If the CBI had sent its story, ‘Why and How Aarushi Talwar’s Parents Killed Her’, to say the New York Times, the newspaper would have rejected the piece citing lack of substance. Can a story that does not meet the standards of quality journalism be good enough to convict two people in India? Yes.
In the book ‘Aarushi’, a masterly observation of a criminal investigation that was a game between sad, mysterious, cruel, psychotic and spineless people, the journalist Avirook Sen narrates what happened after two murders were committed in a flat in Noida, near Delhi.
On May 16, 2008, Aarushi Talwar, who would have turned 14 in eight days, was found dead in her bed, her head smashed and throat slit. Aarushi was a bright happy girl who wished to do well in school, who had named a tree Johnny Depp, who had, a few months earlier, wished of Santa that she wanted nothing more than “The well-being of my family. I want no harm to reach them.”
At the time of the murder, the CBI is sure, there were only three other people in the flat -- Aarushi’s parents and the resident servant, Hemraj, who was missing. The Uttar Pradesh cops, whose secret objective, it would soon appear, is to make the CBI look like a genius club, decided he was the murderer. But the next day Hemraj’s’ body was discovered on the terrace. The parents, Nupur and Rajesh Talwar, became the chief suspects in a case that would captivate the entire nation for weeks.
The case would be transferred to the CBI, it would not find conclusive evidence, but the couple would be convicted and sentenced to a life in prison.
It is possible that the police have an extrasensory and paranormal method of communication with the rest of the justice system that is beyond the understanding of common citizens.
Or, the State and the society have given an unspoken approval to the police to make up for its investigative incompetence by suspending human rights and liberty, and break laws to achieve what it cannot through, “industry, impartiality, integrity,” which is rumoured to be its motto.
In the Aarushi case, the police spun a pornographic story, as they normally do when a young woman is murdered; they passed on the story overtly and covertly through off-the-record sessions with reporters. And the public loved it all -- a servant and an adolescent girl “in an objectionable but not compromising position”; an angry father; a golf club; a surgical slit of the daughter’s throat.
In narrating how the CBI went about the investigation, Sen presents a series of India moments -- many of them once widely known, some of them his discovery: That the cops misunderstood Aarushi’s “sleepover” plans as something debauched because they thought “sleep” must mean sex; that once Rajesh Talwar and his former employee, Krishna, the man Talwar accuses of murdering his daughter, were handcuffed together and Talwar wept saying he should not be handcuffed with his daughter’s murderer, but the cops said they had brought only one handcuff.
And that Krishna’s pillow cover, recovered from his home according to CBI’s initial report, had the DNA of Hemraj, a significant clue but the cops did not pursue the lead. When their attention was drawn to it they claimed there was a typographical error and that the pillow cover belonged not to Krishna but to Hemraj.
And, a doctor who conducted the autopsy on Aarushi, by his own admission, had never before conducted one on a female body and he seemed to be mystified by things that should not have mystified him. Also, the medical opinion of two sweepers in his lab was taken by the CBI to substantiate its spurious theory that Aarushi was sexually active.
And, the CBI conducted a “scientific” test in Aarushi’s bedroom using Shalimar Superlac paint as blood, and when a judge asked if the paint had the same consistency as blood, a forensic ‘expert’ said, “Woh khoon jaisa tha” (“it was like blood”). And, the CBI created a bizarre email id to send official mails to the Talwars, including issuing summons -- firstname.lastname@example.org .
And, Dr Naresh Raj, who had conducted the post-mortem on the body of Hemraj 44 hours after his murder, said that Hemraj’s penis was swollen and that meant he was sexually stimulated at the time of his murder. When he was told by the defence that it is normal for the corpse of a man to have several swollen organs, including penis, and was asked why he felt Hemraj’s swollen penis pointed only to a final sexual act, Dr Raj said that his reasoning was based on the “experience of my marriage”.
Sen points out that the trial court judge Shyam Lal, with the help of his son, had begun writing the judgment weeks before the final arguments had begun. In the judgment that mentioned Hemraj’s, “pecker was swollen”, Shyam Lal found the parents guilty.
The Talwars spent their 25th wedding anniversary in jail. Rajesh Talwar noted in his diary about the day, “No Aaru, no house, no clinic, no money and sitting in jail for something we haven’t done.”
Most of the nation seems to believe the couple are guilty. Some, like Sen, suspect they are innocent. Nobody knows for sure. Except the Central Bureau of Investigation, which does not have evidence.
(Manu Joseph is a journalist and the author of the novel, The Illicit Happiness of Other People, Twitter: @manujosephsanThe views expressed are personal)