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Letter From India: The Country is Serial Killer Obsessed

New America Media, Commentary, Neelanjana Banerjee Posted: Jan 17, 2007

India is absorbed by the story of two serial killers who murdered some 38 children in a suburban town near New Delhi, and the phenomenon may very well become, like in the United States, a cultural obsession. Neela Banerjee is an editor with YO! Youth Outlook, and is visiting relatives in India.

Kolkata, India - Having grown up in America, serial killers are as familiar to me as apple pie and baseball. Everyone knows the eerie details of the Charles Manson family and their Hollywood killing spree. We all followed the unsavory exploits of Jeffrey Dahmer. And the famous unsolved case of San Franciscos Zodiac Killer is about to become a movie starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Robert Downey Jr., directed by David Fincher.

The spectacle of serial killing seems so American to me that I find it fascinating to be here visiting relatives in India while this nation is gripped by its very own serial killer. After neighbors reported a foul stench coming from a drain in Noida, a suburban town near New Delhi, investigators uncovered skeletal remains near the towns water tank. A perfect media story, the accused culprits are businessman Sardar Mohinder Singh and his conniving servant Satish who would lure victims mostly young girls to the house with offers of sweets and money and then supposedly harvest their bodies for organs to sell. Some 38 children had been reported missing over the past two years.

Of course, India is well-versed in bloody violence one needs only to look at incidents like the British massacre at Jallianwallah Bagh in 1919, the thousands murdered during the mass movement of 1947s Partition, 1984s anti-Sikh violence after the assassination of Indira Gandhi or even the 2002 Gujurat Hindu-Muslim riots just to name a few. And the Noida murderer isnt exactly out of the ordinary. Another infamous Indian killer includes the aptly named Auto Shankar, who abducted and murdered some nine teenage girls in his auto rickshaw in Chennai back in the late 1980s. Yet somehow, the Noida murder case seems bigger and better than all thats come before.

The Noida case has been reported worldwide but it continues to be splashed on the front pages of newspapers in India. Here in Kolkata, Ive overheard bespectacled old men in traditional Bengali dhotis discussing the case in the Metro and a group of ladies picnicking by the lake wore the same horrified expressions on their faces while they talked about rape and murder.

While the concept of mass murder is far from new in this ancient land, I wonder when India will go from a nation gripped and titillated with morbid fascination to a country obsessed with killers, like America. Next time I come to India, will I see kids with the Noida murderers faces emblazoned on their t-shirts?

David Schmid, author of Natural Born Celebrities: Serial Killers in American Culture, writes that Americas obsession with serial killers had to do with both the media and the FBI. He says that the FBI created a serial killer problem as a way to attract more funding and expand their sphere of influence. Schmid talks about the serial killer industry, which spawns serial killer board games, action figures, hours of cable programming, best-selling books and endless movies.

In America, there is something about the serial killer that we cheer on, as much as we malign and fear. These were people who rose to a level notoriety in their own gruesome way a twisted version of the American Dream. Schmid writes that in post-9/11 America, the nation has shifted their obsessive focus from serial killers to terrorists, who Schmid says have a new exoticness as compared to the familiar, old serial killers.

Perhaps India is poised for its own obsession with the killer next door. The craze seems to be catching on quick. The media is reporting on two other cases where decomposing bodies or skeletal remains were found last week one in the high-tech city of Hyderabad and the other in northern Punjab.

My 85-year-old grandmother shakes her head at the media attention. The press will just encourage copycat crimes and put bad ideas in peoples heads, she says. Yet she and the adolescent boy who works for her are glued to the television set every afternoon for Crime Diary, a poorly edited re-enactment show of local, usually bloody crimes in the state of West Bengal. In a country of more than a billion people, I can see fear-mongering shows an Indian version of Americas Most Wanted, complete with a 1-800 number to report ones neighbors catching on quick.

Indias most recent serial killer can be seen as a sign of the times since his victims were the poorest of the poor the children of migrant workers to the urban center of New Delhi from poorer states like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Bengal. The parents of these missing children faced the darkest nightmare of moving to the big city: the disappearance of their children.

In that way, the Noida murders followed the pattern of serial killers everywhere murdering those who are undocumented and disposable. You see the same pattern with Britains most recent serial killer in Ipswitch, whose victims were prostitutes. But instead of just killing for the sport of it though that seems to be part of the impetus Singh claims that he was selling the victims organs for money.

One major difference from the American model is that in Indias version, the police have failed to be the heroes. Families of victims complain that police refused to file missing persons reports for their children or investigate since they were so poor and seen as negligible. Even politicians who have expressed public outrage over the murders didnt take time to visit the families of the victims. Hundreds of angry family members have been protesting since the case came to light, accusing the police of outright discrimination. In fact, the police have bungled the job so badly that state and federal leaders are now taking over the case.

While headlines remain focused on twisted details like when the murderers were recently administered truth serum and admitted to sometimes cannibalizing the bodies what seems most apparent is the huge divide between the rich and poor. As migrants continue to fill the industrialized urban centers searching for work, predators looking for the most vulnerable victims will have more than their fill.

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