3 beheadings in Karnataka: Did media hype, psychological factors influence accused?

Experts say that media sensationalising the crimes and playing the gory visuals on loop could influence others as well.
3 beheadings in Karnataka: Did media hype, psychological factors influence accused?
3 beheadings in Karnataka: Did media hype, psychological factors influence accused?
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On September 10, police officials at the Ajjampura police station in Chikkamagaluru were in for a shock. A 35-year-old man, Satish, walked in, carrying the severed head in a bag. It was his wife’s. 

Around 300 kilometres away, two weeks later, the scene repeated itself. 27-year-old Aziz Khan walked into the Srinivasapura police station in Kolar, carrying the head of a woman in a bag. 

And three days later, police officers at Malavalli police station in Mandya were stunned when 28-year-old Pashupathi walked into the premises with the severed head of another man.

Three uncannily similar and sinister incidents in three districts of Karnataka within a span of 20 days has prompted police officers in the state to find out whether the incidents had any link between them. 

Police officials left shocked by the crimes

After Satish walked in with his wife Roopa’s head, Annamalai K, Superintendent of Police (SP), Chikkamagaluru remembers receiving a frantic call from the police officials at the station. “They had never seen anything like it,” he tells TNM. The stunned SP asked them to take the body and record the statement.

What’s more, within minutes of Satish’s surrender, gory visuals of him committing the crime and pictures of him revealing the severed head of his wife to police officials had gone viral. The visuals were played repeatedly across news channels even as Chikkamagaluru police officials were trying to figure out who will take care of Satish and Roopa's children.

News of this disturbing crime had reached Mandya too. And though they were aware of the incidents in Chikballapura and Chikkamagaluru, it did not prepare them for Pashupathi walking in with the severed head of another man, Girish (28), says Srikanth, the circle inspector at Malavalli in Mandya district. 

The fact that these incidents happened one after the other has led senior police officials in the state to believe that the media's portrayal may have influenced others to commit similar crimes. 

Did media hype influence cases?

In Chikballapura, Aziz Khan, who allegedly hacked to death his acquaintance, Roshini Khan, appeared for an interview with television and print journalists. According to journalists who were present, Aziz attempted to justify his actions and even explained how he committed the crime. Media personnel was also taken by police officials to the spot where the crime was allegedly committed.

Such interviews could have influenced others into indulging in similar actions, say police. "The accused should not be given space to justify or explain his actions as it can influence others into doing something similar," says a senior police officer in Karnataka who wished to remain anonymous. 

Chikballapura district police officials and their counterparts in Mandya district are trying to determine whether the case in Chikkamagaluru and the hype surrounding it influenced the accused persons in any way.

“So far, Pashupathi has not answered our questions in detail about whether he was influenced by similar incidents in Chikkamagaluru and Kolar. He has simply told us that he acted in a fit of rage due to a spat he had with Girish who apparently insulted Pashupathi’s mother," says Shivaprakash Devaraj, SP of Mandya district. 

The SP adds that they are now looking at a psychological angle because of the chilling nature of the crime. "A psychological evaluation of the accused will be done in the coming days and experts will try and figure out what triggered his actions,” he says.

Meanwhile, the accused in the Chikkaballpura case, Aziz Khan, claimed that he was not aware of the incident in Chikkamagaluru, police officials say. "However, we are trying to find out if he was influenced to commit the crime in such a gruesome way by watching similar videos or visuals from films," Chikballapura SP Karthik Reddy tells TNM.  

Psychological factors

People accused of committing heinous crimes like this one are subjected to a battery of tests at a mental health setup.

"When incidents like these occur, the mental health of the accused is assessed. A person of sound mental health wouldn't usually do such a heinous crime,” says Swetha Raghavan, a psychiatrist. An accused is kept under observation for this evaluation for up to three months or longer, after which, the court is informed if a mental illness is diagnosed. “The decision of detention or further trial is decided by the judge hearing the case," she adds. 

In Karnataka, criminals are at times evaluated at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro-Sciences (NIMHANS) in Bengaluru. However, according to the institute's director, this evaluation is not for all accused in every case.

"It is not routine but in rare cases, when investigating officers find something abnormal in a person, they are sent here," explains Dr Gangadhar, Director of NIMHANS. He cautions however that people who are mentally ill should not be uniformly branded as dangerous. "Mentally ill persons are rarely dangerous," he says.

He too feels that media sensationalising such incidents plays a significant role. "Media glamorising these kinds of incidents could influence people substantially. This happens due to the graphic descriptions appearing in the media. It should give the information, but you should not play up such news disproportionately."

The gory crimes have certainly got people’s attention and have put the state police on high alert. "We are looking to ensure that this does not catch on like a trend," says Annamalai. 

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