Interpretation of a painting by 16th December 2012 Nirbhaya rape accused
By: Pulkit Sharma
Published on: Jan 07, 2015

The 16th December 2012 Delhi Nirbhaya gang rape that shook India involved brutal sexual assault, extreme torture and deadly attack on a 23-year-old female physiotherapy student by six men in a moving bus. The gang rape led to widespread shock, anger, grief and protests across the entire nation and even in the international community. The incident happened during the night in Munirka at South Delhi. Out of the six men, one committed suicide in Tihar jail during trial while four were sentenced to death in 2013.

The sixth accused was few months short of eighteen when he committed the crime and therefore was tried under juvenile laws as per the Indian judicial system. As per the Delhi police, the most brutal among the six rapists was the juvenile accused. He got three years sentence in a reform home which is the maximum punishment any juvenile accused can get in the Indian judicial system. The counselors at the reform home in Majnu Ka Tila shared that he was extremely scared and nervous initially but later opened up and took part in various activities at the reform home including painting. One of his paintings received a lot of attention.

The painting depicts a princess touching her own reflection in a mirror. When I saw his painting, I noticed his good artistic skills and came across several clues that can help us in discovering the hidden emotions, conflicts and personality traits of this accused. While people can hide, distort and manipulate what they express in words; most of these censorship techniques become redundant when we draw. Drawings can take us deep into the inner, hidden and subjective world of the person. However, the psychological inferences that we can make by looking at someone's drawing are not an absolute truth but hypotheses that can guide us better in our understanding and inquiry.

Sadly, in India many psychiatrists, clinical psychologists and counselors do not take interest in looking at non-verbal forms of communication deeply and therefore we end up losing out on sources of valuable information. In our country, while patients are encouraged to use non-verbal forms of communication, the sole aim of this is to make them feel comfortable and establish rapport. But, if we were to expand our aim then drawings and other forms of non-verbal communication can become valuable tools in psychotherapy.

Let us carefully examine this drawing made by the 16th December 2012 Nirbhaya rape accused and look at what story it tells us in terms of its structure and impression according to the principles of psychoanalytic interpretation.

Narcissistic personality structure: The 'mirror reflection' in the painting by the rape accused is an important theme. It is a strong indicator of a narcissistic disturbance in personality of the juvenile. Adolescents with narcissistic tendencies lack sensitivity and empathy. They often use people as 'need satisfying objects' rather than relating to them as fellow human beings. These people are focused on their own needs and can indulge in extreme forms of behavior to reassure them that they are significant and powerful. They have a poor frustration tolerance and intense rage. All these personality traits help us in understanding how this person could have turned into a brutal rapist. The act of rape involves using the victim as an object to fulfill one's sexual, aggressive and sadistic needs without any mercy. Having narcissistic and aggressive traits perhaps is one of the major risk factors in turning a person into a rapist.

My experience of doing psychological work with people suffering from narcissistic personality disorder has focused on understanding their callousness and rage. In a majority of cases, origins of a narcissistic disturbance can be traced back to traumatic life experiences. As children these narcissistic people had been neglected, abused or used by others. Their basic needs to be understood, valued and cared for were not fulfilled. Consequently, these people become extremely self-centered and aggressive. Both the Indian public and the government have been brainstorming over how to deter people from committing rape. The best and the most effective deterrent in the long run would be possibly to insure that no single child suffers from abuse and neglect. In several cases, victims turn into perpetrators over time.

Wish to escape or evolve: In psychological analysis of drawings, specific colors have specific meaning. Also, the interpretation is influenced by whether a color is used very extensively or selectively. The most widely used colors in the drawing by the Nirbhaya rape accused are yellow and blue. Predominant use of these colors appears to be quite significant. Generally, the color blue represents calmness, depth and peace and if used extensively it indicates an unconscious wish for a stress free environment. In a similar vein, the color yellow if used predominantly reflects a wish to release past burden and move forward.

The use of these colors indicates a possibility that the juvenile rape accused has a wish to improve his current situation and move forward. However, it is difficult to say whether he wishes to simply escape from current stressful situation or that he wants to evolve internally. It maybe that he is bothered because of having been caught and sent to rehabilitation home and wants to be a free man again. Alternatively, if the wish comes from a deeper level, he might be feeling guilty over what he did and seeks an internal change. In therapy, the counselors need to identify, understand and mirror back these wishes so that the accused feels encouraged to move forward towards greater positivity.

Feelings of inadequacy: When we look at the drawings, the size and proportion of various body parts can reflect important insights about the personality of the artist. In the drawing made by the Nirbhaya rape accused, the head is disproportionately short as compared to the rest of the body. This indicates that the accused is struggling with feelings of inadequacy. On the other hand the legs are excessively long representing that the accused tends to be overcharged in order to hide his feelings of inadequacy.

Such people have a tendency to seek power over others and suppress them. By suppressing others their ego gets a boost and they are able to live in an illusion of omnipotence. Rape is often about power- the accused is desperately trying to convince himself, the victim and others that he is invincible. The combination of low self-esteem and need for unrealistic power is therefore common among rapists.

The preceding analysis is a glimpse of rich insights that can be derived from drawings and other non-verbal communications of rapists and criminals. It will be helpful if such methods can be systematically adopted in understanding and healing the criminal mind in the Indian context.

Pulkit Sharma is Clinical Psychologist & Psychoanalytical Therapist at Imago- Centre for Self, Delhi. Email:- info@thepsychologistindia.com