A bunch of Mumbai teenagers have a terrace party to ring in the New Year but it ends with one of them dead and two of them arrested for murder. Besides, suspicion of drugs, sex and a love triangle make the case more gripping than any Netflix thriller.
However, salacious speculation must not overshadow the fact that these are students and there was no plot. It’s easy to blame youngsters but the others – parents, teachers, neighbours and the community -- cannot escape responsibility. There's no point saying, what’s wrong with today’s kids, this is as much a case of what’s wrong with society.
The victim, a 19-year-old psychology student, was planning to enroll in an Australian college while the two suspects were her close friends; a 22-year-old youth who studies at a reputed catering college and the girl next-door to her, with whom she had started a baking venture during the lockdown.
These are upper middle class kids from suburban Mumbai and if it wasn’t for a moment of mad rage, they would have gone on unnoticed, to become regular grown-ups fretting about raising teenagers.
Who hasn’t been a bit wild in their youth? Bill Gates, one of the world’s richest, was booked for speeding and driving without a licence when he was 19, British actor Stephen Fry was arrested at 17 for credit card fraud; he had been misusing a family friend’s card for three months. Former US President Bill Clinton admitted to smoking pot as a student though he clarified clumsily that he did not inhale it.
Closer home, there’s Sanjay Dutt who has made a movie out of his days as a drug addict and his time behind bars for keeping an AK-47 rifle. Early in his career, cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu was involved in a road rage incident that resulted in the death of a man. There are umpteen such cases – from drugs to shootings to rape and murder -- which are hushed up in India. An exception was the Jessica Lal case, for which rich brat Manu Sharma spent time in jail.
Insufficient family time
Coming back to the terrace party, it is said to have started at 7.30pm and gone on till 1.30am – six hours. How many parents, especially fathers, spend even 15 minutes a day of quality time with their college-going kids? Imagine the disconnect where family dinners have been replaced by solo TV dinners. As it is, the social secrets of teens go deeper than parents think.
Where’s the family bonding, the reverence for life, the respect for the law and the obligation to society? Are we, as parents, elders and teachers, able to instil these values in children? Instead, elite, private school brats treat their teachers like their employees.
Who are their role models? A Salman Khan who is 'Being Human' after crushing human beings, a foul-mouthed Virat Kohli who calls it aggression or someone like Sundar Pichai of Google and Gita Gopinath, chief economist of the International Monetary Fund? Parents are the first role models for children but how many live up to expectations? Most can’t even be friends with their kids.
Why is it that most of us cannot think of partying without intoxicants, that too which we cannot handle responsibly? Why can’t conversation flow, instead of drinks? In fact, people these days cannot make a point without getting provoked and personal. If grown-ups do not know how to socialise, how can they expect it from their kids?
Children need and want to be told right from wrong and learn responsibility and the consequences of their actions. However, parents tend to be either very strict, or very lax. No parent dropped in to check on the party, including those of the youth who had organised the party attended by 13 people and who lived in the same building.
Diagnosing the malaise, psychiatrist Alex Martin says our children, who are supposed to be handheld while they explore their world, are left to face the adult world guided not by parents and teachers, but by the social media, resulting in ill-founded relationships, a crass understanding of sexuality, reality mired by drugs and a digital world, which is cold and emotionally hollow.
Tell-tale tufts of hair and blood stains were found in the staircase on the second floor but strangely no one heard any screams from the scuffle between the deceased and the arrested duo, not even the watchman. The victim’s body was discovered on the ground floor by the dog of a resident who was seeing off a guest around 2.30am.
After the scuffle, the victim’s friends abandoned her, letting her bleed to death from a fractured skull, while they got themselves treated for their injuries. The victim’s family first learnt about something having gone wrong only at 5am when their next-door neighbour called, saying there had been an accident involving their daughters. Strangely, none of them thought of their daughters till then. And they are from a generation where girls were expected to be home by 7pm ('Saatchya aat gharaat').
Heinous teen crimes
Yet, this is a relatively simple case. Adolescents and teenagers from respectable families have been involved in far more heinous crimes. In 2003, five innocent-looking local boys from the community murdered Leticia Mendes and her toddler grandson in Borivli’s IC Colony in Mumbai.
In 2012, Sandhya Singh, sister of yesteryear's Bollywood actresses Sulakshana Pandita and Vijeta Pandit, was strangled by her drug addict son, who dissolved her body in acid in the bathtub and dumped her skeleton in the marshes 200 metres away from their house in the NRI Complex, Navi Mumbai.
In 2015 in Mumbai, a 15-year-old Malad girl was gang-raped by a classmate and three of his friends who made video clips of the crime. Seven-year-old Pradhyumn Thakur of Gurugram’s Ryan International School was murdered in the school toilet in 2017 by a class XI student who wanted the exams postponed.
The culture of entitlement makes today's kids feel they can do anything and get away with it, says psychiatrist Dayal Mirchandani. The I-me-myself generation also does not think of the consequences.
In the US, there’s a term for delinquent behaviour by the wealthy – affluenza. It is defined as the inability of individuals to understand the consequences of their actions because of their social status and/or financial privilege.
The term gained currency when a Texas teenager, who mowed down four pedestrians while driving drunk in 2013, was sentenced to 10 years of probation and zero jail time after his attorney successfully argued that his privileged upbringing precluded his ability to understand the consequences of his actions.
It’s time for us also to wake up to affluenza and do something about the problems of the poor little rich kids before they become everyone's problems.
The writer is an independent journalist based in Mumbai.