Minority report | Anger anonymous


Minority report | Anger anonymous

Earlier this week, newspapers reported the case of a 30-year-old businessman from Delhi who, in a fit of anger, strangled his wife before throwing her off the balcony and killing her. Then he also smothered his three-year-old daughter to death. Though he first tried to mislead the police, the man soon confessed to his crime. His act was the outcome of a marital quarrel, albeit in a relationship that had allegedly been on the rocks, including a move for divorce. The context may differ but this is hardly the first such case. Some people kill entire families in a rage.

Every few days, some such report surfaces—a man hacking his wife to avenge infidelity; a son killing a mother because she didn’t allow him to watch TV, and routine cases of spouses murdering each other for reasons that range from sexual jealousy to badly cooked food.

In March, a tractor driver from Bangalore killed his wife because he didn’t like the food she had made and, in May, a 25-year-old man from Seemapuri in Delhi did so because his wife delayed serving him his breakfast.

All instances are expressive of extreme anger. In most cases, the perpetrator is a man, the victim a woman. Not surprising since men are socially “allowed” to get angry and are usually not taught to express their disappointments softly while “hysterical” women are termed mad.

Some years ago, our family received a disturbing phone call. A distant relative of mine who was barely 30 years old and belonged to an educated and well-to-do family, had lost her husband and two young children as they had reportedly fallen off the window of a high-rise building.

Within a day, it came out that her husband had actually thrown his five-year-old daughter out from the lift landing on a high floor before jumping himself with his two-year-old son in his arms.

No one within the family could say what had led him to do that. It was a bizarre case of murder-suicide. The incident left us all shaken.

Now, every time something like that is reported, it reminds me of that relative who had frantically reached the site in her night clothes to find the shattered bodies of her two little children and husband in the parking lot of the building.

The question that persists is: why doesn’t anger—visceral, episodic, and chronic or terminal—so evident in city life and in marital relationships, get spoken about openly at family dinners, school workshops and drawing room social conversations?

We don’t have any exclusive forums where people can share their anger experiences.

From personal experience, I know it comes up in spiritual discourses and retreats, but is tackled largely as a trigger problem.

It is associated with alcohol abuse, assorted personality problems or economic failures and not as a stand-alone issue. A human reality that needs care and control.

I am not sure if modern parents talk to their children about anger (unless there is a problem child) like they do about food habits, health and sex education.

How often do fathers speak to their sons about the dangers of uncontrolled rage?

Let us accept that it is a gender thing and needs gender-based handling. Since there aren’t any publicly available studies on anger with regard to Indian families and marriage, we don’t really understand its motivations, its control mechanisms, its outcomes or what those at the receiving end of dark rage go through.

So anger management just remains a smart term in personality development parlance. To be given dusted references in human resource seminars inside organizations.

In private domains, it takes the form of self-help books or lands up on the therapist’s couch as a symptom of something else. Anger issues are among the most common problems of urban marriage, a psychotherapist tells me. “Anger leads to betrayals, to self-harm, in extreme cases to suicide of course but it certainly leads to violence and brewing resentment in marriage,” he says. Angry children don’t kill as frequently or as impatiently as angry adults do and evidence through criminal cases suggests that men destroy spouses out of rage far more often than women do.

Where do we go from identifying that a family member has serious anger issues? “Seek help each time and steer a solution-oriented discussion even if the lashing out is not verbally crippling,” advises the psychotherapist.

I surprised myself while writing this piece. I called up that relative of mine, who is now remarried, ditching the conspiracy of silence the family had thrown around her. I asked her if she had been able to understand what could have motivated her ex-husband to kill their two children and himself. She had a brief response. “Anger,” she said. “It can kill. I wish I knew better.”