Indrani Mukherjea is doomed. Even before any tangible evidence comes to light, even before a court hearing, before she makes any kind of statement, she has already been judged. The case has been a bonanza for the TRP hungry news channels. The story has captured the attention and imagination of a nation. How can a woman kill her own daughter, we wonder. How depraved, how deranged, how cold blooded and calculating can a woman be! What can you expect from a woman who would selfishly abandon her young children. We allow ourselves a delicate shudder of horror, wallowing in the vicarious pleasure this incident has brought to our tepid lives. Nothing like a steaming cup of schadenfreude along with the newspaper! The tale of a parvenu knocked down from her pedestal makes us all feel a little better about ourselves.
But this is a not a soap opera. It is a real murder investigation. A life has been taken. Murders happen every day. Since the beginning of mankind, humans have been killing each other for a variety of reasons. The motive could be as banal as money or as exalted as love. We understand that. It does not make news. What is more difficult to condone is a woman killing in the name of ambition and greed. If we look at her actions through the societal lens of what a woman should be, what she should not do, Indrani Mukerjea is already guilty. Soon, the truth will out. If she is proven to be guilty, she fully deserves punishment under the court of law. I cannot condone any murder and nor do I have any sympathy for someone who can take a human life or instigate another to do so.
From whatever little I know of the case, some facts about Indrani have come to light.
She was living with a man before marriage and had two children out of wedlock.
She left the man because she was dissatisfied and wanted a better life.
She left the two children with her parents.
She married again.
And then again, to a rich powerful man.
She used her connections to get ahead, get invited to parties and get richer.
She used to be an ordinary middle class girl who worked in a recruitment company.
She became a high profile socialite and the CEO of a large media firm.
We already hate her because good girls don’t do such things. Good girls study hard, work hard, take care of their parents, marry a good man, have children with the good man, take care of his family and continue with their normal good lives. Any aberration from this pattern will transform the good girl to a girl ‘like that’ and from there it is a short ride to becoming Lady Macbeth.
“Come, you spirits that tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here, and fill me from the crown to the toe top – full of direst cruelty.” says Lady Macbeth. Make me a man so that I can commit murder. Lady Macbeth is one of the most reviled characters in literature. Unable to be queen in her own right, she channels her lust for power through her husband. Shakespeare has portrayed her as a cold, cruel woman who did not want to dirty her own hands but instigated her weak willed husband to stab an old man to death. Macbeth is the murderer but Lady Macbeth is the real villain. She is also clever, resourceful, good planner, a persuasive speaker, an energetic woman who can keep a cool head under dire circumstances. Qualities that are critical for ‘leadership roles’ in any organisation. Yet all these sterling traits are overshadowed by her vaulting ambition.
Vaulting ambition in a man is admirable. In a woman, it is unattractive..
Ambitious men make careers. Ambitious women make enemies.
An ambitious man is called a leader. An ambitious woman is called names.
“I am tough, I am ambitious and I know what I want. If that makes me a bitch, okay,” said Madonna.
Ambition may still be accepted if it is accompanied by irreproachable character. Women are the moral core of a family, the conscience keepers of the nation. We carry on our fragile shoulders the burden of the family honour. In the patriarchal world we live in, we are expected to comply, to obey all societal norms. We become complicit in this conspiracy. We accept that our moral code is more stringent, the punishment for transgression more severe than those for men. Our stories, our proverbs, our myths abound with tales of women who were kidnapped, burnt, defiled or turned to stone for crossing the line. A prodigal son is welcomed home, a prodigal daughter is locked up or banished again.
Though our society has transformed in many ways, there has been little change in what is considered appropriate behaviour for a woman. Living together without the sanctity of marriage, having children out of wedlock, divorce – these are still uncommon in the Indian society. If a woman has been a party to any such occurrence, there must be something wrong with her character. She is flawed, dangerous and a blot on society. An ambitious, amoral woman is without shame, without compunctions, capable of any depravity.
It is difficult to separate the action from the person. As humans, we have a tendency to extrapolate, to make meaning, to create our own stories. We need not applaud Lady Macbeth’s actions. We need not view Mrs Mukerjea in a sympathetic light. However in condemning her based on her ambitious nature or the number of relationships she has had, we are also condemning a whole section of women who choose not be the embodiment of the typical good girl. We are only reaffirming an outdated patriarchal viewpoint, we are once again holding women to exalted moral standards.
It is easy to hate another person, to pronounce judgements. It is more difficult to examine who we really are underneath our civilised polished veneers. Perhaps this is a time to do some soul searching about our own prejudices and the norms we live by. The way we react to this case, the way the media is handling this situation says as much about our society as it does about a single story.