The Sheena Bora murder case will be better known as the Indrani Mukerjea case, because Sheena wasn't the one who was a celebrity. The whole story is jaw-dropping enough to have us glued before TV news, and then the murderer is a high-flying media executive.
The obsessive media coverage of the case, and how we receive it, will revolve more around the celebrity factor than anything else. In obsessing about this case as a celebrity crime, we are revealing something about ourselves. This case wouldn't be as sensational as it is if it involved poor people in a slum or a village.
We are transfixed by every little detail of the Indrani Mukerjea case, I mean the Sheena Bora case, because we are all to eager to be sociologists of the Madhur Bhandarkar mould. This case fuels the stereotype of the rich and the famous as people with dirty secrets to hide, giving many of us vicarious pleasure in witnessing the fall of the mighty, well-connected, rich, or all of the above.
It will be easy to blame the media, but the media is only giving us what we want. In the days to come, the media will compete over breaking news over every little detail, the more sexually suggestive the better. Mother and daughter alike will face all kinds of allegations that will be repeated in the media to the point that it become truth.
Here's one angle we will not obsess much about: honour killing. If it's true that Indrani Mukerjea and her ex-husband together murdered their daughter, it was a case of honour killing.The media-society consensus on honour killing so far has been that it is not something that the English-speaking elite is capable of.
One of the things we didn't want to hear about the Arushi Talwar-Hemraj Banjade double murder case was the term "honour killing". We feared that if we even consider the idea that the Talwars could have murdered their child, it would affect the relationship of trust between children and parents. It would affect us. So let's go with the narrative that suits us. So of course Moninder Singh Pandher didn't know Surinder Koli was dismembering children in his kitchen in Nithari, and of course it must have been Hemraj's friends who murdered him and Arushi.
The Indrani Mukerjea case, I mean the Sheena Bora case, is likely to remain about her celebrityhood, personal life and the thrill of finding out what really happened. In a case of honour killing in Haryana, we want reform and justice. But if the rich and famous commit honour killing, it's just plain voyeurism we are interested in. Who doesn't love a good murder mystery? We can't wait for the books and the Bollywood film on it.
Of course we don't know the complete truth about the Sheena Bora murder. It has happened in the past that crimes of passion were first presented as property disputes. Sheena Bora's brother Mikhail has more than hinted that the murder was a crime of passion.
No, it's not just the baddies in the heartland who commit honour killings. Middle class and rich parents are also capable of it. The sooner we digest this, the better. That will also help us appreciate that the parent-children relationship isn't always one of pure love and absolute faith. Regardless of caste and creed, Indian parents see it as their right to decide how their children will live their lives, and that is always a source of bad blood, sometimes even cold-blooded murder.
There's another problem with high-profile or celebrity crime cases. The media narrative often swings from one extreme to another. The rich and famous first pay a price through what they see as an unfair media trial, and then their friends start manipulating the media. PR companies are hired, influential friends go around meeting the who's who and convincing them of the person's innocence, out-of-work actors start defending the accused in TV debates with friendly lawyers supporting that idea while pretending to be independent legal experts. "I knew her well", we will hear repeatedly, she couldn't have done something like this. So fickle is our public discourse, it's as if we want to hate someone only so that we can then sympathise with them.
How soon will it be before we start hearing that Indrani Mukerjea has been unfairly maligned, her side of the story has not been heard, the driver did it all, or may be the jilted ex-husband? Has it been a media trial? Is it justified to keep a person in jail that long when she's not even been convicted?
We saw this see-saw in the media narrative in the Aarushi Talwar-Hemraj Banjade double murder case. For most people, that case is just the Aarushi case, because only the lives of the rich matter, and only the poor can be criminals.
To a lesser extent, we have seen the media narrative change in the Tarun Tejpal case as well. Alleged of having committed rape, the media went after Tejpal non-stop for at least two weeks in 2013. It didn't take much time for misogynist columnists to start speaking up talking of spin doctoring of CCTV tapes, rumour-mongering about the victim, a lot of sympathy over him not getting bail for six months.
Similarly, the ensuing confusion over the Sheena Bora murder case will make sure that justice will be difficult to achieve. Highly-paid lawyers will manage to drag on the case forever. Eventually, no one will have killed Sheena Bora.
(Shivam Vij is a journalist in Delhi.)
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