The Sheena Bora murder case has been discussed to the point where speculation has taken over. Yet in the rush to create hashtags and the frenzy of Breaking News, let us not forget the essential facts. Sheena disappeared three years ago and, it so appears, was brutally murdered. Most importantly, those around her knew what was happening. The extended and seemingly dysfunctional network of relationships and connections were aware that something was wrong. And kept quiet. It was the Conspiracy of Silence. The same conspiracy of silence that exists in other families even today.
Every angle, every triangle of relationships that Indrani Mukherjea had or possibly could have had has been openly talked about. Sheena’s life has similarly been put under a microscope. Jokes about Indrani have gone viral and yet we have an appetite for more. Mikhail Bora is a household name and Peter Mukherjea’s cry that he knew nothing has been beamed into every drawing room.
The question asked when the story first broke was about how a girl, part of an affluent and cosmopolitan family and society, disappeared and no one got to know. Why did Peter Mukherjea not know? Why did Rahul, her fiancé by all accounts, not cry foul? Where are all her friends and why did they not ask about her? How were no questions asked within the extended family? Why were no eyebrows raised? Why did no one make a noise? Why was it no one’s business then? And how is it everyone’s business today?
The conspiracy of silence that families adopt when dealing with an inconvenient truth and in this case an inconvenient daughter is a stark reality. Everyone can see the truth but choose to look away, for that is the convenient option. Often driven by existing power equations, money, greed, or as Shekhar Gupta aptly puts it: “We need to understand that in that weakest of all moments, when a human being commits a horrible crime, every human being is the same: fearful, greedy, vulnerable, stupid, classless, casteless and guilty. There are no mitigating factors.” (Too Low? The News Peter, Indrani Mukherjea Sought, Shekhar Gupta, NDTV.com, 1 September 2015). We agree with you, Mr Gupta, and society needs to hold people accountable not only for their criminal actions, but also for their complicity due to their silence.
Some crimes are not as final as murder but are equally deadly. In families, wrong actions that result in compromising the rights of another human being are often overlooked or condoned by family members hiding under the all-pervading izzat. In the name of izzat, people look the other way when a daughter is beaten, forgotten, marginalised or done away with. They choose to look away, seeing and yet not seeing. Deeply complicit as the chief tormentors continue to grow stronger and transform themselves.
“The ones who kill are high on aggression and low on empathy. Often the women may not have formed an identity of their own. Their identity may be linked to money or power or honour in the community which they are not ready to give up when it is threatened, even by their own children,” points out Dr Simmi Waraich, a psychologist (Blood and honour: When ‘parent’ turns into monstrous killer, Chitleen K Sethi, The Hindustan Times, 1 September 2015).
In my book, Daughter By Court Order the extended family is aware that one daughter of the family has been left out. That she does not exist in the family tree presented in court thus wiping out her very identity. The court case spans over a decade, yet the conspiracy of silence is so great that Aranya does not find out. And the family I describe does not belong to a medieval small town or some remote village. They are exactly like the Mukherjeas were a month ago: decent, honourable folk. The mother plans it and the brother executes it with finesse, the daughter-in-law ably assists and the saintly uncle Yudi mama gives active guidance. The extended Dhari clan looks away while Deep from Seattle shouts, “I am not interested in the merits of the case,” threatening dire consequences if Aranya says anything about the family. Anything that may muddy its izzat and compromise its social standing. Women like Kamini, Aranya’s mother, seem to have the ability to get the men around them to do things that seem bizarre. Similar to Indrani and her husbands from all accounts. All’s fair in love and war but surely not in murder. On a lighter note, it is difficult to get present husbands to do what you want leave alone ex-husbands!
Each person who looks away, aids or abets this conspiracy of silence is responsible in their own unique way for snuffing out someone’s dreams. If not their life. And while we speculate on the unfolding sordid story of Sheena Bora and Indrani Mukherjea let us promise ourselves not to shy away from asking inconvenient questions about inconvenient daughters. And to hold people accountable for their actions. For in silence too, there is complicity and blame. All who know and do nothing are responsible for the outcome. And need to be asked questions and held accountable.
~ Ratna Vira
Ratna Vira is the Founding Director of the DBCO Forum for Women