Chopped body in 35 pieces’, ‘ground intestines to keema’, ‘refrigerated the head’—these gory details of Shraddha Walker murder case has captured the nation’s attention, with news channels deconstructing Delhi Police’s information-feed like the last word on the case. And viewers are seemingly bewitched, hooked to their TV sets, wanting more.
To satiate this hunger and keep the TRPs going, reporters are barging into the crime scene just to get visuals of the fridge where Shraddha’s body parts were allegedly stuffed or the room where the macabre crime took place. Camera crew are in the jungle where the police are carrying out a search operation to find the victim’s mortal remains. The crime scene is also being recreated inside studios to show how accused Aftab Amin Poonawalla may have “slaughtered the woman, bit by bit, using a saw”.
The grisly crime has also become a source of entertainment as well as anti-Muslim hatred with many imbrute memes doing the rounds on the internet.
What is it about a heinous crime that gets Indians hooked? Before this Mehrauli case, there was Congress leader Sushil Sharma who had killed his wife and dumped her body in a tandoor, a software engineer who killed his wife and cut her body in 70 pieces in Dehradun and the Nithari murders—all of which Indians consumed with avid interest.
Why do people lose sight of facts, focussing just on the grim and gore?
But the fact that they do makes Shraddha Walker’s murder ThePrint’s Newsmaker of the Week.
Also read: Jealousy, love & murder: Before Shraddha, there was killing of Neeraj Grover & gory tandoor case
It was on 18 May that 28-year-old Aftab Poonawalla allegedly strangled his live-in partner Shraddha. A day after, police said he bought a 300-litre fridge for Rs 19,000 to store the body and also use it generally.
Aftab was arrested by the Delhi Police on Saturday and reportedly confessed to the murder, saying he cut up his girlfriend in 35 pieces and disposed them of in Mehrauli jungle over a period of time. According to the police, 13 pieces — suspected to be of Shraddha’s — have been found so far.
These are facts. Now comes the details that grab the most eyeballs.
“Aftab used to slap Shraddha’s head, which he had kept in the fridge”, “he would often talk to the severed head”. There is always an audience for such details as most people have “voyeuristic tendencies”, according to Dr Nimesh Desai, consultant psychiatrist and former director at Institute of Human Behaviour and Allied Sciences.
“People have always been interested in crime thrillers. While one is natural curiosity, the other factor is the voyeuristic tendencies in humans,” Desai added.
People derive vicarious pleasure from these ‘stories’. “Although they understand that what has happened is horrific, there is a part of them that finds it appealing, just to watch something happen to someone else.”
Criminal psychologist Anuja Trehan Kapur calls it a way for people to “get out of their own miseries for a while”.
“People get a kick out of this. It is entertainment because for some time, it makes them forget their miseries. They get something to talk about which keeps them motivated. A wife will talk to her husband about it, with her own friends, this will become part of an office discussion and everyone will have something more to add,” she said.
Desai added that society and the media have played a big role in “feeding this vicarious streak.” In such cases of crime, reality trumps fiction.
“People forget that this is not a fictional story, this is something that has happened to a woman, whose family must be watching it too. Just imagine their condition. This needs to be addressed,” Dr Desai said.
‘Psychopath, not mentally ill’
Viewers have a morbid fascination for the workings of the criminal mind.
Kapur says the people committing such crimes are “narcissists who enjoy the limelight”. “They confess in detail because they believe they are being glorified,” she said.
Mental health experts are of the view that the perpetrators are often emotionally isolated. Aftab reportedly had a history of being an abuser.
Going by the police version available in public domain, Aftab is widely being seen as a “psychopath” whose hallmark, according to Dr Desai, is “self-preservation and self-promotion”.
“They are egocentric people who think the whole world is centred around them. They are emotionally cold, indifferent, lack a sense of guilt and usually engage in manipulated behaviour,” Desai said. “But they should not be confused with mentally ill. People with mental illness do not execute such crimes,” he said.
Also read: Blood traces at home, CCTV images — what Delhi Police have found so far in Shraddha murder case
People losing sight of facts
The case may have captured the slot on primetime, but people, including the media, have been losing sight of the facts.
Until now, all the police have is a disclosure statement from Aftab and how he went about executing the murder and disposing Shraddha’s body. His statement holds no evidentiary value in the court of law, unless the police corroborate each claim with material evidence, including witnesses.
Did Shraddha live in that house? Was she strangled, stabbed or her throat was slit? Do the 13 bones that have been found from Mehrauli jungle are the mortal remains of Shraddha? Did Aftab really chop the body into 35 parts using a saw? Nothing has been established yet. These are mere claims—made either by the police or by Aftab himself.
According to sources in the Delhi Police, the bones recovered have been sent for a forensic examination, which will ascertain if they are Shraddha’s. In such cases, the police go for a skeletal reconstruction of the dead person.
To establish death, the police need to ascertain which region do the recovered bones belong to. If these are bones from a hand or a foot, it doesn’t establish murder. But if it is a skull bone, or bones from the spine or pelvic area, then it establishes death. Moreover, the DNA extracted from the recovered bones will be matched with the DNA of Shraddha’s father. A positive match will be a crucial piece of evidence.
For all the headlines, however, the police have their work cut out. As of now, what has emerged are only theories; putting together the evidence will be a long, arduous task.
Views are personal.
(Edited by Prashant)