Aarushi to Sheena: What makes butchering a child so easy?

Tragic as their brutal murders are, they wouldn't be the last victims.

 |  Tarar Square  |  6-minute read |   08-09-2015
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There is nothing worse than the death of a child. There is no pain worse than that of a parent burying a child. There is no fate worse than living with the memory of a child who left the world leaving his parents to live for the rest of their very long lives without him. I don't know how to word this eruditely, but to me, as the mother of one child who is my heart, I can't begin to imagine what those who lose their children go through, dying a million times after they bury their child. With quiet incredulity at the enormity of the loss, I've seen many people around me go through this pain - pain may be too insufficient a word - feeling lost in my heart and mind to even imagine what they go through. Even as a child, I remember going cold whenever I heard of a child dying. As a mother, I know there is nothing that affects me more than my son's tears, the look of pain in his eyes, the anguish in his words… notwithstanding the brevity or depth of his condition. As a mother, I don't know how mothers lose their children… and live. A life worse than death… who knows.

I kept hearing the name Aarushi intermittently in the last one year whenever I turned to Indian talk shows on a particular case my name had become inextricably entangled with. And then I heard about a book titled Aarushi by Avirook Sen, and slightly curious I turned to the online information on the case. The first time I looked at 14-year-old Aarushi's picture, my heart broke. Her full-of-life eyes, her beautiful, almost shy smile, her dressed-like-all-teenagers, lanky, slightly awkward poses… Aarushi held my attention, and I prayed for her soul to be at peace, hoping justice had been done.

For days, I saw the videos of talk shows, "investigative" shows, analyses, and judgments couched as discussions on her brutal murder, and read everything that was available on her case, even the almost 200-page court verdict sentencing her parents for life for her murder. Who killed her, and why… God only knows, or those who killed her. I'm in no position to pass a verdict on parents who loved their daughter, and then saw their lives play out in the full view of a voyeuristic media, a public that was ready to condemn based on information provided by the media, and the police that relied on confessions and hypothesis than forensic science. Did her parents kill her? As a human being, I believe human beings are capable of doing the unmentionable, crossing lines that are beyond comprehension, inflicting brutality that is inhuman - the mere irony of that. As a mother, my mind refuses to believe that.

My mind kept wandering, despite my failed efforts, to the two pictures of Aarushi on her bed. Frail, as fragile as a child, lying as straight as a…corpse, a bit of her tiny waist and flat midriff visible below her blue t-shirt. I froze looking at her still body in those unclear pictures. Her lustrous dark hair spread on the pillow with blood encircling her face and neck, turned to the other side. Someone killed the very young Aarushi with a blow to her head. And then that same person slit her throat. That is the brutality that makes that very, very horrific murder even worse than your worst nightmare. Killing a child… slitting her throat. The methodical heartlessness to straighten her body, the clinical iciness required to take a sharp instrument and push it deep enough to cut the carotid artery, the brute inhumanity to butcher a child.

Then came Sheena Bora. Another dead woman, or presumably dead at the time the news broke out. Amidst the media circus surrounding the alleged killer, the mother-sister Indrani Mukerjea, the stones being hurled from all sides, the bit-by-bit salacious image-sketching of a heartless, conniving, murdering medusa, I saw the young Sheena being reduced into a photograph of an attractive, vivacious woman, juxtaposed with pictures of a vibrant, an equally attractive Indrani, dramatising the screen. The media circus of shrill anchors and their unable-to-hide-their-talons-fangs-and glee panelists…of malicious society columnists pontificating to be great mothers; a mother who had disowned her own daughter; has-been actors; a two-bit TV actress with huge sunglasses and a small heart; a renowned journalist gnawing into Indrani's past; a former Star network female honcho calmly shredding Indrani into bits, covered in the green of envy; a celebrity writer of shady novels adjectivising Indrani a ruthless Shakespearean character. The then 24-year-old Sheena became the sideshow. Sheena was not a person any more. Sheena was just another unknown young woman who was being used to drag a famous woman, in this case her mother, through slime.

Why people do what they do… who is to say? Someone killing his/her child is beyond the limits of my limited comprehension of humanity, but that does not erase the existence of those dead bodies. Killing your child is not the disintegration of the family system. Killing your child is the disintegration of your very humanity, of the very basis of what makes you human. In the case of Indrani and Sheena, the very dynamic of mother-daughter did not exist right from the beginning, taking away the accepted foundation of mother-child relationship: the one who gives birth to you is the one who can die for you. Here the daughter was born unwanted, and was given away to live away from the mother. There is no earth-shaking demolition of trust, and confidence, and a sense of security, and the love that was taken away. None of that ever existed, so why the assumption of betrayal? An unwanted child grew up into the young woman who made you uncomfortable, a family member who becomes a part of your life, but not your heart. What happened, and why Sheena was killed… who the hell knows. It does not even matter in the big scheme of things. What matters is a young woman was killed, and forgotten. Sheena Bora ceased to exist one April day in 2012. That to me is the biggest tragedy.

Sheena was strangled. And Sheena's lovely face was mutilated, her body burnt, and stuffed into a suitcase. Sheena was buried in a hastily-dug hole in a forest where many such bodies are reportedly dumped. A smiling, laughing, stylishly-dressed woman, full of dreams about her future, was killed for God knows what. Nothing justifies it. Nothing.

Sheena may be one of the countless persons killed for nothing in this world every day, but Sheena managed to rise from the dead, and demand justice for her death.

As the media crucifixion of her alleged killer continues, one un-anaesthetised nail at a time, Sheena's tragedy hits me again. Killed, mutilated, burnt, left to be eaten by animals. No prayer, no funeral, no pyre, no memorial. From a young woman who had everything to a few charred skeletal remains. To die for nothing, and to be forgotten like you never existed. The macabre, heartbreaking reality of an unwanted child.

Aarushi and Sheena weren't the first and the last victims of brutal murders, and they - tragic as hell as it is - wouldn't be the last ones. Since time immemorial human beings have unleashed barbarity on one another, and no amount of anthropological, sociological, psychological, and moral studies would suffice to decipher what makes anyone kill an unarmed, defenceless, harmless human being. As for people like me, a mother like me, as I remain haunted by images of dead children of other mothers, all I do is…send a prayer. Many prayers. Their lives were taken away from them, but…. may their souls rest in peace.

Writer

Mehr Tarar Mehr Tarar @mehrtarar

A former op-ed editor of Daily Times, Pakistan, and a freelance columnist.

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