Naina Sahni’s body was burnt in a tandoor in a fancy restaurant in Delhi 25 years ago, and the nation has all but forgotten about it. The Tandoor Murder, a book by Maxwell Pereira, brings it all back. He was the head of the investigation, and he highlights some aspects which the public never knew about.
What struck me was the enormous fuss made by the media after the murder. Extensive coverage was one thing, and sensationalism was the other. Mind you, this was before the advent of the lurid television channels. The press not just highlighted this murder day after day, but also put up fantastic theories about Naina Sahni’s body being chopped up (and this misconception still prevails) and waxed eloquent on her lifestyle.
Pereira mentions the sexism, as the press speculated about Sahni’s affairs and commented on her “liberated” lifestyle, as if she were a “fallen” woman. The truth was that woman suffered from domestic abuse – she was beaten regularly by her husband. He was suspicious of her relationships with other men, and stopped her from working outside the home. And he refused to make their marriage public! He had more or less hidden her away from the eyes of the world. Worse, her relationship with her parents was non-existent, and they refused to initially even identify her body! Pereira felt that her parents did not seem to mourn her death. This woman was without the support of family and friends, and at the mercy of her violent husband. But the press did not highlight this…instead, they talked about her lifestyle. After all, she drank alcohol, and had a live-in relationship before she married her husband murderer Sushil Sharma.
Naina Sahni was a strong, independent woman, a business person, and career woman, who had made a name for herself in politics but it was her “lifestyle” which was mentioned in great detail.
We all know that media covers crimes far more avidly when important people are the victims or perpetrators. It was always so and still is.
The case brought out people’s base instincts. It wasn’t just the media which wanted to sell more newspapers. It was also people wanting their two minutes of fame. It was disgusting to read about the attempt of prominent people to grab the limelight by giving out details of the case, and speculating about it – right from judges to doctors involved in the case. They didn’t care that it would harm the case. There was even a frivolous PIL, to scuttle the case. And our judiciary was complicit in supporting the defendant’s attempts to delay the case, whether it was through negligence or stupidity one does not know. This resulted in tampering and threatening of witnesses which is the hallmark of any case where the defendant is a prominent person.
The book was an interesting read, despite being packed with information like names and details, and written in a documentary style. The author managed to keep the reader in suspense even though major features of the case were already well known. In its genre, this book should be rated five stars. There is no book like this here in India, with so much information about police procedure and the working of the judiciary, and is still not dry.
(This is not a paid book review)