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See no evil: The moral guilt of Baby Ahuti's father

by Lakshmi Chaudhry  Oct 5, 2012 14:46 IST

#Baby Ahuti   #battered baby   #ToTheContrary  

Another baby is dead. Ahuti, a three-month old, was battered to death by her mother. A detail that makes this case perhaps more shocking than others. Baby Falak was killed by a 14-year old prostitute who had been left alone to care for her. Baby Shireen, who survived severe abuse, was the victim of her mother's lover. Baby Afreen was beaten and burnt by her own father.

The woman in each of these cases received some measure of sympathy. The mothers were themselves victims of domestic abuse in two cases. In Falak's case, we could at least understand (not condone) why an abused, powerless teenager could be driven to act out her rage on someone else's child.

But who can forgive Dharmishtha Joshi, a mother who vented her rage on her own baby?

According to police sources quoted in the Mumbai Mirror, "Angry at being scolded by her husband, Dharmishtha started hitting Ahuti with whatever object she could lay her hands on. She told us that she kept beating the child until she fell unconscious."

Her confession offered this explanation for her crime: "The mother told us that Ahuti would keep crying the whole day. She said she was getting so tired of this that she couldn't bear it any longer. Out of frustration, she got into the habit of routinely beating her."

Representational image.

Ahuti was rushed to the hospital with multiple skull fractures, broken ribs, and dislocated vertebrae.

According to the Mirror, "Dharmishtha told the cops during interrogation that the burden of looking after Ahuti, who was a frail child by virtue of being prematurely born, was getting too much for her."

"The mother told us that since she already had a daughter (14-month-old Dehuti), the birth of twin daughters had made things difficult for her. She said they could not afford the medical expenses of the two ailing girls," said ACP Sunil Paraskar.

Ahuti's twin sister died two months ago, a mere 12 days after her birth.

Dharmishtha is not the first new mother to murder her children. Houston housewife Andrea Yates infamously drowned her 5 children -- ranging in age from 7 years to six months -- one by one in a bathtub in 2001. She was suffering from severe postpartum psychosis, exacerbated by a long history of mental illness. Her death penalty conviction was finally overturned on appeal, and she has since been consigned to psychiatric care.

Then there's the 22-year old in Florida who shook her 3-month old to death for crying while she was trying to play Farmville.

Dharmishtha's case falls somewhere in the grey area in between these two extremes. We don't know if she was suffering from postpartum complications, but she was clearly flailing as a mother. There is no debate, however, about Dharmishtha's criminal guilt, irrespective of the mitigating circumstances. But when the police say that Kalpesh Joshi is innocent, I beg to disagree. His negligence may not constitute a criminal act, but it is no less of a moral crime.

Kalpesh willfully failed to protect his children despite ever urgent signs that they needed his protection. The death of the first twin should have been a huge red flag. And Dharmishtha has now confessed to routinely abusing the surviving child. Yet Kalpesh Joshi did nothing -- other than yell at his wife for dropping the child. A fight that led -- ironically -- to the final, lethal beating.

The outcome in the Norway custody case was less tragic, but there too Anurup Bhattacharya admitted that his wife routinely experiences bouts of violent rage. There were plenty of steps he ought to have taken to protect his kids at the first sign of serious trouble – taken his wife for counseling, sent her and the kids back to the grandparents, etc. But instead he let the situation get bad to worse until the Norwegian state intervened. In Andrea Yates case, her husband deliberately left her alone with the children despite a history of psychosis that included suicide attempts and hospitalisations, and warnings of her psychiatrist. Russell also stuck firm to his pro-conception Christian credo, insisting on a fifth child, against medical advice and Andrea's own protests.

Worse, none of these men can claim to be powerless victims at the mercy of an abusive partner, unlike the mothers of Shireen and Afreen.

We can debate the kind of support mothers need and no longer receive in an increasingly atomised, isolated society. We can wonder why the neighbours don't step in despite loud evidence of abuse, whether of children or wives. We can ask why relatives do not offer more assistance in a situation so dire. But all this merely underlines the evermore significant role of both parents in a nuclear family, where the children are left alone at their sole mercy behind closed walls.

A father can no longer hide behind gender roles to duck his parental duty inside the home. Fighting with an unfit mother, bullying her into doing more or better doesn't help because it leaves her in charge of a job that she is already performing badly -- and dangerously so. Good parenting requires a father to actively intercede on behalf of his children, whether it involves sharing the childcare burden, finding alternative caregivers in aunts or grandmothers, or getting medical help. A man is as responsible for the physical welfare of his children as his wife. And being the protector sometimes requires saving your children from their own mother.

Little baby Ahuti was betrayed by both her mother and father. Kalpesh may not have committed a crime, but he is no less guilty as a parent.