Mother `slit throats of own family'

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THE FUZZY photograph in the Hindustan Times shows a young woman with her head draped in a white veil, a small child wriggling and almost escaping from her arms, a troubled look in her eyes, her mouth pinched and grim.

One could hazard a guess at why she looks so sorry. The baby might be keeping her awake at nights. It is only two months old: perhaps she is in the throes of post-natal depression. The household may be taking time adjusting to the new arrival. She misses her friends and her freedom.

But this young mother, according to the police in the steel city of Jamshedpur, Bihar, northern India, is a mass murderer. Last Friday afternoon, they say, during a bout of "sustained and harsh interrogation", Chaitali Bhowmik broke down and confessed to having murdered her mother, father, brother and maternal grandmother.

In India it is common practice for the details of a crime and its alleged commission to be broadcast by the police - and published in the press - long before the case comes to trial.

So the young mother with the unruly infant is already well on the way to national notoriety. Police claim that Ms Bhowmik, aided by her "lover", Saiyad Rizwan "and his friends", rendered her four relatives comatose with poison, then slit their throats. They disposed of the corpses by cutting them in pieces and dumping them in the septic tank behind the house.

Saiyad Rizwan, Ms Bhowmik's alleged accomplice, looks equally hapless in the newspaper photographs, respectably dressed in dark shirt and light trousers, handcuffed between police officers, a blank, dreamy look on his young face.

The Jamshedpur police have decided to keep readers on the edge of their seats by releasing only snippets about the crime. So far we have the young alleged perpetrators (plus baby), the gruesome dispatch and macabre disposal.

What remains to be revealed are the motives, the involvement of Mr Rizwan's murky "friends", and the story of what went wrong.

"The police are not ready to divulge the story before the press at this moment," says the Hindustan Times, "as it will hamper investigation. Police have also formed six teams to nab the other accused in the case. Teams have been rushed in different directions and to various places to ensure immediate arrest of involved persons."

Chaitali Bhowmik, her guilt so unfairly prejudged, enters the Indian headlines at a time when female villains are all the rage. Blitz on Sunday, India's raciest read, has a page on MOST WANTED WOMEN. They include "gangster moll Manisha Sharma", who is said to specialise in kidnapping rich businessmen for ransom, and sundry fraudsters, thieves and murderers.

Most menacing, though, is Sushila Chedda, who allegedly has a fixed modus operandi: she befriends rich Bombayites, borrows the property deeds to their lavish homes, and sells them on before vanishing with the proceeds. It may be thanks to her plausibility and charm that she is already out on bail.

The message of all these stories: The Women Are Coming. It is not coincidental that in the same issue of Blitz comes the news that Indian girls - like those in other countries - are making a habit of wiping the floor with the boys in school exam results.