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Why we are so keen on demonising Indrani

By Shivam Vij
September 02, 2015 11:49 IST
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A lot of what we are hearing about Indrani is coming from our desire to demonise her and deny her humanity, says Shivam Vij.

IMAGE: Indrani and Peter Mukerjea, in happier times. Photograph: PTI Photo.

Until the Mumbai police reveals what they think was the motive behind Indrani Mukerjea killing Sheena Bora, most of our understanding of the case will be based on hearsay from sources unwilling to name themselves, partisan narratives and speculation.

Even after the Mumbai police tells us what they think was the murder motive, there is one version which will be missing, that of Indrani. Whatever Indrani's legal team will say in the days to come will be to give her whatever legal protection is possible. It will be a while before we really hear Indrani's version of what she did, and why.

That Indrani Mukerjea is as yet unable to give us her story, is perhaps the most important reason why the coverage of the case is so lopsided. Sooner than later, she will use this vilification of a media trial as a point of sympathy.

The media narrative so far shows Indrani Mukerjea as a villain with no shades of grey. It is bad enough to judge someone in absentia, much worse to completely vilify them when we haven't even heard their side of the story. The only thing we have reportedly heard from her lawyers is that the claim that the police is making her confess to crimes she did not commit.

Everyone is innocent until proven guilty, but let's say she did murder Sheena Bora. Anyone who commits a crime, must be punished. When people commit heinous crimes, we often use the word 'inhuman.' Terrorism, rape, murder are some of the things we like to call inhuman, an attempt to deny that human beings like you and me could do this. How could a woman kill her own sister/daughter? That's just not possible. And if it happens, we must portray the murderer as everything but human.

'Even animals care about their babies. Indrani cannot be categorised as a human,' an Assamese woman (external link) told the Times of India.

One of the claims emerging about Indrani Mukerjea should make us re-think how we are seeing her. That is the claim of her having been sexually abused and raped by her uncle, who brought her up. Child sexual abuse can wreck people's lives, it is a trauma that lives forever.

If Sheena Bora was born out of such rape when Indrani was a young woman, it is not hard to imagine what she must have gone through. And one can only applaud her courage in resilience in leaving behind that traumatic past in Guwahati and making a new life in Kolkata.

We are judging Indrani as this 'small-town' woman who was 'ambitious' and she'd do anything to further her ambition. It needs to be pointed out that being from a small town, being ambitious, or serial marriages -- none of these is a crime. We are judging her for dumping her children, but if the new claims about the parentage of the children are true, one needs to sympathise with both Indrani and the children.

None of this is to justify murder, but to point out Indrani Mukerjea was shaped by her circumstances and life experiences, as every criminal is. Whether she was a bad boss, whether she was embezzling money at her news channel, whether she used and threw people away -- a lot of what we are hearing about Indrani is coming from our desire to demonise her and deny her humanity.

It is interesting that her husband Peter Mukerjea has been calmly giving interviews that present him as an innocent man who trusted everything Indrani Mukerjea said. Yet, it has been reported that he refused to be part of a joint interrogation with Indrani.

It takes two to tango. If we are blaming Indrani Mukerjea for using men to rise up the ladder, what does it say about these men? There have been some reports making grave allegations against Peter Mukerjea's involvement in the dysfunctionality of the family. If these are true, we'll soon need to see Indrani and her life in a light less harsh.

High society, rich, greedy -- many of the terms being deployed against Indrani Mukerjea are seeking to distance her from the happy, normal world we think we live in. While Indrani must be brought to justice, we the people need to reflect on what the case tells us about our society.

Once we are past the whodunit voyeurism, we must start asking ourselves tough questions of child sexual abuse, honour killing and man-woman relations -- not just in the plush bungalows of Mumbai, but also in the colonies of cities like Guwahati.

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Shivam Vij