This article has been written by Oishika Banerji of Amity Law School, Kolkata. This article provides a detailed analysis of the related postulations and theories of female crimes.
Table of Contents
Before we talk about female criminality, it is necessary to understand the social theory proposed by Sir Ralph Linton and George Herbert Mead, recognized by the name of the “role theory”. According to this theory, “different expectations of standard behaviour appear to be important in the genesis of women’s crime”. Put simply, the theory discusses how females are taught by their families in which they are brought up to be passive, quiet, polite, well-behaved, and non-violent. By this fact, females try to suppress their violent nature, anger, frustration, and their voice to live up to society’s expectations. This prevents women from possessing the technical ability to be involved in violent crimes like gang fights, armed robberies, etc. But many studies have found that women generally commit three kinds of offences namely;
- Property offences;
- Offences against the person;
- Other offences include any kind of crime that affects the law and order of society.
This article discusses the nature of offences, and the causes for such offences to be committed by women.
Kinds of offences
As have been mentioned previously, the three broad kinds of offences that locate greater involvement of female criminals in comparison to the males have been explained hereunder.
Property offences involve offences like theft, pick-pocketing, purse-chain snatching, shop-lifting and cheating. Females can get tempted whenever they carry shopping bags, purses, etc along with them. This can specifically be noticed among maid-servants who observe a lot of objects around them while they work in someone’s house and that is what gives rise to the urge of possessing something that belongs to someone else. This draws them towards criminal activities. Lombroso in his book “The Female Offender”, and Pollak have observed that shoplifting is another kind of property offence that is feminine by nature, which is also the result of desire.
Further, Lombroso, and Smith in their book “Women in Prison: A study in Penal Methods” took note that females commit property offences because they get the scope for doing the same as they are involved in domestic work. Studies have noticed that offences like cheating are often committed by male offenders with females being their accomplices.
Offences against person
Rape, murder, kidnapping, abduction are offences that fall within the category of offences against a person. In the case of females committing offences against individuals, it is relevant to note the victim-offender relationship which appears to be meaningful in female homicide due to the restrictive social environment of women in India. Homicide is at times the consequence of prolonged frustration that a woman faces in her day to day life. As Ahuja Ram and Pollock in their books “Female Offenders in India”, and “The Criminality of Women” respectively, state that offences against persons involved cases in which the victim was a member of the female criminal’s family. This shows the relevance of stressful situations within a family which play a significant role in female criminality. When it comes to the offence of kidnapping, females are mostly involved in selling their girl child, or relatives in brothels.
The category of “other offences” is not exhaustive, instead of inclusive by nature. In general, “other offences” include the Immoral Traffic Act, 1956, NDPS Act, 1985 and Passport Act, 1967. The majority of the female offenders are used to accepting their earnings from disapproved business practices. Offences of such sort are either carried out by the female offenders independently, or by someone’s assistance, or they being an accomplice in certain cases. To be involved in “other offences”, a female does not need to travel much, instead, even by sitting at home, she can carry out illegal activities in the quest of earning profit.
In the Ferozepur central prison situated in the state of Punjab, the total capacity of the prison is to house 1000 men and women but at the time of study in January- February 2010, there were 1600 men and women imprisoned in this prison. There were 81 women of which 31 were convicts and 50 were under trial, living in two barracks.
Nature of female crimes
The nature of female crimes that have been the consequences of several postulations have been provided hereunder;
Education and nature of the offence
It has been observed that females who have not received basic education or are illiterate, lack reasoning and logic in their activities that are reflected in their not so properly socialized criminal instinct. Knowing the law and committing a crime vis a vis unknown about the law and committing an offence showcase that the former will be having an upper hand over the latter.
Studies which have been done by Ahuja, Rani, Nagla, Joseph, William and Christopher have shown that when the literacy rate decreases, the crime rate increases. The studies make it quite evident that in the prisons of Ferozepur, Jaipur, and Varanasi, the majority of women were illiterate. While in Ferozepur the percentage of illiterate women was 67.7, the Varanasi prison had 71 percent illiterate women and in Jaipur, 61.3 percent women were illiterate.
Religion and nature of the offence
Human behaviour has always been influenced by the strong forces of religion, whichever religion it may be. Therefore, it is through this religion only that the clues necessary to understand the varying incidence of crime rate among different sections of the community, can be found out.
India’s first convicted female serial killer was KD Kempamma who has been familiar with the name of Cyanide Mallika. She killed six women over eight years. Her way of killing people was by portraying herself as a pious diety which attracted a lot of women to worship her. In return, she used to ask them to appear before her in their best clothes, and jewellery and offered them cyanide to drink in the name of “holy water”. She was eventually sentenced to death.
Caste and nature of the offence
Caste plays an important role in determining the social status of a person in society. What can be generally noticed is that the upper caste women are more drawn towards committing offences against an individual when placed in comparison with women belonging to Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and N.T./D.T. (Nomadic Tribes /Denotified Tribes) who are found to be more involved in committing property offences. What can be inferred from such understanding is that the level of satisfaction, desire, and urge varies based on social status and position.
Marital status and nature of the offence
Marital status is necessary to be considered while discussing female offenders because it is this status that connects a female with social responsibilities and fulfilling expectations which becomes a pressure for the females. When such pressures turn the wrong way, the consequences are criminal activities that are adopted by the females. Married women are mostly involved in offences against persons whereas unmarried respondents show greater involvement in offences related to property and other offences.
Occupation and nature of the offence
Offences also vary among different females on the basis of the occupation they acquire. For instance, women who are housewives, are predominant over offences against individuals in comparison to the females whose professions range from services to that of business, and domestic help, as they incline more towards offences against property.
On 18th February 2021, the Andhra Pradesh police arrested a woman and also took a minor into custody for their alleged involvement in two different property offence cases. They were allegedly stealing a bag that contained valuables of Rs 1.50 lakh, from a car that was parked in the parking basement of a hotel situated near Beach Road. It is necessary to note that the woman had already pursued her MBA degree, and was professionally a homemaker. This also says that because the frustration, and pressure is more in being a housewife than a servicewoman, the offences committed are also of a higher degree for the former in comparison to the latter.
Income and nature of the offence
In this 21st century, many people of the society consider that economic independence is the highest level of independence an individual can attain. Removal of dependency specifically for women from that of the males in their family has a lot to do when it comes to the discussion concerning female criminality. The income of an individual affects his or her behaviour towards society. Crimes vary according to the same.
Family and nature of the offence
Families play a pivotal role in shaping the personality, and values of an individual. It has been often noticed that females coming from disturbed families tend to get involved more in offences against individuals. Those with a background of a nuclear family are involved in property offences whereas females coming from joint families are involved in offences against persons.
A woman in the southern Indian state of Kerala had confessed to killing six family members within fourteen years by adding cyanide to their food. A popular member of the community in Kozhikode, Jolly Thomas was allegedly motivated by wanting control of the family finances and property that led her to commit the murder.
Causes of female criminality
The reasons behind female criminality and its evolution can be perceived from three different viewpoints, namely the biological viewpoint, the psychological viewpoint, and the sociological viewpoint. Each of these viewpoints has its set of reasons to offer to explain the causes behind female criminality and the rise in the same in the current society.
Biological point of view
The biological viewpoint of female criminality can be understood with the help of various observations as having been provided hereunder;
- The contribution of Caesar Lombroso is considered the root of the scientific study on female criminality. His views state that “female deviance as rooted in the biological makeup or as an inherent feature of the female species”. Put simply, Lombroso observed that female criminals are much more terrible in comparison to male offenders because of the refined, and diabolic traits that female cruelty possesses and which is very unlikely to present in a cruel act by a male.
- Lombroso & Ferrero in their book “The Female Offender” (1895) put forth the thought that biologically females are considered to be morally deficient and lack the intelligence to participate in the crime. However, it appears that in the case of Indian women, this observation weakens as females in India are inclined towards committing more crimes as a consequence of their socio-economic deprivation since childhood.
- Pollak’s view in his book “The Criminality of Women” (1950), elucidated the effect of hormonal changes during menstruation, menopausal stage and pregnancy period of the females as a contributory factor in the commission of crimes. Mood swings, abnormal cravings, impulses are the major factors behind frustration in a female leading her to commit an offence.
The three thoughts that have been put forth, provides a picture of crime as an inherent human trait. With technology merging with the daily lives of humans, the theories that have been discussed above seem to be unreasonable and unscientific to some extent.
Psychological point of view
The psychological viewpoint can be best understood by a non-fictional reference which is the story of Phoolan Devi, a well-known dacoit of the Chambal valley. Being subjected to unfortunate incidents during her childhood, Phoolan Devi remains a classic example of the negative effect of incidents like harassment, harsh living conditions, rape, prolonged beating that had caused her to be framed as the most wanted criminal by the police authorities. The idea that females are supposed to be passive, fails to apply in reality. From “supposed to be”, the passive trait changes its nature to “has to be”. Thus when something turns around from being a choice to that of a necessity, anger, feelings and frustration starts burdening a female. The consequence of such burdening is a female turning herself from a victim to that of a victimizer. This viewpoint is noticed to be applicable in the Indian scenario as crimes here are majorly committed by females because of depression and frustration.
The sociological viewpoint is one such ideology that can be related in a much more convenient way in comparison to the previous two viewpoints. Inequality is faced by women all over the world in every phase of their life. The major reason behind such disparity is social oppression and dependency on men in every aspect of their lives. The four major convenors of this viewpoint have been provided below;
- Klein in his writing “The etiology of female crime: A review of the literature” (1973) mentions that offences such as shoplifting, abortions, sexual crimes, poisoning of family members, etc., may not only be psychological in nature but can also be viewed from socio-economic lenses.
- Adler in “Sisters in Crime: The Rise of the New Female Criminal” (1975), studied prostitution, drug addiction, and juvenile law-breaking among females. By doing the same she endorsed such crimes as being the first step towards the liberation movement of females and their assertiveness.
- C. Sharma in “Crime and Women: A Psycho-Diagnostic Study of Female Criminality” (1963) summarized the main causes of frustrations among females that is the reason behind the commission of crimes.
- Writers like Bilimoria, and Kuckreja in their works “A Socio-Demographic Study of Women Prisoners” (1987), and “A Socio-Demographic Study of Women Prisoners” (1986) respectively stated that role conflict in families has been the catalyst in female criminality. Thus the role of the family in female criminality has been evident and a proven fact.
There has been a considerable rise in the rate of female criminality over the years. Technology, exposure, and awareness have added to the rise. But it is necessary to prevent crimes from taking place in society irrespective of the gender of the offender. Therefore, preventive measures such as legal awareness, sex education, social action movement, pre-marital, and post-marital counselling, public awareness, help, and support to the females who feel left out or lonely by their families, etc must be adopted by appropriate authorities, educational institutes, media to curb the excessive increase in female criminals in the society. Further, female criminals who have been detained must be provided with proper rehabilitative, and supportive advice which can help them develop their personality, and make them acknowledge what is right, and what has been categorized as wrong. These constrictive steps can help female criminality to take a positive turn towards slowing down, gradually.
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