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‘Dirty Women’: A Page-turner That Reveals The Ugliest In Our Society

The following is an excerpt from the book ‘Dirty Women’ by Madhumita Bhattacharya

What happens when we lose a child? What happens when those entrusted with the child’s protection stand accused of the most abhorrent acts imaginable? What happens when a whole town stops to watch?

On 13 June 2002, Tara Sengupta, age four, went missing from her own home, her own bedroom. Kidnap or murder – what had become of the girl in the middle of the night – was a

mystery that took the nation by storm. A girl who happened to be the daughter of a single, celebrity mother. The aftermath of the tragic events wrecked several families. The town that watched, open-mouthed and ugly, emerged unscathed, and walked away nonchalantly, as it always does.

What about the disappearance of Tara brought out the worst in us? It was a scandal to be sure, but at its heart it was an intensely personal tragedy. Coming at a time when the 24-hour news cycle was just emerging, when India was getting a taste for sensational news. After decades of dry Doordarshan, it had discovered the painful pleasure of watching the crises of others from a safe distance. But there was more to its hunger for blood, something sinister and frightening to those who watched closely.

The case had all the ingredients of a hit: tragedy, love, sex, money. It occurred in an upmarket Calcutta neighbourhood which made it feel as though it could happen to anybody, anywhere. But even though Drishti Sengupta, the tragic mother, was People Like Us, she was also Drishti Sengupta, singer with a salacious past, sufficiently different to set her apart. It was everyone’s worst nightmare, but at a comfortable distance.

This book is a factual account of the events that unfolded. As the newsmen played judge and jury, I too became a part of the story, and it has stayed with me in ways I did not expect. Which is why, when I received a request from the most unlikely of sources to write this book, it gave me pause. Was I ready to open up the wounds of all involved again, seventeen years after the fact? Was I willing to relive and recreate the horror of 2002 in 2019?

As I took a closer look, however, I became convinced that there was a need to tell the story, for despite the hysteria of the time, the chilling crime had been largely forgotten by the public. But for those involved, it had never gone away.

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