The whole country is still reeling under the shock of the Suchana Seth case. Seth, a highly educated, financially independent and empowered young mother killed her own small son, reportedly first drugging him to put him to sleep, and then suffocating him. The child was only four years old.

But this should not have been as shocking as it is now because we already are aware of the Sheena Bora case of a young woman in love having been diabolically and cold-bloodedly murdered allegedly by her own high-flying, glamorous and affluent mother Indrani Mukherjea. Neither of these women subscribe to the commonly held theories of why mothers kill their children.

Why do mothers kill their children at all? One reason forwarded is poverty where the mother kills her kids, and then herself, because life becomes unbearable. She is convinced that she cannot save her kids from poverty.

The other reason is domestic violence where the mother and her children are the victims. She kills her children so that they do not fall victim to more abuse. This is also known as altruistic killing in order to ‘protect’ the children from violence.

The third reason is that a kid dies accidentally when the mother physically beats the kid up. Her intention was not to kill but the beating is so bad that the child dies. This mainly happens in middle-class and upper middle-class urban families where the pressure on the child to achieve, in any field chosen by the mother, is too high. The mother remains unhappy when the child fails to live up to her aspirations.

The fourth, and most dangerous, reason is when there is serious marital trouble between the husband and the wife, and the child becomes a victim. This is what fits into the Suchana Seth case.

She was desperate not to allow her husband to meet their little son, when they were going through a divorce. She reportedly disobeyed the court orders to permit her husband visiting rights.

When the husband approached the court and got the sanction, she still did not take the son to the appointed place to meet his father and ultimately, first drugged him to sleep and then smothered him to death. This is also known as murder resulting from spousal revenge.

For Indrani Mukherjea, the trigger was perhaps mainly pushed through greed for wealth which her daughter was refusing to part with.

Mythological stories are replete with mothers who have killed their own children. The first mythological character that comes to mind is Goddess Ganga who killed her seven children. She drowned her newborn babies immediately after the birth, one after the other.

After the eighth child’s birth, her husband could not resist questioning her cruel act. The husband was oath-bound never to question her; otherwise, Ganga would leave him, but he had to this time. Ganga said that the children were famed sages, and she freed them from their pathetic mortal lives.

But because she couldn’t save the eighth one from his destiny, she had to leave him and go. Ganga is a ferocious river and can never be tamed or questioned, and her husband broke the fundamental rule.

A 37-year-old Australian mother in Cairns, Queensland was arrested on suspicion of having killed eight kids between two and 14 years of age. Seven of these were her own.

The children were found by the local police when they went in response to a report from her 20-year-old son, about an injured woman but found much more. The children were stabbed and the woman herself had bloodied wounds on her body. The mother was suspected to have been suffering from Münchausen Syndrome by Proxy (MSBP).

Münchausen’s Syndrome is named after Baron Von Münchausen (1720-1791). People with Münchausen Syndrome have an uncontrolled need to exaggerate health complaints, falsify tests and/or inflict illnesses on themselves directly.

In Münchausen Syndrome by Proxy perpetrators fulfil their need for positive attention by hurting their own child, thereby imposing the sick role onto their child, by proxy. In 1977, Roy Meadow, then professor of paediatrics at the University of Leeds, England, discovered the extraordinary behaviour of two mothers and labelled this Münchausen Syndrome by Proxy.

Professor Meadow said that one of the two mothers had poisoned her toddler with excessive quantities of salt, while the other had introduced her own blood into her baby’s urine sample.

MSBP is a lesser-known, lesser-written-about and lesser discussed issue of psychological health where the child is the victim of his/her mother’s insane mental state who otherwise appears and behaves ‘normally.’ Mark Gado in his serialised article ‘Mothers who Kill’ in ‘Crime Library’ describes in detail some of the most notorious mothers in the history of crime.

Among them are Susan Smith, Andrea Yates, Sally Clark, Angela Cannings, Maxine Robinson and the most notorious of them all, Marybeth Tinning. It took 14 years and nine tiny corpses to finally take action against Tinning in 2011.

Tinning was charged with the murder of only one child, Tami Lynne. By that time, she was already 68 but was due for parole two years later.

Is India an exception? According to papers in the ‘Indian Journal of Psychiatry’, MSBP is present among Indian mothers but is manifest in different ways. In one case, a 12-year-old girl of ‘low IQ’ was brought to the psychiatry ward by her parents because dead house flies were coming out of her ears.

The girl’s ears were plugged with cotton wool which the mother had removed. The mother refused to leave the girl’s side during examination and hospitalisation. When the doctors persuaded her to go home, the flies stopped coming out of the girl’s ears.

The doctors organised a family meeting and the mother finally confessed that she had actually introduced dead flies into her child’s ear. The mother had been treated for generalised anxiety disorder and for dissociative disorder in the past.

In another case, when the mother of an infant brought in for a foamy discharge from the scalp was questioned by doctors, she confessed to applying baby shampoo on the scalp of her child and fabricating it for the doctor.

This is explained by a medical theory which mentions Sudden Infant Death Syndrome or SIDS. When sudden and completely asymptomatic death occurs in a new-born or infant, when every kind of post-death reasonings are exhausted, the death is labelled as SIDS.

The SIDS deaths only occur while the baby is in the crib. A baby does not die from SIDS in its mother's arms. In fact, picking up a baby is the only known way to prevent a sudden infant death.

But in many of these SIDS deaths of infants, doctors have expressed suspicion about the mother’s hand in the death. However, it could not be proved for lack of concrete evidence, and also because the role of the mother is entirely sanctified by history, society, literature, cinema and family.

In some rare cases, the new mother becomes so psychologically depressed that the only relief she thinks she can get is by killing the infant. This is a severe case of depression and needs urgent medical attention to keep the new mother from doing it again.

SIDS was originally referred to as "cot death" because the infant was normally discovered in its bed or crib. However, since SIDS is a cause of death by exclusion and we still don't know what causes it.

Julie Gregory, a survivor of MSBP, in ‘Sickened: The Memoir of a Munchausen’ by Proxy Childhood (2003) lucidly sets out the story of her traumatic childhood spent under the supervision and ‘care’ of an insane mother and grandmother.

From early childhood, Gregory was continuously X-rayed, medicated, and operated on—in the vain pursuit of an illness created in her mother’s mind.

The Mother Goddess in Hindu mythology is worshipped more as a mother than as a goddess. So, when a human female kills her own offspring, she is deemed to destroy this ideology of motherhood completely.

As Indians, we revere the mother in real life, history, literature and so on. It is impossible for us to accept that a mother can kill her own child. It is a patriarchal construct that sanctifies motherhood and places it on a pedestal ideologically higher than fatherhood.

That is why we are completely shocked by the criminal conduct of Suchana Seth and Indrani Mukherjea, who have effectively destroyed the pedestal called ‘motherhood’, built so carefully and cautiously by patriarchy.