Saturday, August 25, 2007

Comment: Murder on Orkut

The murder of Adnan Patrawala, a Mumbai-based teenager-student (seen here wearing a t-shirt that reads IMPOSSIBLE with the 'IM' scratched out), raises certain disturbing questions about how virtual social networking is transforming real lives, and- atleast in Mr. Patrawala’s case- also, deaths. Perfect strangers, who hadn’t heard of him before, suddenly feel motivated to mourn him by filling his “scrapbook(s)” with profound eulogies as well as hosting fast-mushrooming rest-in-peace (RIP) communities with memberships crossing five figures. Even more perplexing is the fact that many of these scrapbooks aren’t really his: some mourners are actually quite horrified when the late “Adnan Patrawala” promptly adds them to his friend-list, or approves their testimonials; it’s almost as if the Adnan Patrawala, who was killed in the real world, continues to live on in the virtual one.

As it turns out, one of the more successful “Adnan Patrawala” profiles, with more than two thousand obituary-scraps posted daily, actually belongs to one Tehman, who is not even Indian, but Pakistani. Now, why would these people, who are no doubt both real and alive, assume the virtual-identity of someone who was brutally strangled to death by a bunch of amateur-abductors out to make a fast buck, who, like his mourners, came into contact with him only through Orkut, Google’s social networking website? Needless to say, most mourners find this in rather poor taste, but the scraps keep coming, like the bouquets in front of Buckingham Palace following Princess Diana’s death. But Adnan was no 'Di'; unlike the People’s Princess, we now know him only in his death, and the peculiar manner of it.

Perhaps- and this is pure Freudian-speculation, of course- the vast community of Orkutians is actually feeling Guilty- maybe, even Ashamed- about what happened to the unsuspecting Adnan? For many, his death has brought home the only too Terrifying Reality of what can happen when one crosses the relatively safe sanctuary of the Virtual World and moves into the Real? This is a 'War of the Worlds’ (to use H.G. Well’s evocative phrase) that we haven’t quite come to terms with.

The media- and the police- have both labeled Mr. Patrawala’s killing as ‘the Orkut Murder’. From what one is able to decipher, his would-be killers cunningly lured him with the promise of a tet e tete with an enigmatic entity who went by the nom de plume, Angel. If this is the case, then ‘the Orkut Murder’ isn’t very different from the classic ‘honey-trap’ ploy, which has been in usage for centuries: “for God (sic) sake,” exclaims a fellow blogger accordingly, “Internet is just a medium, it is no killer.”

Frankly, this sort of reasoning doesn’t quite absolve the Internet- and more specifically, the numerous social networking sites it increasingly plays host to- of its responsibility in the Adnan Patrawala Murder. Would his killers, for instance, have known who their prospective-victim was, or how exactly to entrap him had Mr. Patrawala not decided to reveal himself- where he lived, what car he drove, the mobile phone he used, who his friends were, whom he liked, even his bedroom fantasy- on Orkut where virtually anyone could find him? In retrospect, that does seem a rather adventurous- not to mention, foolish- step.

Echoing an earlier post of this blogger's, other bloggers too are no doubt quick to take lessons from Mr. Patrawala’s mistake: “Students have to be told, with examples like this unfortunate incident involving Adnan, that dangers exist,” warns one somewhat sagaciously, “and like one would not share personal information with a stranger or accept food from someone (one) didn’t know(,) similar behaviors are inappropriate even when the Other is a virtual entity at a computer screen miles from home.” Whether this recommended-addition of “How to Avoid being Killed on the Internet” to the already much-too-cumbersome school-syllabus would indeed reduce chances of Orkutians dying prematurely is anyone’s guess. To me, it seems more a matter of common sense.

In any case, the teenagers who plotted his abduction and strangulation weren’t exactly strangers: they were his friends, with whom he shared a rather long and apparently healthy relationship (to which his scrapbook readily testifies). It is this fact, more than anything else, that helped nail them in the first place. Unfortunately, this is also the principle reason why he was killed: once Mr. Patrawala became aware of his abductors’ identities, the latter knew they wouldn’t- couldn’t- be safe; to kill him, therefore, became necessary. Orkut, therefore, was both the chief enabler of his abduction and subsequent murder, as also the main reason why his killers couldn’t get away with this dastardly crime. Sadly, this latter fact is not likely to offer much solace to those who knew- and loved- Adnan. If they could have him back, then I’m sure they’d tell him ‘to stop using Orkut’. And perhaps, at this time, that’s their advise to us also, Adnan’s alien mourners and anonymous identity-assumers.

That might well be too drastic a recourse: one might as well stop leaving one’s house for fear of getting run over by a passing truck. In my opinion, the only worthwhile lesson that Mr. Patrawala can teach us from beyond the veil is this: the virtual is, for better and worse, becoming only too real, and there cannot be different sets of rules for the two.


5 comments (टिप्पणी):

Undertrial said...

Dear Amit,

I don't think you remember me, I was in Anusha's batch at Stephens. I came across your blog because you linked your 'orkut murder' post to my blog
I have been following you in the news frequently. Is it possible we can do an online interview with you for the Mutiny?

Please have a look at and let me know what you think.

Jacob Joseph

Tiger said...

It was very sad to hear about Adnan's death.. and i felt even more bad when i came to know the whole story behind it..

God Bless his soul..

(My comment for your blog.. "Undertrail" with that "Underground" Effect looked nicer.. Well anyways a change is always better ;).. )

Keep posting..



Anonymous said...

May God Rest His Soul In Peace.

Anonymous said...

this post tells us how moneyminded todays youth are. adnan was a victim of greed. it could have happened anywhere. why blame orkut or the internet?

Anonymous said...
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