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Friday, July 16, 1999 Published at 14:38 GMT 15:38 UK

World: South Asia

Delhi's 'bratpack' scandalises society

Delhi's young rich are always looking for ways to spend money

By David Willis in Delhi

It proved too shocking a murder even for the authorities to ignore.

The recent death of a model-turned-TV presenter has shaken Indian high society.

Jessica Lal's murder was the latest in a spate and has revealed the growing depravity of the Delhi "bratpack" - a growing group whose connections have up to now enabled them to evade justice.

[ image: Jessica: Trendy, beautiful and loved to party]
Jessica: Trendy, beautiful and loved to party
Weaing a tight red sari and with long black hair flowing over her shoulders, Jessica Lal pouts and shimmies and glides across the screen in a recent Hindi pop video.

The embodiment of the MTV generation, Jessica was trendy, and beautiful - and she loved to party.

And it was at a party that Jessica was shot through the head by a member of the so-called "Delhi bratpack."

Eyewitnesses said 24-year-old Manu Sharma shot Jessica twice because she refused to serve him a drink.

The son of a senior politician, Sharma has wealth and influence - and in India some say that is often enough.

But Jessica's mother - May - believes her daughter's death simply proved too shocking for the police to ignore.

[ image: May Lal:
May Lal: "Some people think they are above the law"
Her mother says: "Some people think they are above the law - and that they are the law and they can do what they like."

She adds: "Perhaps Jessica has gone to bring justice back into this society of ours. Maybe God is going to show them that no more this is going to be the case. No more just thinking that they are the law and money can buy off people."

Delhi's growing band of party people are drawn to the dance floor.

Their money is either dollars or daddy's - but they are always on the look out for new ways of spending it.

[ image: Western trends are blamed by some]
Western trends are blamed by some
The appetites can be exotic - fast cars, firearms and designer drugs are all the rage amongst certain elements of the nouveau riche in a country where the average income is less than $600 a year.

New money, and of course Western culture.

Critics also blame the glamorisation of violence for a recent spate of shootings by rich kids.

At one of Delhi's first "live action entertainment centres", teenagers rub shoulders with movie stars as they battle it out in mock fight with laser guns.

[ image: Some teenagers have exotic appetites]
Some teenagers have exotic appetites
One of them, Hasmeet, said: "All the lightning and everything - it is very attractive and then you go inside and shoot each other.

Another, Gurpiya, says: "It's a totally new thing so everyone finds it a lot of fun and stuff."

"These are the kind of places teenagers hang out. They enjoy it and from the last year of school you come here and that is it," she says.

Conservative Indian values, it is often argued, have been overwhelmed - and undermined - by the pervasive influence of television.

Six years ago there was just one TV channel - now there's 50.

But Jessica's death has left some young people wondering whether their brave new world really is as beautiful as its been portrayed.

Shailaja Bajpai, television critic for the 'Indian Express' newspaper, says "The whole lifestyle which I think the media helped promote in a sense - we have to party, we have to dress in a certain way, we have to dance in a certain - that has changed."

"Now that these murders and crimes have taken place people are saying: Oh, maybe it wasn't such a good thing. Maybe here are the bad parts of Western culture."

The bullet which snuffed a young life hasn't exactly killed the pretensions of India's rich young things.

But it has made many of them take stock - as well as serving as a sharp reminder that the distinction between right and wrong has somehow fallen victim to hedonism in the developing world.

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