Killer Mom smashes baby’s head in depression

Mumbai, June 01: Bhayander resident Shefali Sheth, 28, allegedly killed her newborn by smashing its head on January 14. Arrested on January 24, she is now seeking bail before the Thane sessions court, stating that she was in a state of depression when the child was born out of precipitate labour.

Sheth, who worked with a chartered accountant firm in Borivili, gave birth to a female child on January 14 in her ground-floor flat in Bhayander. Allegedly, in a moment of madness, she banged the child’s head on the bathroom wall. It led to its instant death. Next day, Babli Chindaliya, sweeper of the housing society Sheth lived in, found the body of the child – its umbilical cord still attached – wrapped in a plastic bag in a
garbage dump.

The Mira Road police had earlier said that Sheth, who is an unwed mother of a one-and-a-half-year-old girl, was tight-lipped about the deceased child’s father. However, two of her colleagues were called by the police for DNA testing.

Sheth was booked under section 302 (murder) and 318 (concealment of birth by secret disposal of dead body) of the Indian Penal Code. She has been in jail since January 24. The court had earlier rejected her bail application as investigations were not finished. Now, she has filed a second bail application, stating that the probe is over and the chargesheet has been filed. Sheth’s advocate, Ashish Chavan, said that the court would hear her application on June 4.

In her bail application, Sheth has denied the charges of homicide pressed against her by the prosecution. According to her, the child was born as a result of precipitate labour and its death was an accident. Moreover, relying on Explanation 3 of section 299 (culpable homicide) of the IPC, Sheth’s application states, that it has to be proven that the child had taken birth alive to press charges of murder.

“Thus there is no doubt that immediately on delivery of a child, the mother suffers from a mental depression verging on temporary insanity and she may not be in a position to observe the condition of the child minutely at birth. Considering from this angle, unless it is otherwise proved beyond reasonable doubt that the child was born alive, it is unsafe to convict the accused of murder,” Sheth states in her application.

A mother’s state of depression post-delivery is a condition that needs greater attention in the eyes of the law and remains a relatively grey area.

Seth has also stated that she is the sole bread-winner for her family comprising her parents, two siblings and her daughter, who is suffering greatly as she is in prison.

‘A woman in a state of depression can do anything’
Doctors say that a mother can be depressed even before delivery owing to various reasons. However, at the time of precipitate labour, it is a rarity that a woman would be completely oblivious of the child coming out of her womb, they add.

Gynaecologist Duru Shah said, “Although precipitate labour happens suddenly, it is not possible that the mother is completely oblivious, unless she has a medical problem or is unconscious.”

Gynaecologist and obstetrician Nikhil Datar said that such accidents were known to happen. “A woman is supposed to be in a certain position for proper delivery of the child, and the reason behind obstetrics is that there has to be someone to look after the baby while she is in labour. If that assistance is not there, the child may come out and hit the floor and die.” Datar said that unwanted pregnancies could lead to depressive disorders, Shah said, “A woman in a state of depression can do anything. It is possible for her to display extreme behaviour.”

The precedents
In a 2001 judgment of Gauhati High Court, a woman was given the benefit of doubt in case of precipitate labour and was acquitted of the charge of murdering her newborn child. However, in two other cases before Bombay High Court, in which the women were accused of committing female infanticide and there were witnesses, the court had sentenced them to life-imprisonment.