Anonymous tragedies of our modern times

Coming to terms with Sheena Bora’s murder after the Arushi case

shishir

Shishir Tripathi | August 28, 2015


#sheena bora   #indrani mukerjea   #peter mukerjea   #murder   #crime   #arushi  

Tragedies make for great stories and they can hardly escape drama. Greek philosopher Aristotle while revealing the defining elements of a tragedy said that tragedies should be “expressed in the form of action, not of narrative; with incidents arousing pity and fear”.

When tragedies are punctuated with sub-plots, where people are killed by their own families and that too for some mistaken sense of honour and pedestrian greed, along with fear and pity, they also foment disgust and ridicule.

Understandably, the biggest tragedies take place in the cities of dreams. As Scottish sociologist Patrick Geddes remarked, “A city is more than a place in space, it is a drama in time”.

But the biggest irony of being a part of tragedy in modern times, especially which is passing in urban space, is the anonymity that garb the character's existence. They are not celebrated like Oedipus or even acknowledged like the ever failing Sisyphus.

Seven years ago, in May 2008, 14-year-old Aarushi Talwar was killed along with her house help Hemraj. She was the only daughter of a high-profile doctor couple, who have been convicted for the murder and are serving life sentence.

The killing and the subsequent investigation led to a lot of speculation. One after another salacious allegations were made against Aarushi and her family. The anonymity that is imposed by modern life allowed no one to authoritatively take a stand for or against Talwar. Nobody could tell the true story.

Young lawyer Pallavi Purkayastha was murdered in her 16th floor apartment in Mumbai in 2012 by a watchman of her society. Enraged after Pallavi told him off for staring at her, he tried to rape her and when she fought back he assaulted her brutally. When she somehow dragged herself to the neighbouring flat and rang the bell, she could get no help. People only went on to talk how unsafe the city was becoming for women.

Sordid as it sounds, citizens of social media were busy discussing another such murder which took place the same year, but came to light only a few days ago. Netizens discussed and debated, judged and joked, about the murder of Sheena Bora, daughter of Indrani Mukherjea – a successful entrepreneur herself and wife of former Star India CEO Peter Mukherjea.

Indrani, along with her driver, is alleged to have murdered her daughter Sheena (whom she had presented to the world as her sister) till her arrest on August 26 and a Kafkaesque tale came to unfold.

Discussion has essentially revolved around the reason behind the killing and people debated whether she was a social climber or a victim of circumstances. Sheena was born when Indrani was just 16.

On the other hand, judgments - which were most visible - were made about Indrani and the society she belongs to and about the ugly face of modernity such incidents reflect. Adding to all of it were insensitive jokes of how Ektaa Kapoor would lap up the rights of the story for her next daily soap.

You can blame it on modernity but sociologist Dipankar Gupta marks all such incidents as aberrations and feels that the reason behind such incidents cannot be generalised. He says, “This is all jumping the gun. These are all kinds of aberrations. There are really different reasons why the Aarushi case and the Indrani case happened.” He adds, "This has nothing to do with modernity. This is wrong. There are different reasons, from greed to sexual impropriety, behind such incidents.”

Ever since Indrani’s arrest, the focus has remained on her. It is understandable. Being the wife of India’s leading media honcho, she was the perfect ingredient for a tragedy: the high and mighty falling from the grace.

What we forgot is that a woman not from a nondescript background went missing for three years. She belonged to the Facebook generation, where life is updated every minute. How did her conspicuous absence not ring a bell? How can the anonymity be so intense that a girl lost for three years make no news?

More than dozens of people have gone missing between 2005 and 2006 from Nithari in Noida, a planned township touching the national capital. It was after the fathers of two girls, who were missing, claimed that they suspected Surinder Koli, the domestic help of a house in the same locality, behind their missing daughters, that for the first time disappearance of children became a matter of concern. The residents claimed they had been repeatedly ignored by local authorities; therefore they sought the help of former resident welfare association (RWA) president SC Mishra. When with the help of the former president residents searched the tank drain behind Koli's house, they found decomposed body parts which led to the unfolding of diabolical and macabre scenes of horror.

Again the question remained how come so many children disappearing went unnoticed. Perhaps, the reason was same. The people who were missing were anonymous lot, bereft of any social context, living in an urban space that is prominently defined by economics.

Anonymity is perhaps the only non-discriminating agent of modernity. It does not decide its victim from the colour of its collar. So it treats a daughter of a top media boss in the flashy financial capital and that of wage labourers in outskirts of the national capital in the same manner.

On December 16, 2012, a 23-year-old woman whom we named Nirbhaya was gang-raped in the moving bus and thrown out of it along with her male friend, semi-clad on the city road. They kept lying there for a while before someone chose to see them and inform the police.

On March 12 this year, a girl her early 20s was beaten up mercilessly near Domlur flyover, a prominent area of east Bengaluru. More than 50 people present there stood as mute spectators as the girl's father was beating her. The crowd stood there silently and decided not to interfere in matter.

It was an urban space and the girl was a stranger and an anonymous entity. Why should anyone care? But then we tend to curse the same anonymity when the victim is someone ours.

Sheridan Hay, author of 'The Secret of Lost Things', writes. “I loved the city. We were anonymous, and even then I had the sense that cities were yielding; that they moved over and made room.” It is perhaps this extra space that yields, that attracts aspirations. In most of the cases, the anonymity robes it to non-existence and we only take note of it when a tragedy takes place.

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