Are people born evil?

I was a law student not too long ago, and part of our course curriculum required that we visit a Juvenile Home in our final year. Our college arranged for it, and we all put in money to buy packets of ‘Frooti’ and biscuits for all the boys there. We entered and we were given a small orientation, telling us what the daily routine of all those boys was like – it was your basic prison routine, except that they had classes where they were taught basic Math and Thirukkural by an incompetent teacher. We were then told that we could walk around and mingle with these boys, but not to ask any ‘provoking questions’.

What followed was both heart-breaking and frightening….

We came across a bunch of boys who were destitutes or from broken families. With fathers/brothers who were thieves themselves and who would give up their kids and force them to surrender to the cops just so they could escape themselves. Most of these boys were children – aged between 10-15 and were already into petty theft, chain/car/bike stealing and the occasional street brawl. It was scary hearing them recount their experiences, but we all felt bad – these were children who stole because they didn’t know how else they would get food that night, or because they didn’t know it was wrong. [One boy told us that his dad told him to go and get some iron rods from near the railway tracks and he brought them. The child didn’t realise it was stealing and once the cops came close, the dad dropped the rods near the child and ran] These are children brought up in broken homes and with almost no sense of right and wrong.

We came across another set of boys.. a couple of them, they coolly stood apart from the rest and seemed to almost survey us. One of my friends walked up to him and said, ‘We are lawyers. Please let us know if we can help you in any way – any legal aid/representation’. The leader of the gang, a 15 year old, gave him a cocky smile and said, ‘I raped an 8 year old girl. What will you help?’ My friend stood speechless for a minute and asked, ‘Why did you do it?’ And the 15 year old replied without the slightest hint of regret, “Anna (elder brother), I wanted to. Supera irunthuchu (translated to mean, ‘it was super’) Neengalum try pannunga (You should also try)”  A 15 year old boy with a psycho look in his eyes and not the slightest sense of wrong for what he had done – a chill ran down my spine when I heard him and looked at him. He laughed and walked away with his buddies. And that was the moment when I started believing that maybe some children are just born evil.

My best friend called me up last night and said, ‘Do you remember Uma Maheshwari miss?’ I was out having a late snack with another best friend, so I just casually asked her, ‘Yep, I remember her well.. what’s up with her?’ And she replied, ‘She just died today. Apparently a student stabbed her to death’. I was so shocked that I couldn’t think of a minute. And I kept asking her as to what had caused this, she didn’t have any answers except to say, ‘The killer student was apparently angry with her’. I somehow thought there would be another reason, not an excuse, but atleast something more serious that would in some way explain (not justify) this rage. Read the newspaper reports here, here and here.  This lady taught at my school for a couple of years when I was in high school. I remember her hanging around the Physics lab and helping us out. A harmless woman, quite friendly and someone whom the guys in my class used to tease and annoy/irritate a little. She had apparently called the boy’s father to the school and told him the son wasn’t studying enough. The boy got angry, bought a knife and brought it to school, found her alone and stabbed her repeatedly, even chasing her until she eventually collapsed. She is survived by two daughters and a husband, I think. I still remember two bright eyed little girls following her around during school events like the Annual Day and Project Day. How will they come to terms with such a senseless loss?

I sometimes feel we live in such a dangerous world. A world where rage is sometimes uncontrolled, where vicious and unprovoked acts go unpunished. And where sometimes, violence is even excused. There was a debate on this at IHM’s blog – click and read it here.

But whatever said and done, I’m not able to think of anything that would justify such random acts of violence and brutality. Premeditated, cold acts with full knowledge of its consequences by a person who is just an adolescent.

Makes me wonder, are people sometimes just born evil?


33 thoughts on “Are people born evil?

  1. Welcome to the real, politically incorrect world of high testosterone, dark triad etc etc. Why did you not help him?????? You are a lawyer and he sought your help as a professional. Nothing like the real world to smash away political correctness.

  2. Back in the early 1950s – before TV’s influence – I remember my mother being shocked as her eldest grandchild, a 4 year old boy, said after being reprimanded, “Grandma, I’m going to chop you up into a whole bunch of little pieces and throw you away.”

    I remember mother being very upset that this could come out of a child. I know she worried about what was to come. In fact, this grandchild turned to religion and lives a very simple life as a plumber/carpenter.

    On the other hand, when I worked with Linda Popov in The Virtues Project, she explained that there are people who are broken and will not be whole.

    The trick is to be able to “spot” them. Some of the darkest are the most invisible. That’s what bothers me. Their harm can be undetected for too long.

    1. I too think the trick lies in being able to stop the darkness. And like you said, some of the darkest are the most invisible. But another question – say you spot someone who seems like a disturbed and psycho kid – what do you do next? He’s just a child.

  3. Interesting and thought provoking post, especially in the wake of certain recent, but unfortunate events. However, I’m not quite convinced that people are ‘born’ evil. Certainly, it is extremely disturbing when there’s a 15 year old kid who’s hurt an even younger child and fails to show the slightest hint of remorse and in fact, contrary to one’s expectation, displays cockiness. It is obviously hard for most people like us to fathom how anyone can be utterly lacking in empathy after such an incident. But, I believe that as opposed to people being born evil, most of us develop a sense of empathy and a sense of right or wrong only with the passage of time.

    Children with a normal upbringing usually have a set of rules and guidelines to adhere to. Over the years, the child learns from his experiences, matures slowly, constantly adapting and begins to empathize. Thus, one becomes capable of proper judgement. In an abusive household, a child lives in fear and power/violence feels like the only means of communication. When you’re not shown compassion by another, would it not be difficult for a child to appreciate the feelings of others and experience empathy?

    Even the harsh environments cannot, in any way, justify murder. Also, as far I know, not all abusive households produce criminals. I think a lot of people misinterpret the innocence of children. It’s as simple as saying that they’re probably not capable of rational judgement. Just because a child breaks things apart doesn’t mean that he/she was born with a violent disposition.

    However, it is a very sad truth that even children are capable of violent thoughts. In a massive population as in a country like ours, it’s impossible to monitor all abusive households. Even within a small family, it’s difficult to keep a tab on what influences children the most.

    It is heart-wrenching to think that in the most important years of mental development of a child, as in the incident you referred to in the post, a teacher who in the absence of the parents, is designated to oversee the mental upbringing of a child, becomes an object of anger.

    1. Twocentimental, thank you for that long comment. Not all abusive households produce criminals, and also, not all criminals are born in abusive households… I agree with what you say…

      What frightened me that day, was that while most of the boys there seemed to feel bad for what they had done and wanted a chance to make a better life for themselves, the 15 year old rapist seemed least bothered – being guilty of a crime of rape seemed more a ‘badge of honour’ which gave him a certain social standing amidst his peers.

  4. Your description of the encounter with a fifteen yr old rapist sent a shiver down my spine. The very idea that children like him exist amidst us is scary.
    I somehow don’t feel that it is possible for a child to be born evil, but then I can’t imagine what might have caused him to become this way 😦

  5. I am so sorry to read about your teacher. That is really sad that she was just doing her job and got killed for doing nothing wrong. I also think sometimes child are born evil when I read news about kids as young as 10 helping each other to rob people. Sometime I wonder what kind of parents they have to let them loose in the streets at nights. Just be careful and alert all the time. This is real world these days…

    1. “Sometime I wonder what kind of parents they have to let them loose in the streets at nights. ” – A lot of these children are destitutes/orphans, which is probably part of the problem.
      Thank you for visiting, Nepaliaustralian…

  6. For most young kids teaching them anger management gives them the tools to express their anger constructively and move on. But you are talking of the exceptions who simply don’t play by the rules of society and don’t have any empathy with other peoples’ pain. Most of us don’t know what to do with such kids and so we do the next best thing – nothing. Unfortunately, our helplessness gives them a surge of power and reinforces their behaviour. Disturbing post, pp.

    1. I guess we should just thank our stars that these children are the exception, rather than the norm. We don’t know what to do with them, and to be honest, its very frightening to look them in the eye. I remember being so freaked out – this guy was so casual about having raped and hurt a smaller child.. And what you said is true – possibly he got even more high on the fact that none of us there could really look him in the eye.
      Thinking about this really messes with my head 😐

  7. What makes me anxious is that he is there with other younger children all the time and obviously free to move around without restriction. How’s that allowed?

    1. There’s a shortage of infrastructure so all kids under the age of 18 are allowed to mingle together – regardless of the heinousness of the crime. After 18, I think it depends on the level of the crime – if its something petty, they are usually let off. Something more serious leads to them being put in jail, along with hardened criminals. Its a pretty messed up system.

  8. Where does all this anger come from, I wonder. The news of Ms. Uma Maheshwari was just another news piece about our raging times for me before I read your post. To hear from someone who knew her changes the perspective. Makes the story even more ghastly.

    That boy in the juvenile home gave me the creeps without my having met him. It must have been difficult to make that trip, P&P.

    Sometimes when I read those psychological thrillers, I wonder too whether some people are just born with a bigger propensity to turn evil.

  9. very aptly put. I think we as a society have become more intolerant. In the name of freedom, we end up with false perceptions and impatient mind…

    1. I’m still not too sure whether freedom has anything to do with it. But yes, sometimes we take really need to step back and learn to be more tolerant of the world around us.Thank you for your meaningful comment, Jas.

  10. Man! What a post… I heard of the teacher’s news too, and to know that you know her personally changes the perspective even further…

    Well, even I do not have the answer to you P&P. I mean, I am not really sure how that is possible… can a small child be evil? I don’t think so. I would say it is a child’s ambiance that predominantly makes a person. If that boy had a mum/dad to help him discriminate, may be he wouldn’t have done that. What with media showing all nonsensical, psychotic things as part of life. I see a lot of contrast in the way of life in 1990s to the ones in 2000. I am happy that I grew up in the 90s, and not now. It has changed for the worse. A small example is the porno pics that we see on the roads, in the name of advertising a film’s release. Initially my jaw dropped, but now I got used to the grey shades.

    The iron rod thieving that you told us about is a good example. The child doesn’t know if it was right/wrong, and over time, if he hadn’t got caught this time, it would have been his way of life. The society is fundamentally going wrong. To what shall we attribute this? Poverty? Illiteracy? Lack of love and empathy? Wrong projection by the media? Uff…! How do we end all this?

  11. “Psychopaths’ brains wired to seek rewards, no matter the consequences”
    (Science Daily) and if you go on this website there are other articles that talk about the genetics of it. Please type all this into your search engine. IT IS GENETIC! And it also appears to be chromosomal. Again, search it. Videos on Youtube that show that they can SEE if you have a conscience by performing an MRI set up to check for it are “I, Psychopath” about a man misdiagnosed as a narcissist but really a psychopath. (This is a VERY common problem.) Books that talk about it are “Women Who Love Psychopaths” by Sandra Brown, “The Sociopath Next Door” by Martha Stout and “Without Conscience” by Robert Hare. Also, Dr. James Fallon is a neuroscientist who has the brain functioning of a psychopath and also the genetics of serial killers and is related to Lizzie Borden. He seems so accomodating but check out the interview with his wife and son on the video series “BBC Horizon–What makes us Good or Evil” also on Youtube, this is how psychopaths are in real life. We have such a wrong impression of what a psychopath looks like. Most think of murderers, but the vast majority of them are everyday people. We are WOEFULLY uneducated about this subject and as the earlier poster stated, political correctness has kept us from speaking and seeing the truth. That and the psychology that says we all start out as a blank slate and only what is written by us humans is all that matters. They have found now that this is so untrue and that so much of what we are is “pre-wired.” Once you’ve seen the truth about psychopathy you will find that it is not rare at all. “Aftermath Radio” is a program and has a website that deals with this. Claudia Moscovici has a book titled “Dangerous Liaisons: How to Recognize and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction” which describes many psychopaths. She also has a website “Psychopathy Awareness” that deals with it. Go on Amazon and check out the reviews on these books and then look and see what other books they show you that other people look at. If you realize that oftentimes many “labels” placed on others such as passive aggressive etc are actually not accurate and many of these people are actually people who have the brain functioning of a psychopath, you may begin to realize how bad off we are. Whether or not you believe that the Bible is true, there are some verses that can actually be used as a checklist when looking at how psychopaths are. 2 Timothy 3:1-5.

  12. some people are born evil… and in certain societies, especially in the west, they are checked by the system, knowing that their evil will have severe reprocustions – ie they will get caught and will face the consequences… in other societies they are not checked and so they are emboldened; and that evil can also become embedded in the culture – ie look at what goes for acceptable in a taliban house where the man can kill the wife, or the in-laws can hack off a nose or ears of a sons wife for misbehaving – in their judgement. That is where evil has trumped the good and the others who may not be evil rationalize those acts by making women property and not human. Evil is the basis for slavery – and society can become evil over time and not realize who or what they have become or are. History is full of examples, the most recent western example is Nazi Germany.

  13. I am a lawyer too. During my first year of college, right after class twelfth we were given sociology projects as a part of our Curriculum (having studied in schools where project maI am a lawyer too. During my first year of college, right after class twelfth we were given sociology projects as a part of our Curriculum (having studied in schools where project making was given more importance than Simply mugging stuff and reproducing it on paper as it is) I created a topic ‘Cause and effects of drug abuse on juveniles from different strata of society’ and without realising the effect that it was going to have on me – I set sail for the nearest juvenile delinquency home and somehow got permission to chat with one or two lads – all this when I was what 17.

    Anyway I did my bit, was starting to even feel sorry for the inmates and was making promises to myself to be the next V Krishna Iyer and do some reform for the betterment of juvenile delinquents.. When I came across this juvenile who was almost 15 had been in the house for 4 years now and was in for gangraping and then murdering a 75 year old woman. I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP.

    He told me all he wanted was money to do drugs and he had just gone in with his buddieS with intention of theft – when it dawned on his adult buddies that hey we can also rape and then kill her – I mean just like that.

    Reading your post almost threw me back in that Juvenile home where I was scared to bits having heard the story.

    In our country we have so much diversity – I mean haves and have nots wise – that sometimes I worry if all will ever be okay or may be it will become worse and worse by the day – because right beyond our malls and pubs and multiplexes there is a world unseen, unknown and according to most, better left untouched. But if u ask me soon will come a time when they will catch up to us.. Pushed by dire hunger anD lack of basic necessities. . GOD ALONE KNOWS WHAT WILL HAPPEN THEN.

    This was my first visit to your blog and need I say, I loved reading your posts.
    Will come back for more 🙂

  14. This is reality. There are psychopaths — at any age. Get with reality. Victims of psychopathic abuse are tired of everyone living in denial. Psychopaths are people — and people are people at age 5 and at age 105.

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