Indrani or Sunanda, crime becomes occasion to judge women
The extensive, and often salacious, coverage of the Sheena Bora murder mystery has proved a point all over again: Whenever there is a woman and her past involved in a crime, a media orgy follows.
If the accused or the victim is a celebrity, or there is a sex angle involved, viewers are subjected to long soap operas playing out on news channels. A television news anchor had once gone on air with her hands dipped in red paint while reporting about the Aarushi Talwar murder case, journalist Avirook Sen writes in his recent book on the teenager's murder.
Excessive coverage of the Sheena murder case has made sure that by now, everyone knows almost every odd bit of information possible about the victim's mother and businesswoman Indrani Mukerjea, who is an accused in the case.
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The media's tenour is eerily similar to that of the coverage after Congress leader and then minister Shashi Tharoor's wife Sunanda Pushkar was mysteriously found dead in a hotel room in 2014. Various media organisations had then analysed how Pushkar, an "outgoing socialite", rose to fame by the virtue of her marriage to Tharoor. The news reports repeatedly commented how she was a "nobody" otherwise.
In the Sheena murder case, Indrani's celebrity status in media circles, her stylish cocktail-sipping photographs available on Facebook, and her being an "ambitious young woman from small town" have only added to the frenzied coverage. Theories about Indrani's stepfather allegedly molesting her, questions on who Sheena's father is, views on Indrani's over-ambitious attitude and arguments on whether the crime has a money angle have been doing the rounds.
After Pushkar's death in 2014, headlines such as "Who is Sunanda Pushkar? Her background and many scandals" weaved the controversies surrounding her life and professional journey. The list included reports of Pushkar slapping a man at the Thiruvananthapuram airport and her threatening to splash alcohol at a journalist.
While there were several reports over her multiple marriages and her husband Tharoor having an affair with Pakistani journalist Mehar Tarar, none were written about how a self-made woman made it big as a business personality.
In a recent opinion piece on the NDTV website, senior journalist and former editor-in-chief of The Indian Express, Shekhar Gupta, analysed the television coverage of the Sheena murder case and described how some TV channels will follow a path marked by salacious stories.
"Many salacious details will be tossed around judgmentally without utmost certainty to their veracity, without a qualification". The narrative such channels follow, Gupta wrote, is: "You are a rich, attractive, audacious, ambitious woman - it equals slut, social climber, guilty of murder."
And that's exactly what's going on.
Although nothing has been put on record by the Mumbai Police, the media is agog with theories and counter-theories as to what might have happened on the night of Sheena's murder.
If the cops have a version, "reliable sources" have another; if Sheena's brother Mikhail Bora tells the media his own version, "close friends" say something completely different. And without restraint, the same has been carried by many publications.
(Views expressed by the writer are personal. He tweets as @saha_abhi1990)
For complete HT coverage of the Sheena Bora murder case click here