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http://www.theguardian.com/world/
Jason Burke in Delhi
Wednesday 9 September 2015 09.39 BST


Rags-to-riches-to-remand story of Indrani Mukerjea is seen as moral fable about materialism, media and motherhood



The story has gripped India for weeks. Each new development prompts a surge of headlines. Every quote tops the TV bulletins. Even in a country which loves a good true crime story, the case is a sensational exception.

The facts appear straightforward. Indrani Mukerjea, India’s first female TV mogul, has been charged with the murder of her 25-year-old daughter, Sheena Bora, whose remains were found on wasteland three years ago but only identified recently. Police have said her two alleged accomplices have confessed, though there is no independent confirmation of this. From prison, Mukerjea maintains her innocence.

Yet the case is about much more than a simple murder investigation. Mukerjea’s rags-to-riches-to-remand story is being seen as a moral fable, underlining deep concerns about materialism, the media and motherhood in the emerging economic power.

“Here is a story about change, and those who embrace it for all the wrong reasons,” wrote commentator Dilip Bobb in Outlook magazine. “It is a story about the rich and how money and craving for high social status can distort values … [Mukerjea] is the female equivalent of Jay Gatsby, the mysterious millionaire of Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, which explored themes of decadence, social upheaval and excess.”

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« Reply #1 on: September 10, 2015, 07:07:21 PM »
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Indrani Mukerjea, seen at a press conference in 2007. Photograph: Mint/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

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« Reply #2 on: September 10, 2015, 07:08:14 PM »
There has been some criticism of the intense media coverage. Television debates have seen virulent attacks on Mukerjea’s alleged betrayal of her role as a mother.

But soaring ratings have trumped most reservations. “It is a tabloid gold mine,” said Rajesh Sundaram, an Indian media consultant who once worked for Mukerjea.

The tycoon grew up far from the booming cities of Delhi, India’s capital, and Mumbai, its commercial powerhouse. She was born to a middle-class family in the north-east state of Assam but, like many, sought escape from the provinces. Local media has portrayed her as “a ruthless social climber”, recounting unconfirmed anecdotes of pushy materialism. A few describe a vivacious, ambitious, sharp-witted entrepreneur who launched a successful human resources company in what is still a patriarchal and conservative country, and in 2008 was named one of 50 “Women to Watch” by the Wall Street Journal.

It is Mukerjea’s personal life that has attracted most attention, and condemnation. Two of her children – Sheena and a son – came from a first relationship in her twenties. Later Mukerjea married a “member of [the] swish set” in Kolkata and gained access to the eastern city’s “upper crust”, according to local reports. By 2002, however, that relationship had broken up and she met and then married her current husband, 59-year-old Peter Mukerjea, a well-known and respected Mumbai-based media tycoon. In 2006 the couple set up a TV network.

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« Reply #3 on: September 10, 2015, 07:09:14 PM »
The Mukerjeas lived in one of Mumbai’s most exclusive areas and were a fixture of the city’s glitzy social scene. As business affairs soured the couple spent more time overseas, particularly in the UK. In 2011, Bora, by then an adult, got a job in another of India’s proliferating media companies in Mumbai.

Every facet of Bora’s personal life has been pored over in recent weeks, with newspapers publishing her diaries and reporters climbing over the walls of her childhood home to interview relatives.

Chandita Sahariah, a school friend in the city of Guwahati, described the dead woman as a “beautiful and bright student”.

“Her personal problems didn’t reflect in her personality, she used to carry her mum’s passport photo all the time. She loved her mum,” Sahariah, 27, said.

In 2012, Bora, who may have been in a relationship with the son of her mother’s second husband, disappeared. An investigation was launched this summer after police in Mumbai received a tip-off and Indrani Mukerjea’s chauffeur reportedly claimed he had been paid 100,000 rupees (£1,000) to help in the murder of the young woman.

Police have been unable to establish any motive for the killing and Indrani Mukerjea maintains her daughter went to the US to study, as the children of many wealthy Indians do, and disappeared there. There is no suggestion that Peter Mukerjea was involved in or aware of any wrongdoing at any stage.

One possible explanation for India’s fascination with stories of salacious crimes involving the rich and the famous is that they reassure those disorientated or disadvantaged by rapid economic and cultural change. All involve individuals who, though they appear to be among the winners in contemporary India, are losers in the long run.

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« Reply #4 on: September 10, 2015, 07:10:06 PM »
Last week one newspaper described a murder case involving the flamboyant scion of one of India’s biggest financial companies as a reminder of “how fast all the glitter can fade in a capricious manner at weird spots of destiny”.

The attention focused on the Mukerjea investigations recalls the frenzy prompted by the jailing of two dentists for the murder of their 14-year-old daughter, Aarushi, and a male housekeeper in 2008. They maintain their innocence, and were backed by large numbers of independent experts and commentators.

Avirook Sen, author of an acclaimed book on the case, said it shared common ingredients with the Mukerjea affair.

“The murder of Aarushi occurred in a suburb that was a kind of middle-class idyll or dream. That kind of thing was not supposed to happen there. And though [the victim] was just into puberty she was young and pretty.”

The case also featured accusations of poor police work and prejudicial reporting. Unsubstantiated details of the teenager’s sexual activity, and the father’s supposed jealousy, were supposedly leaked by police to journalists during the investigation.

Sundaram, the media consultant, pointed out that such subject matter attracted attention all over the world.

“Yes, there is something in the [Mukerjea] story which is about the new India but it is also universal.”



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