Since the story broke, fresh evidence and information in the Shraddha Walkar murder case has been emerging daily, keeping it the focus of prime time news. Aaftab Poonawala’s alleged, macabre act has ignited both simmering rage and a nationwide debate on the problem of evil.
This tragedy seems to have sparked off extensive coverage of a spate of similar, horrific crimes lately. Consider these three headlines on the city page of this newspaper on a random weekday: ‘Body found in suitcase’, ‘Ex-Navy man killed, body chopped into 6 parts’ and ‘Man held for chopping body in Azamgarh’. Dismemberment, honour killings, grisly sacrifices, the disturbing level of savagery involved in all these incidents remind us yet again that the human capacity for cruelty knows no bounds.
The most obvious question in the Walkar case is, even if in a fit of madness the perpetrator committed murder, how crazy must he be to saw a corpse into pieces and shove body parts in a refrigerator? The less obvious question that applies to all of us spectators: why do we pour over these gruesome, bone-chilling descriptions? Going by the reams of newsprint dedicated to Poonawala-Walkar, and the tonnes of crime shows trending on Netflix, clearly, as a species, we have a morbid preoccupation with psychopaths and creeps.
Perhaps, subconsciously analysing the lurid details of real-life horror forces us to confront our own (carefully concealed) dark sides. Knowledge of the inner world of a killer serves as a quasi warning, to exert control over our own baser impulses.
Pertinently, deeply irrational behavior, like the Ryan International School incident where a high school student slit the throat of a 7-year-old child, confounds our ideas of the way things are supposed to be. The benefits, if any, when our sensibilities are grossly violated by injustice are that they lay bare certain uncomfortable truths about life. That peoples’ early experiences differ, tragically; and privilege isn’t just about having access to education and wealth. Growing up in a loving, secure home is a wondrous and all-too-rare privilege, too. Walker continued in a toxic relationship after predicting Poonawala would murder her because estrangement with her own family isolated her completely. Similarly, the reasons someone turns into a dangerous predator are complicated. It is worth remembering that along with the victims of crime, those who commit them were once people like you and me. We’re better off critically examining their monstrous motivations than threatening mob fury.
Delhi Crime Season One on Netflix, a riveting account of the Nirbhaya case, features a couple of episodes where the rapists describe, in sickening detail, how events unfolded that fateful night. It’s hard to watch and impossible to forget, especially in the absence of penitence. That somebody could do something heinous and not be in search of redemption is an unacceptable affront to our moral compass. To quote the Bible, the way of the wicked is like the darkest gloom; they know not what makes them stumble.
Nirbhaya is gone, the culprits hanged, justice has been served, so to say. Still, it seems a tad perverse that exactly 10 years later, she’s a hazy memory but the men who killed her live on via shows, biopics and documentaries. Filmmakers understand instinctively that the audience is fascinated and repelled by outcasts in equal measure — so the hapless casualty is reduced to a mere prop to take the story forward. Along with a future, the lives they led, their hopes and dreams, died with them.
It’s a sobering thought, that mankind can reach the moon and robots can perform heart surgery, amongst the thousands of other astonishing technological advancements happening every day. Yet, at the end of it, humans will always be ruled by emotions.
Every now and then, the troubled will go rogue, till kingdom come.
The writer is director, Hutkay Films