Paromita Vohra: The ghosts in suspicion

Nov 12, 2017, 06:28 IST | Paromita Vohra

I have a distant relative who frequently misplaces things. It could be clothes or money or important papers. As soon as it's discovered they are missing, suspicion begins to snake through her being


Illustration/Ravi Jadhav

I have a distant relative who frequently misplaces things. It could be clothes or money or important papers. As soon as it's discovered they are missing, suspicion begins to snake through her being. The more you try to make her retrace her steps in an effort to locate the lost object, the stronger become her declarations: the object has been stolen by the domestic help in her home. It seems she abandons her search in favour of cooking theories about how 'these people' can't be trusted instead. Elaborate stories then start to form about how she saw X come into her room, or Y cleaning where she didn't have reason to be.

Often the object is found. At such times she does not berate herself for the mistake or feel embarrassed by it. The focus is on her relief at finding it. Everything else is casually elided.Watching the police solve murder crimes can sometimes feel like this. It certainly has in the Pradyuman Thakur murder case. The grisly murder of a seven-year-old schoolboy was shocking and almost defied explanation. The speedy solving of the case by identifying the conductor of the school-bus as the murderer felt hard to accept. It seemed to belong too strongly to a predictable dystopia, imagined by a particular kind of mind: a working class man, debasing a little boy, murdering him in cold blood.

The police version that Ashok Kumar, the bus conductor, was in the bathroom when Pradyumna entered, whereupon he tried to assault him and, failing to do so, killed him, was never strongly verifiable but was put forward with a certitude similar to my relative's suspicions of her staff. As we watched the news coverage of the case it felt almost as if the media too was waiting to hear just such a tale. Recreations of the crime, and gory details inside purported CCTV footage were recounted as usual for us to consume avidly. Ashok Kumar alleges that the police beat him mercilessly until he confessed to their version. It is hard not to feel like the police story is created almost to meet the need for that version. Not just the breathless media's need for speed, but ours, the audience's too, who wait to have suspicions of a class dystopia confirmed without question. Demonising the poor seems to be a need that makes us feel our privilege is a natural phenomenon; that we deserve our comforts because we are good people. That we are right to hide behind gated communities from the deprived hoards outside.

Now that the CBI probe has shown that it was allegedly a Class IX student who carried out the murder in order to avert an exam and a Parent Teacher Meeting we are shocked afresh. The CBI says that they have found no proof against Ashok Kumar, but nevertheless they plan to investigate his involvement further. After all, suspicion can be based on anything in this world. We elide that, paying it little attention. We wonder, what could cause a young man to kill a fellow student so casually? As we watch the way lives and deaths are treated so callously, casually, randomly around us, why should we be surprised that a young man growing up in this world, felt he could do so, too?

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