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CENTRE for POLICY ANALYSIS

 

FROM THE DIRECTOR'S DESK
SEEMA MUSTAFA | NEW DELHI | 31 AUGUST, 2015

REAL LIFE COLD MURDER TURNED INTO A SEA OF FICTION IN YET ANOTHER TRIAL BY THE TV MEDIA

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One might not be speaking for the nation, being just an ordinary journalist and not a celebrity anchor, but I don’t think I will be far wrong in saying that a lot of sane citizens are hoping that the police crack the Indrani Mukherjea case soon so they can be spared the coverage of this crime by the television news channels.

It is amazing how anchors without the experience of even having covered a small crime story, turn into Sherlock Holmes with a posse of bimbettes, lawyers some of whom have not even cut their milk teeth, film critics and what have you as the back up to support every conjecture. Or should one say as the Watsons to their Holmes, as they all try and solve the mystery with the expertise of the ignorant.

And how do they do that? By attributing motives, by quoting unidentified police officers, by accepting one source ‘leaks’ and changing these by the day, if not by the hour. One channel has decided to pick Peter Mukherjea as the target, and the anchor here comes on in the evening every single day with the posse of ‘experts’ and goes about trying to lynch the husband. In the process the ‘experts’ analyse his relationship with Indrani, his sex life, his motives when actually he is not even an accused in the case till date. But no, say the better informed, he should be the accused, and the police should formally interrogate him.

Perhaps they should. Perhaps they have. Perhaps he is not wrong when he says he preferred to believe his wife. After all his wife seems to have been an adept liar, and perhaps Peter Mukherjea is right when he says he was besotted by her, and preferred to believe her. And if that is not so, as the bimbettes and the anchors would have us believe, then give us the evidence, conclusive proof before attacking a man’s reputation just because he is the celebrity in this story, and perhaps the one fetching the TRPs too.

What has been established so far in the story through confirmed sources:

1. The murder: Sheena was murdered that seems to be clear and conclusive. Indrani Mukherjea, her former husband, and her driver were involved. The police is sending skeletal remains for DNA testing now, as of today. It has managed to piece together the movements of the three with some level of credibility at the moment. The three are in police custody and are being interrogated

2. The motive: this has still to be established. There is no word out on this. And for this Indrani Mukherjea’s son, her husband Peter Mukherjea, and his son Rahul appear to be prime witnesses. None of them are the accused, they are being interrogated clearly to verify the murder, and to establish the motive without which the police case becomes extremely weak. 

3. The statements by at least one of the accused and all the main relatives mentioned above in the public domain string together a story. This if roughly pieced together from what they have said and not what anchors and television reporters have conjured up, runs roughly like this: 

a) The two children were born to Indrani when she was in Guwahati living with her parents. Sheena was the elder and Indrani was 17 or so when she gave birth to her.There are no details about her parents, only conflicting versions from the stories that Indrani herself spun. Vir Sanghvi, a journalist who had been employed by the couple to oversee the News X channel and who had a bitter falling out with them, now claims that Indrani told him that she was molested by her step-father. Rumours abound and some of these are being reported as facts by TV channels in an astonishing display of irresponsibility. The police needs to clarify her earlier years, the father of the two children (her son has confirmed that she is their mother and not sister), as this will have a direct bearing on the motive that drove her to kill her daughter. Her parents adopted the children as their own.

b) Indrani went to Kolkata and married Sanjeev Khanna. They divorced. They had a daughter who Peter Mukherjea virtually adopted. She studies in Bristol. Sanjeev Khanna is now a co-accused having participated in the murder, according to the police. 

c) Indrani went to Mumbai and married Peter Mukherjea.They led a charmed life. They co-founded a television network, they left with enough money to lead a life of leisure being part of Mumbai’s rich social circle. Sheena came and joined them in Mumbai and studied in St Xaviers and took up a job. All those who have appeared in television with a confirmed insight into this family’s life through regular constant dealings concur that one, relations between the family was normal; two, Sheena was very much part of their lives and was seen with them at many a social function and nothing ever appeared to be amiss.

d) Sheena had an affair with Mukherjea’s son Rahul. She told him that she was Indrani’s daughter and not sister. Rahul told Peter Mukherjea. Sheena also told Peter who, like Indrani, did not approve of the relationship. It is fair to assume that Sheena would have also shared details about the father but the Tv coverage is not asking this question. The answer to this will go a long way into understanding Indrani, and the possible motive for Sheena’s murder. 

e) Indrani has lied her way through. She did not inform her last two husbands about the first father of her two children. She did not even inform them about these children who according to the son, saw a photograph of her with Peter when they were in their late teens, and contacted her for money. And clearly she paid up, and continued paying, as her constant threats to stop the flow indicate. Again according to her son.

This is about all that is known with any level of certainty, from the police, the family itself, and close friends of theirs. But this is not sufficient to keep the 24 hour television news channels occupied and so every evening in particular, headed by the celebrity anchors, these race through speculation aided and abetted by panels of ‘experts’ ranging from housewives, to bimbettes, to green lawyers, to retired cops and celebrities. And hence hours are spent in trying to ‘expose’ Peter Mukherjea’s role with little information except what he might or might not have said to the channel; question his son Rahuls relationship with Sheena without being privy to any facts as he has been rather quiet; dub everyone the police questions as ‘guilty’ without realising that many of those going in and out of the police station might be there to corroborate or refute the statements of the accused and hence, helping the police to piece together the motive. 

Take a case in point: the Police Chief came out Friday night to make the points that the skeletal remains of the body were being sent for DNA examination, the third accused had confessed to the murder, and Sheena’s passport had been found in Dehradun. The last was a confirmation that she had not gone to the US as had been claimed by Indrani and goes into establishing the crime. The channel zoomed out of the press conference to ask how Rahul had Sheena’s passport, and why when he had it did he not question her mothers story. One was left groping to find out how Rahul had entered the story as the Police Commissioner had not mentioned him, and nor had the channel informed the viewers about the source for this claim. 

Television is running away with a story that has all the ingredients for TRP boosters. All news channels are competing with each other to ‘break’ the news first with speculation and rumours being turned into facts; investigation being little more than recording images of witnesses being called to the police station and building fanciful stories around each; and respect for the cold truth is being turned into a mockery. The print media has excelled by remaining well within the bounds of good journalism. Several newspapers have relegated the murder to the inside pages until front page placement is justified by real facts.

In the process of course the struggle being waged by the military veterans is forgotten by TV news as is the fact that the government celebrated the anniversary of the 1965 war without the presence of the servicemen who fought it. And the biggest political story of the day, Hardik Patel and his movement that has put PM Modi and his chief minister on notice has been virtually blacked out. Instead what Peter Mukherjea should not have done, or should have said according to the anchors and their guests—all Watsons mind you—is dominating Indian news. Or news as television would have it.

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