September 5, 2014


This past January, a 10-year old boy died.  We won't ever know the facts surrounding his death, but there are two sides to the story of what happened after his death.  Arnav Dhawan was found in a bathtub, wrapped in a shroud, and packed in ice.

The Dhawan family's version of events claims that he died of natural causes, and that his mother was trying to preserve his body until Arnav's father returned from a business trip.  The family is Hindu, and the father's administration of last rites, as well as many other culturally unique death rituals, were of great importance to them.

As you would imagine, the Frisco, Texas police department isn't too well versed in Hindu death rituals, and their version of events differs.  Mrs. Dhawan was accused/suspected/publicly humiliated in connection with the death of her son.  Not yet charged, but going through a grand jury vetting.

The police case hinged on one disputed act.  They claim that Mrs. Dhawan nodded her head affirmatively when they asked if she killed her son, a confession in their minds.  Mrs. Dhawan said she only nodded 'Yes' when they asked if her son was in the bathroom.

There are a litany of Hindu traditions that offer a reasonable explanation as to why Mrs. Dhawan would have been trying to keep her son's body in the home after his death.  There are, I suppose, an equal amount of criminal indicators, in the eyes of American law enforcement.  Unattended death, not reporting a death, and packing a dead child in ice are worthy of investigation.

Unfortunately, the cultural differences weren't well appreciated.  And, the police announced from day one that Mrs. Dhawan confessed.  Though the Dhawan's attorney was confident that the grand jury was going to no bill her, one can only imagine the pain of losing a child, coupled with public humiliation, as well as the inability to properly lay your child to rest in keeping with your religious beliefs.

On Wednesday, the Dhawan's were found dead at their home.  The police are now showing the restraint that they didn't show in January, and have not released any details about their deaths, other than to say that there is no threat to anyone else and that they are not pursuing any suspects.  In other words, either double suicide or murder-suicide.

As I said, we will never know the facts.  I do know a few people who have been unjustly accused in their lives, and am aware of the acute sense of fear and hopelessness that accompanies the embarrassment.  I don't have much appreciation for society's appetite for grisly details and the media's eternal pursuit to appease that demand.  If all parties in this situation had been allowed to do their jobs, gather the facts, and let justice run its course, outside of the glare of cameras, and without grandstanding for the press, perhaps two more lives wouldn't be lost today.

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