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Rarely has a crime shocked India as much as the murder of Shraddha Walkar.

The last time we felt so strongly was after the gang rape and murder of Nirbhaya. But in that case, as horrified as we were, we had additional concerns as well: about women’s safety and the failure of the authorities to create an environment where such crimes were not so common.


In the Shraddha case, it is the demonic nature of the crime that has horrified us. The police say that Aftab Poonawalla, Shraddha’s boyfriend of three years, allegedly killed her in a fit of rage. Having murdered her, he then cut her body into 35 pieces. He bought a 300-litre fridge to store the body parts.


   Each day, he would wait till late in the night/early in the morning, before taking one set of body parts and disposing of them in the Mehrauli forest. According to the police, he was so completely without remorse that in the months that followed, he brought several other women to the house he had shared with Shraddha (often women he had met through the dating app Bumble where he had first met Shraddha) and proceeded to romance them. In a particularly grisly touch, he was not deterred by the fact that his dead girlfriend's head was in the fridge while he went about his romancing.


   From all accounts, Poonawala was the opposite of a hardened criminal. He could have been your or my neighbour. He was a food blogger with 28,000 followers on Instagram. In his Instagram bio, he described himself as a “food and beverage consultant and food photographer.”


   After news of the murder broke, I checked out his Instagram account. Judging by the posts, he was obviously regarded highly enough to be paid to give publicity to restaurants. There were photos of dim sum from Pa Pa Ya, of drinks and Chinese food from the Taj Santacruz in Mumbai, of a bottle of Royal Stag whisky and so on.


   In other words, a perfectly normal food blogger. Not a person you would think had a criminal side or was a homicidal maniac. Not a pyscho.


   And yet, he was capable of this gruesome crime. (I am basing the assumption of his guilt on his admission to the police that he committed his crime and the fact that he led the police to the spots where he had disposed of the body parts and the murder weapon. But of course, he is entitled to due process.)


   As horrified as we all are by the murder, my concern goes beyond the immediate. What matters is: what happens next?


   I can make a guess. Poonawala will be denied bail, will stay in jail and the police will build a case against him. This will take a year. Then the case will go to trial. This could take several years. Even high-profile murder cases take so long to be heard that most people just lose interest.


 "My point is that because public memory is short and our justice system is broken, it is becoming rarer and rarer for us to punish the perpetrators of gruesome crimes."

   Let’s take the Sheena Bora murder case, which so transfixed the nation. According to the police, the murder took place in 2012. Sheena’s mother Indrani Mukerjea was arrested in 2015. Seven years later, the case is still being heard. There is no telling when the proceedings will end, or when a verdict will be handed down. Given that the accused in the case are people of means, they will certainly appeal if they are found guilty. That process will drag on for another ten years.


   I offer the Sheena case as an example because it was so high profile and a particularly horrific crime was alleged to have been committed: a mother murdering her own daughter.


   But the truth is that such delays are common in the vast majority of cases. The accused go to jail, public memory fades, they get bail and resume their lives, and the victim is forgotten.


   Sometimes, when there is a political angle, such as in the Bilkis Bano gang rape and murder, the accused do end up being found guilty in a relatively short span of time. But, if they are on the right side of the ruling establishment, their time in jail is made easier by frequent paroles. And eventually their sentences are commuted. Even when the crime is as serious as the assassination of a Prime Minister, death sentences are commuted and unrepentant murderers are let out of prison to tell the eager media that they are ‘freedom fighters.’


   A public uproar may follow — as has happened in the Bilkis Bano and Rajiv Gandhi assassination cases — but it rarely makes much difference. The released convicts usually vanish and rarely is the matter followed up.


   It is not my case that Poonawala committed the grisly murder of his girlfriend because he thought he could get away with it — though all the evidence suggests that he genuinely believed that he had got away scot-free. Perhaps he would have killed his girlfriend anyway, regardless of the state of our justice system.


   My point is that because public memory is short and our justice system is broken, it is becoming rarer and rarer for us to punish the perpetrators of gruesome crimes; the rapists and murderers who are the maggots in every society. We make a huge noise when we arrest them but then they disappear into the bowels of the justice system and we lose interest in what has happened to them.


   For instance, how many of us knew that the men sent to jail in the Bilkis Bano case spent a lot of their time out on parole when we thought they were locked up? Did we even notice that at least two of them were named in FIRs for other crimes while they were out on parole? And what about Baba Ram Rahim, who is given parole by the political establishment whenever he can help with electioneering?


   The truth is that once the initial shock and horror fade, our interest also fades.


   The police know that. So, they file huge chargesheets with 500 or more witnesses knowing that it will take many years to examine them all. The courts also know this. Hearings are spread far apart and often during the life of a case, the judge is transferred and the whole process has to begin again.


   Lawyers know this only too well. Often, they prefer to delay big cases where public opinion is ranged against their clients till memories fade and public interest moves on. Jail authorities also know this. As we have seen in so many cases over the last two months, well-heeled criminals need not suffer while in jail: some continue to run their criminal operations in comfort from prison.


   In short, nearly everything about the justice and penal system in India is in a state of collapse. Justice is rarely easy to deliver. Enterprising criminals, rapists, murders, politicians and gangsters do not necessarily get the punishment they deserve. And because we, on the outside, only follow the headlines that accompany the arrests and then move on, we don’t realise how bad things have got.


   So, it is not enough to be shocked by the actions of Aftab Poonawala, food-blogger-turned-murderer. We must follow this case closely. We should not rest till all the victims of such terrible crimes are avenged and the perpetrators are punished.




  • Siddhartha 19 Nov 2022

    Please donot make public memory the party in criminal justice system,the justice must not be guided by public opinion, there is a procedure to deliver the justice.The Police, the Court the ,the Poltics all of them least care what they are paid for.We are on our own, that is why is suggested to all commoner irrespective of caste, creed,religion, gender, plz play safe no one will come in your defence ever-living or posthumously.

  • Pawan H 17 Nov 2022

    When you say, "we must follow closely", who is "we"? I am guessing it is not average man on the street, and I hope you mean journalists. Frankly the Indian media is also in a state of collapse. We need front page headlines/prime time debates when criminals are left on parole. That is the main thing that needs to change. Journalists easily hop from one story to another without giving any conclusion. Hence, we (the average indian) have stopped watching news or reading newspaper

Posted On: 17 Nov 2022 10:55 AM
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