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Top Story:Case of female TV mogul accused of daughter's murder grips India

Case of female TV mogul accused of daughter's murder grips India.

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.”

Related: Indian woman accused
of killing daughter over affair with stepbrother

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

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.

Peter Mukerjea, the
husband of Indrani. Photograph: Imago/Hindustan Times/Barcroft Media
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.

Indian police escort
Indrani Mukerjea from a court in Mumbai on 31 August. Photograph: Indranil
Mukherjee/AFP/Getty Images
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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