Sheena murder mystery: Could Indrani have killed own child?

  • Sanchita Sharma, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Aug 27, 2015 21:48 IST
Indrani Mukerjea and her husband Peter Mukerjea (PTI File Photo)

"How could she do it?" That's the question on everyone's lips as we struggle to comprehend the dark, deviant impulses that would drive a mother--in this case, Indrani Mukerjea--to allegedly kill her daughter, execute an elaborate cover-up and calmly get on with her life till she got caught.

"Such a crime is extremely rare and I struggle to give reason for it as it defies all psychological and evolutionary logic," says Dr Samir Parikh, director, mental health and hehavioural sciences at Fortis Healthcare. "What's most odd is there appears to be no guilt."

"The natural tendency of a mother is protect her children and put their needs before her own, and unless there is evidence for a psychotic breakdown, violence against children unnatural. But you must bear in mind that in this case, the mother chose to live away from her children, so the mother-child bond may have just not been there," he said.

"From all accounts, this does not appear to be a crime of passion triggered by anger. The crime seems to have involved a lot of planning and cover up to dispose of evidence, and it's too early to say who all were involved," says Dr Parikh.

Maladaptive coping

Too little is known about what really happened as we need to understand the situation, state of mind, emotional insecurities and stress that may have driven Indrani to a point of killing her child, say psychiatrists, but reports of the elaborate subterfuge she spun up about her past points to a complex personality that went to great lengths to distance herself from inconvenient truths.

All psychiatrists agree that reports of Indrani's unconventional childhood indicates a maladaptive personality. "With many failed relationships behind her, she may have developed a maladaptive coping mechanism," says Dr Sameer Malhotra, mental health and behavioural sciences at Max Healthcare. "Such persons struggle with dysfunctional personality issues, poor impulse control and an inability to think ahead about the consequences of their actions."

The elaborate web of lies Indrani appears to have spun about her family and her past indicates a person adept at deception and evasion to the extent of being undeterred by consequences.

"Since the mother-child bond was not nurtured and she had no rapport with her children, it is possible that she did not regard them as family but saw them only as adversaries out to destroy her life and achievements," said Dr Malhotra.

Medea complex

Mothers killing their children is not unknown but most incidents are driven by extreme mental stress and depression - often post-partum after childbirth - or a psychotic breakdown that drives them to seek revenge following abandonment or domestic violence.

There's even a term for it, Medea Complex, which is used to describe a mother's murderous hatred for her children driven by anger against her husband. The reference to Greek mythology, where Medea kills her children after Jason of the Golden Fleece fame leaves her for another woman.

More recently, Brittany Pilkington from Ohio was indicted for aggravated murder charges in the US on Wednesday after being accused of killing her three young sons because she was jealous her husband paid hem more attention than her.

In Indrani's case, the reasons appear far more complex. "It's tough to say the what finally drove the accused to murder but available news reports indicate a highly-ambitious woman with fragile self-esteem who knew her mind and did not like being thwarted," said Dr Malhotra.

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