous.

Cases of rape, harassment and murder of women are an everyday reality of the country. These incidents of women being murdered and then pieces of their bodies being dumped in suitcases, trunks and plastic packets in garbage dumps or the wilderness are nothing new. At the heart of this savagery is an issue that has very little to do with Hindus or Muslims, it’s about misogyny, toxic masculinity and gender-based violence — by-products of a viciously patriarchal and discriminatory society. This toxic masculinity is there in all communities — the fact is simply that Hindu women are more abused by Hindu men just as Muslim women are more abused by Muslim men.

Women are being slaughtered in all nations, under all religions, castes, creeds and classes. Not just in developing or backward nations but in the so-called developed societies as well. Last month in Boston a man named Kamil Ranoszek hit his girlfriend Ilona Golabek in the head, killed her and then cut her body into 15 parts which he dumped in Boston Park. During the incident their three-year-old daughter had been asleep in the next room. Kamil has alleged Ilona used to talk to other men on the dating app Tinder. The incident came to light a few months after the crime and Ranoszek is now serving a 22-year sentence.

Since rape and murder of women are not difficult things to do, men have been doing it in this patriarchal society for years. Women are tortured the most at home, often at the hands of the people they are closest to in a family. Husbands and lovers are seemingly forever prepared to choke the life out of them.

According to a survey conducted by the World Health Organisation, one in three women has been subject to physical or sexual abuse at some point of time in their life. The bitter truth is that women are abused the most by their loved ones, like their husbands or lovers. Globally, one-third of girls between the ages of 15 and 49, which is roughly 27 per cent, have been physically or sexually abused by a close relative. The home which women are supposed to consider the safest and the family or people they are supposed to trust the most are often the source of the most abuse and torture, sexual violence and death.

Research conducted by the United Nations reveals that across the world roughly 81,000 women were killed in 2020 alone. Of these, around 47,000 were killed by family members, husbands or lovers. Which means every eleven minutes one woman is killed. It is indeed devastating to imagine that the home is often the most unsafe space for many women, a home where they face the worst sort of oppression and abuse, if not death. We all know why women get murdered – patriarchy, gender discrimination, misogyny and a mentality that considers women inferior are but a few of them.

Until the day patriarchy is destabilised, misogyny is vanquished, and discrimination on the basis of gender becomes a thing of the past, women will continue to be tormented, raped and slaughtered. A society’s barbarism and cruelty does not shatter on its own, they don’t cease to exist of their own accord; it’s us who must attack their very foundations.

It’s an entire society’s responsibility to ensure there is no discrimination on the basis of gender, while it is the responsibility of both men and women to ensure society reaches that stage of civilised maturity. Just as people can cover this world in darkness, they can also usher in the light and cover the world in its warmth. People are the ones who discriminate and it is only they who can find ways to overcome it.

The writer is a renowned author, a secular humanist and a feminist. Views expressed are personal.

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Taslima Nasrin writes: Why ‘sane men’ of our patriarchal society are more dangerous than psychopaths
Taslima Nasrin writes: Why ‘sane men’ of our patriarchal society are more dangerous than psychopaths
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