India is gripped by a celebrity murder case

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Aaron Schachter: India is consumed right now with a celebrity murder case. The victim was a young woman who was found dead in a forested area three years ago. Police now say she was a wealthy socialite named Sheena Bora, and last week they made some arrests in connection with the crime, sparking a media firestorm in India. Sandip Roy is an editor at Firstpost.com in Calcutta. He says this is one very complicated case.

 

Sandip Roy: In fact, I think a social media update that has been doing the rounds probably sums it up the best. It goes: A second wife of her third husband is charged, along with her second husband, of killing her daughter from her first husband, who “” the daughter “” was having an affair with her third husband’s son from his first wife. Clear as mud?

 

Schachter: Yeah, clear as mud, good work. Break it down for us.

 

Roy: Basically to break it down, what happened was that a couple of weeks ago Indrani Mukherjea, who is the wife of Peter Mukherjea, who is a big media honcho here, the former CEO of Fox-owned Star India TV network, she was arrested. First she was accused of having killed her sister in 2012 and dumped the body, along with her driver and her ex-husband. Then it turned out that the woman she was passing off as her sister was her daughter, and Peter claimed he didn’t even know that. And then a son surfaced who claimed that she had tried to poison him at the same time. In a further twist, the current husband, Peter, revealed that the missing girl was having an affair with his son from an earlier marriage, something the wife was dead set against. And for three years, this young woman, Sheena Bora, was gone. No one filed any missing person report. They just believed that she had deactivated her Facebook account and was living in the United States.

 

Schachter: I think you just laid it out as clearly as possible, but it’s all still really confusing. What is the possible motive for the woman to kill her sister-now-daughter?

 

Roy: Yeah, you have to understand that in this case there is--what is happening right now is an investigation. The only trial that’s happening is the media trial. So, all the motives and everything that are swirling around in Indian media are all coming from media, or as they say “sources close to the investigation.” The police have not stated the motive yet. But several motives that are doing the rounds are that there was a lot of money involved, that Peter Mukherjea and his wife had funneled away a lot of money from a failed media venture and some of that money was with Sheena Bora and she was refusing to return that money. There are stories about the mother being afraid that if Sheena Bora, in fact, married Peter’s son, then all his inheritance would pass to them and not to her other daughter by a second marriage, this other daughter belonged to the former who has been charged as an accomplice in this murder. But again, I have to say these are all theories that are out there, and what’s striking about this case is in the desperate rush to have wall-to-wall coverage of this case, media are coming up with theories every couple of hours. And nothing is off the table. Even rumors--unsubstantiated rumors about incest and things like that.

 

Schachter: In a way, this kind of sounds like India’s OJ Simpson moment.

 

Roy: In a way it is, except much of what happened with OJ Simpson happened during the course of the trial, and as I said, what is happening here right now is just an investigation. The only trial that’s happening is the “media trial.” And the danger of this also is that whether this woman is guilty or not of this horrible crime, she will one day have her day in court and giving her side of the story. But when the media is the self-appointed judge, jury, executioner, then it changes the complexion entirely because the media is going ahead and tracking down witnesses and family members before even the police can get to them.

 

Schachter: And also commenting on Indrani’s mothering abilities.

 

Roy: Yeah, absolutely. So, you know, there are socialites who are going on television, saying “Well, at least I’m a better mother. Even if I’ve neglected my children in other ways, I’m a better mother than Indrani.” So all in all, it has been a really ugly spectacle of seeing people, you know, using this case to drive a correlation between ambition and literally the killer instinct.

 

Schachter: Sandip Roy is senior editor at Firstpost.com. He joined us from Calcutta. Thanks as always, Sandip.

 

Roy: Thank you, Aaron. Pleasure.