I’ve always nurtured a fear of missing out that stems from not knowing what might have happened on a fine morning, in the winter of ’98 or on a particular afternoon in the year of ’99. But in a hysteric judgement, pun intended, The Rajasthan High Court ruled that women can plead the defence of insanity for crimes committed while experiencing premenstrual syndrome, otherwise known as PMS in colloquial slang. The Rajasthan High Court has proved Sigmund Freud’s position on female hysteria and it is like living in a pre-second world war era all over again.
The accused, a woman named Chandra Lajnani residing in Ajmer, pushed three children into a well, resulting in the death of one of them, back in 1981. Misusing Section 84 of the Indian Penal Code, which pardons offenses committed due to psychological disorders, the defense pleaded insanity on the grounds of premenstrual syndrome, which in this case is being recognized as a psychological disorder. In a verdict that arrived 35 years later, the Jaipur bench of the court acquitted Chandra Lajnani, who murdered a child, on the grounds of insanity because apparently, the accused was afflicted by PMS; meaning, her act was involuntary.
One of the three doctors testifying at the trial said “Some women do not remain normal in the days preceding their cycle. They become aggressive, violent and even commit suicide.”
Judgments like these aren’t just a result of poor medical research and lack of medical evidence but they have their roots in a deep misunderstanding of what menstruation is and the social stigma surrounding it. While hormonal imbalances are not unheard of in a woman suffering from premenstrual syndrome, propagandist media under the influence of patriarchy has been demonstrating that women are insane and in the need of asylum. A hyperbolic representation of what a woman goes through during her cycle is always on TV.
The verdict that women are innately crazy and schizophrenic by nature arises from preposterous beliefs that are outdated. Women’s mental health had been hugely undermined up until the 1950s due to such prejudices, which is why many cases of mental disorders and epilepsy would be diagnosed under a catch-all term called “female hysteria”. The first case study diagnosed with hysteria was Anna O. A patient of Josef Bauer.
Such people believed that hysteria in females rose from sexual frustration. As women were not encouraged to be sexual beings, the way men were, their sexuality remained repressed and unexplored, causing them to act up, the only cure for this, as was widely believed, was ‘Hysterical paroxysms’. We’ve even seen a similar plot line in the Urdu author, “Ismat Chughtai’s” path-breaking yet controversial short story Lihaaf, in which “Begum Jaan” can’t rid herself of an itch.
Sigmund Freud too, through psychoanalysis or the talking cure, expressed that he had recovered a repressed thought in all his conversion-disorder patients. He recorded in his ‘Seduction Theory’ that all his patients, as a part of their unconscious memories, were repressing the memory of a sexual abuse that might have taken place in infancy and resulted in hysterical symptoms and neurosis. Freud’s success lies in his understanding, that the problems of the modernist and the post-modernist era would rise from gender and sexuality but “Simone de Beauvoir, The Feminist-Existentialist French Philosopher” in “The Second Sex (1949)”, argues that “Freud saw an ‘original superiority’ in the male, that is in reality socially induced.”
Female Hysteria has for the most part been dropped from medical diagnosis and Sigmund Freud finds no place in Psychology, the modern discipline but is taught as a part of our curriculums only to emphasize on the fact that his methods were pseudo-scientific because he conducted no formal medical tests. Sigmund Freud also confided in Wilhelm Fliess, that he never managed to cure a single patient.
The problem though, with the Rajasthan HC’s verdict is that it trivializes the actual issues in women’s lives, making a mockery out of them. It tries to produce that a woman is frivolous and her problems superfluous, that she is not in control of herself and she needs a man who is supposed to pull her out of her emotional whims. It will cause people to disregard a woman’s opinion even more by using her menstruating status as an excuse to call her an unreasonable being, who cannot talk sense because she is under the influence of hormones. Medical science has supposedly advanced since the twentieth century but we might as well go back to diagnosing women with female hysteria that rises due to a wandering womb and treating people with cocaine.