‘Trial’ by media can affect Indrani’s case
It does not matter which part of the world you live in. If you are an Indian, you are hooked to the Indrani Mukerjea- Sheena Bora case.
There is no denying that.
I was chatting the other night with my friends in the US and our talk quickly veered to Peter Mukerjea and his wife Indrani Mukerjea. We speculated for sometime what could have really happened.
I am sure we are not alone in this. Going by the posts on social media and the WhatsApp messages that are being circulated around this murder case, it is clear the warped family issues of the Mukerjeas have caught on to the Indian fancy.
The crux of the matter is Sheena Bora disappeared in 2012. Her sister Indrani Mukerjea, wife of former CEO of Star India Peter Mukerjea, told her family — which includes Peter, her brother Mikhail and her husband’s son Rahul from his first marriage with whom Sheena was having an affair — Sheena had gone off to the US to study and work.
They all believed her and none bothered to keep in touch with Sheena all these years.
A chance investigation by the police into the illegal possession of a firearm by Shyam Manav Manohar Rai led to his interrogation when he admitted that while working as a driver for Indrani, they took Sheena to a forest in Raigad near Mumbai, killed, burned and buried her there.
The police have unearthed the remains and have sent it for forensic tests.
Meanwhile, after her arrest, Indrani admitted Sheena was her daughter and Mikhail her son from her first marriage.
Peter Mukerjea initially said he had no idea that Sheena was Indrani’s daughter. Then in another interview, he said Sheena and Rahul told him she was the daughter but he chose to believe Indrani since he trusted her.
Also he was scared to broach the topic with her because that would lead to heated arguments which he wanted to avoid.
Vidhie, who is Indrani’s daughter from her second marriage to Sanjeev Khanna from Kolkata (Khanna has been also arrested in connection to the case), said Peter was her father and she had no contact with her biological father Khanna. She said she met her grandparents (Indrani’s parents) in Assam when Sheena was there.
Peter, on his part, said he never met his in-laws because Indrani said she had an estranged relationship with them.
Mikhail said he knew why his sister was killed but admitted that after his mother told him Sheena was in the US, they were not in touch. He even alleged that the fateful night, Indrani had drugged him and wanted to kill him but he escaped.
The role of media
Since Indrani’s arraest, everyone in her family has been talking to the media.
From Mikhail to Peter to Vidhie, everyone gave interviews to various publications and channels and all their statements were contradictory.
But what is most alarming is that the Indian media is playing up the case to the galleries and serving up information on a platter which might not always be true.
As happens with cases like this, there is a mad frenzy to rake up information of whatever kind possible to stay on top of the case.
In the process, there are “unnamed police sources” constantly being quoted in all the articles. Like “police sources” said Sanjeev had said he was asleep in the car when this whole thing happened. “Police sources” are also giving out information like when Mikhail was called for questioning by Mumbai police and he confronted Indrani, she lost her cool. Police also said Rahul Mukerjea, Sheena’s boyfriend, tried to get them investigate the case in 2012 but they were convinced Sheena was in the US.
Strangely, Sheena’s passport has now been found in Rahul and his mother’s home in Dehradun.
While one newspaper said Indrani has been a tough nut to crack during investigation, another said she broke down and admitted that Sheena was born when she was 17 after her own father forced himself on her. A website said Siddharth Das is the father of Sheena and Mikhail.
No one knows it better than the media that a case like this has unparalleled voyeuristic value. Even if they report something as inane as Indrani having daal-roti (food) in the lock up, the hits on the article like this are bound to go up.
Avirook Sen, in his much acclaimed recently-published book Aarushi, which deals with the murder of a teenager in her own home in 2008, has written that the Arushi case raked up more TRPs for news channels than the Indian Premier League cricket at that time.
This was unprecedented in the history of Indian television.
The Indrani case seems to be a re-run of the same scenario.
And the media, instead of asking pertinent questions, is serving up saucy headlines and nuggets of information that has less to do with fact gathering than to do with the character assassination of a woman, who is married thrice, has been ambitious, has lived the high life and has supposedly got a pile of skeletons in her cupboard.
Deepika Shetty, a journalist based in Singapore, wrote these extremely pertinent questions on her Facebook wall after Mikhail’s rant on his mother, questions that the Indian media should have asked.
Deepika Shetty wrote: “Now, if I was interviewing this Laddu (Mikhail), what I would ask him is this:
- Why did you not try to make contact with your sister for 2 years?
- If you did not have any real contact with Indrani Mukerjea, what made you take her word for it that Sheena Bora was in the US?
- Did you not at any moment in time in the past 730 days ever get worried about your sister and want to file a missing person’s report?
The body that has been dug up has been sent for a DNA test and it has not even been proved if it belongs to Sheena.
But that has not stopped the media from talking to some of Indrani’s former colleagues or even her husband’s ex-colleagues at Star India.
Almost all of them have nothing good to say about her. Obviously, no one has questioned that these people might have had a score to settle with Indrani and are lapping up the opportunity now, to do so.
Thanks to them, we have got to know she was an ambitious woman who dumped her second husband, was ambitious enough to become group CEO of INX, the company she founded with Peter Mukerjea and how she might have been involved in siphoning away funds from the company when it changed hands.
Maybe, she is all this or maybe she is not. But the worst thing is the public verdict on her has been passed long before all the evidence has even been gathered and the trial has begun.
Indian law says that a person is innocent unless proved guilty but thanks to the media madness and the public opinion created through the media channels, the verdict seems to have already been pronounced.
The travesty of law
In the Aarushi case, a theory was thrown up by the police and CBI and then they went round looking for evidence to fit into that theory and finally Aarushi’s parents Rajesh and Nupur Talwar were convicted for the murder of their only daughter and it was proved it was an honor killing because Aarushi was apparently in a relationship with the servant.
The narco- analysis tests clearly show that three other men, who had come to meet the servant in their house that night, might have had a role to play in the murder. But these were not followed up at all because those did not fit into their theory.
Also Nupur Talwar never cried in public, an emotional harakiri indeed for an Indian mother who had lost her daughter. She was smart, she was assertive, she spoke up and she wasn’t liked by policemen and judges alike because she was a woman with a mind of her own and in control of her emotions.
The same goes with Indrani. Now people, who have set eyes on her picture for the first time after her arrest, have passed the verdict on her that a woman, who could pass off her daughter as her sibling, ought to be a murderer.
And the media has assisted in creating that public verdict.
Amrita Mukherjee is a freelance journalist who writes on social issues in India with focus on women. She divides her time between Dubai and India and blogs at www.amritaspeaks.com
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