India riveted by tale of killer mother

Police escorting Sanjeev Khanna (face covered), the former husband of Indrani Mukerjea who is accused of murdering her daughter Sheena Bora in 2012, to court in Kolkata last Thursday. Khanna is alleged to have been involved in the murder.
Police escorting Sanjeev Khanna (face covered), the former husband of Indrani Mukerjea who is accused of murdering her daughter Sheena Bora in 2012, to court in Kolkata last Thursday. Khanna is alleged to have been involved in the murder.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

MUMBAI • Sheena Bora was 22 when she vanished three years ago.

At first, television reports said the young woman was killed by her older sister Indrani Mukerjea, a former media boss and Mumbai socialite. The next day, Indian media said Mukerjea was not really the sister, but the victim's mother.

This murder mystery is keeping urban India in thrall after the Mumbai police last week arrested Indrani Mukerjea on charges of murdering Ms Bora in 2012. Ms Bora was known to family and friends as Mukerjea's sister but Mukerjea told the police that the girl was in fact her daughter, news outlets said.

A regular in Mumbai celebrity circuits, Indrani Mukerjea is known for her meteoric rise from her humble origins to the top strata of India's media circle. She married Mr Peter Mukerjea in 2002 when he was head of News Corp's Star network, India's biggest cable TV network, and she was an independent human resources consultant.

Mr Mukerjea left Star in 2007, and he and his wife founded INX Media, which raised 170 million rupees (S$3.6 million) from investors including Temasek Holdings, Singapore's state-owned investment firm, the Mint newspaper reported. Two years later, the couple abruptly left the company. It had by then accumulated losses of 8 billion rupees, said Business Today. Temasek spokesman Jeffrey Fang declined to comment for this report.

In 2012, Ms Bora's body was found in a forest about 100km south of Mumbai, newspapers reported. The partially charred remains were found by the local authorities but no one came forward to identify the victim, reports said. The authorities did not connect the body with a missing person report that was filed in May that year.

The report was filed by Mr Mukerjea's son, who was dating Ms Bora at the time, the papers said. Mr Mukerjea has said that his wife did not approve of the relationship and even discussing the topic was "taboo in our household". He said the young couple had told him that Sheena was Indrani's daughter, but he refused to believe it.

The link between the body and the missing person was made this month after residents saw a man visiting the site where the body was found, local media said. The man, identified as a chauffeur of the Mukerjeas, told the police the victim was Ms Bora, and that Indrani Mukerjea had murdered the woman and ordered him to dispose of the body. He has been charged.

The authorities have also arrested Sanjeev Khanna, Indrani Mukerjea's former husband, saying he was present during the murder, local reports say.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 30, 2015, with the headline 'India riveted by tale of killer mother'. Print Edition | Subscribe