On Monday afternoon while Prime Minister Narendra Modi flew, serenely, out of New Delhi, perhaps flying over Chhatarpur forest, little did he or anyone realise that his visit to Bali for the G20 summit would be overshadowed by 35 body parts that lay scattered below.
Little did he know that the ‘Murder Most Foul’ (India Today) of Shraddha Walkar, ‘Murdered, Chopped, Dumped’ (CNN News 18) by her live-in partner, the alleged ‘psycho killer’ (ABP News) Aftab Poonawala and the subsequent police investigation into the ‘horrific’ (Republic TV) ‘spine-chilling’ (CNN News 18) crime would captivate the media, leading to demands — ‘Punish this monster’ (News X), ‘He should be hanged’ (Times Now), ‘Justice for Shraddha’ (Republic TV).
In the last three days, with the PM busy attending summit meetings, bilateral talks, ceremonial events and taking over the presidency of G20 for a year, we expected carpet coverage across India’s news channels, all of which had sent out correspondents/editors to Bali, Indonesia.
Instead, they must have had plenty of time to sun-bathe and sightsee temples in this picturesque island resort, for, besides fleeting videos and photographs of PM Modi shaking hands with US President Joe Biden, China’s President Xi Jinping or Britain’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, and his speeches at the G20 summit closing ceremony Wednesday and to the Indian diaspora Tuesday, there was virtually no coverage of the Bali visit.
How could he, or a mere 19 heads of state of the world’s leading economies, including the US, China, France, Canada, and Britain, compete with a ‘cold-blooded murderer’ (India Today), possibly the ‘grizzliest in a decade’ (Republic TV)? He who had, reportedly, strangulated his live-in partner, ‘chopped her into 35 pieces’ (Times Now), stored the ‘tukde tukde’ (TV9 Bharatvarsh) in a newly-purchased refrigerator, and then thrown the dismembered body parts in different locations of the nearby jungle, over several weeks in May?
How can ‘Modi’s magic’ (Zee News), the Biden-Xi meeting, and even the war in Ukraine, beat the simple, blood-curdling confession, ‘Yes, I killed her’ (Republic TV)? For news channels, these failed the TRP test—news channels gambled with ‘yeh dil maange’ more and more of the ‘Murder that keeps India awake’ (CNN News 18).
The need for sensitivity when covering such a crime seems not to have occurred to them. Aftab’s ‘gruesome revelations’ (India Today), as claimed by the Delhi Police, dominated the news cycle from Monday to Wednesday, and will probably continue to do so until the hunt for Shraddha’s remains, the murder weapon and forensic tests confirm the reported version of events.
To be fair, broadcast news shared its fascination for this crime with print and online news – the entire media has been running up to the Chhatarpur flat where Shraddha and Aftab lived and racing down to retrace his footsteps to the jungle nearby where he reportedly disposed of the body parts. They also rushed to the Apex hospital he visited to have knife wounds on his arm treated, and probably found the shops where he allegedly purchased the refrigerator and the knife/saw (CNN News 18) to ‘hack’ (News X) the body.
Also read: TV news calls it ‘murder’ on Gujarat’s Morbi bridge, offers many questions and fewer answers
Chilling details of a chilling crime by a man, chilling
In this grisly saga of the young woman from Vasai in Maharashtra, who had ‘sought marriage but got murder instead’ (India Today), no detail seems to have been too small or lurid for ‘loud and clear breaking news’ (TV9 Bharatvarsh). Thanks to the extraordinary efforts of TV reporters – and their olfactory senses – we know that there was the odour of rotting flesh in the jungle and in the flat (ABP News) where the two stayed; we know he was evidently inspired by the US TV series Dexter (Republic TV), that he chopped the body in the bathroom under the running shower (Republic TV), cut the body first at the joints “so there was not much blood” (CNN News 18), and packed the pieces into plastic bags before storing them in the refrigerator (Aaj Tak), which he paid for using Shraddha’s credit card – so she “paid” for storing her own body, remarked the Times Now anchor after sharing this piece of information. In the lower section of the fridge, he kept the bags he intended to dispose of immediately; in the upper freezer, the bags for later disposal were kept, claimed the CNN News 18 reporter—see what we meant by ‘detail’?
Reporters were shocked by the alleged murderer’s sangfroid: after using room fresheners and agarbatti for the stench of the body, Aftab, would order food, have parties, date other women (Aaj Tak), and stay with the body for several weeks.
The doctor who treated his wounds at the nearby clinic achieved instant fame with his TV interviews in which he called Aftab ‘arrogant’. Channels also sought out Aftab every opportunity they got by thrusting the TV microphones into the vehicles ferrying him – “Why did you commit the murder, Aftab?” asked the Times Now reporter repeatedly. “Aftab, kyon kiya?” Aftab shrank into the scarf covering his face and gave no reply. But the police revealed it was because Shraddha accused him of “promiscuity” (India Today). By Wednesday evening, NDTV 24×7 said on the day of the murder, they fought over household expenses.
And so it goes on and on….
News channels found Aftab fast asleep behind bars in his prison cell at the Mehrauli police station. Well. “Unmoved, he sleeps,” commented an outraged Republic TV reporter.
Shraddha’s father and friends were spoken to – she “changed” after meeting Aftab – neighbours were questioned about what they had seen and even what they hadn’t: an NDTV 24×7 reporter pestered a neighbour who had moved in just a month earlier. “Did you see them? Did you see them?” How could the person have when Shraddha had died in May?
The police, psychiatrists and psychologists weighed in, too: “such people justify themselves – they feel no guilt,” said Dr Deepak Raheja (India Today). They don’t experience “remorse,” added Dr Nimesh Desai (Zee News).
By Tuesday afternoon, channels claimed ‘10 body parts had been found’, and ‘large bone from lower back recovered’ (Republic TV). But the channels were sad: the skull was still missing despite “Cops’ desperate search for Shraddha’s head” (Times Now), Wednesday.
The one question anchors and reports had no answer to was, why was the murder committed? ‘What explains the depravity?’ asked CNN News 18. By the way, it needs to be said that from what we know the murder itself was not particularly “horrifying” or “gruesome”, etcetera – the manner of the body’s disposal was.
Expect more “chilling” details in the days to come.
Meanwhile, if it’s murder you want, here’s more: “…private parts of a BJP member chopped off’ in Karnataka (Republic TV) and, “Man chops Hindu lover in three parts – Shraddha like murder in Bangladesh” (Times Now).
The author tweets @shailajabajpai. Views are personal.
(Edited by Prashant)