Anita Anand | How trauma and rejection led to a murder-suicide tragedy at varsity

The Asian Age.  | Anita Anand

Opinion, Columnists

Such incidents can be averted with greater awareness and preparedness in understanding our emotions

Family members during the final rites of Sneha Chaurasia, who was shot dead inside the Greater Noida's Shiv Nadar University allegedly by a classmate, in Kanpur, Saturday, May 20, 2023. (Photo: PTI)

A few weeks back, on May 18, there was news of two killings -- a murder and a suicide. Anup Singh, a 20-year-old third year BA Sociology student at the Shiv Nadar University in Noida, in the National Capital Region, shot and killed Sneha Chaurasiya, a fellow student and a classmate. He then shot himself. Both were in a on-again, off-again relationship for about a year and a half.

According to police reports and what was caught on the university’s CCTV footage, Anup and Sneha, on that day, met outside the dining hall. Anup hugged Sneha and offered her a gift; she refused it. Anup pulled out a gun and shot her in the abdomen, and then went to the university hostel and shot himself. There were no witnesses as the university was on a summer break.

Before this incident, Anuj shot a 20-minute video, now public, in which he says he wants to “justify” his actions. The video describes in detail a consensual relationship in which they helped each other in and out of low periods over 18 months. Anup says he rescued Sneha on several occasions from men who were blackmailing and stalking her. After a while, Anuj began to accuse Sneha of relationships with other men and being unfaithful to him. She began to move away from him, emotionally and physically, and wanted to end the relationship. He stalked the men he thought she was having relationships with and named them in the video. Sneha complained twice to the university authorities, and they both were counselled on the campus. Anup, after the sessions, says the university did nothing for him and that action should have been taken against Sneha.

Recent media reports reveal that Sneha, in March, had sent an email to the university authorities complaining of harassment and physical abuse by Anuj. He had threatened to kill her and had choked her. There was no action by the university on Sneha’s complaints.

Anuj hails from a farming family in Uttar Pradesh’s Amroha district. After the incidents, Anuj’s relatives said they were unaware of the relationship between him and Sneha. Anuj’s uncle shared that about 20 before the incident, Anuj had visited his family and seemed “completely normal”; he was physically fit and participated in farming activities. He told his family that the university was sending him abroad for a year. The family has no knowledge of how he got the gun, nor were they aware of his cancer diagnosis.

In the video, Anuj says that he was under a lot of stress. His sister, who was married with a child, was burnt to death by her husband’s family. Around the same time, his brother’s wife left him for another man, taking their two sons. Shortly after that, his brother died after a heart attack. He himself, says Anup, was diagnosed with brain cancer but did not tell his parents.

Anuj’s family says that these claims in the video about the family are false. Was Anuj imagining all this? Or was his family covering up what Anuj said in the video? Whatever is the truth, Anuj was under stress and quite traumatised by the events in his family and his rejection by Sneha.

Is there a link between trauma and violence? Psychiatrists Daniel J. Neller and John Matthew Fabian, in a review of research-based theories on trauma and its contribution to violence, suggest that increasingly, biological evidence is surfacing to explain the contribution of traumatic experiences to violent behaviour. Highly stressful, potentially traumatic events can alter brain structures and chemicals. During periods of prolonged stress, the body reduces its production of serotonin, a neuro-transmitter associated with inhibition of behaviour. Low amounts of serotonin repeatedly have been associated with aggression and impulsivity.

Research on rejection and MRI studies show that the same areas of the brain become activated when we experience rejection as when we experience physical pain and is the reason why rejection hurts so much (neurologically speaking). In fact, our brains respond similarly to rejection and physical pain.

Additionally, hypersensitivity to rejection often causes individuals to distort and misinterpret the actions of others and cause higher degrees of psychological distress when they’re rejected, including emotional pain, anger, and sadness, and they are at a much greater risk of engaging in aggression, social isolation and self-harm. This fear of rejection may constantly accuse a partner of cheating -- which may contribute to the other person ending the relationship. This seems to be the case with Anuj.

Such incidents can be averted with greater awareness and preparedness in understanding our emotions. Since the family, where the roots of such emotional inadequacies lie, is often not able to, it then falls upon educational and religious institutions and the government to act. Several civil society organisations offer services, both online and offline. But the challenge is greater, and interventions are needed at institutional levels. Schools and colleges can, in their curriculum and orientation programmes, require mandatory attendance for sessions on stress management and relationships as most students are ill-equipped to handle them.

Sneha and Anuj came from fairly modest families. At the university, living in hostels, without family supervision and opportunities to interact with the opposite sex, Sneha and Anuj experienced love, jealousy, heartbreak and rejection -- all to be expected. But maybe not death.

Anuj was a troubled young man and could not see any way out of his situation except by killing Sneha and taking his own life. A tragedy all around.