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HindustanTimes Fri,24 Oct 2014
Take a step back
Sagarika Ghosh, Hindustan Times
May 08, 2012
First Published: 23:28 IST(8/5/2012)
Last Updated: 23:33 IST(8/5/2012)

Nupur Talwar's incarceration in Dasna jail has once again become a cause célèbre in the media. Today, the Aarushi-Hemraj double murder has become a collection of the many social stereotypes we hold in our collective imagination, stereotypes magnified by the media. These stereotypes include the relationship between employer and ‘servant'. The class hostilities we have towards supposedly 'upwardly mobile' people and their 'elitist' connections. And the stereotypes we hold of a 'mother'.

The Aarushi-Hemraj double murder is a case difficult for most Indians to swallow. In a culture which mythologises the mother-child bond, where a mother's heart is supposed to ache if a child suffers even in a distant land, we find it difficult to accept and believe that a mother and father could sleep —"How could they actually sleep?"— while their child was being murdered in the next room. To us, this is sufficient 'proof' of a moral collapse and the Talwars are already morally guilty. But is moral guilt also legal guilt? Away from the realm of moral judgements, the Aarushi-Hemraj case must be brought back into the rational realm of the law. Two teams of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) have produced totally conflicting findings. A CBI court has jailed a suspect who was never named in the Closure Report filed by the CBI. Seemingly "affluent and well connected" people are on trial in a climate dominated by anti-elite social vendetta.

But the law must proceed on evidence on record and isolate itself from the clamour of street-side khap panchayats. If the law ceases to be dispassionate, potentially everyone is in danger of being convicted through moralistic disapproval and not by legally admissible evidence. 

Let's assume that Nupur and Rajesh Talwar are guilty. If so, they must be convicted through a fair trial and through due process of law — not because sections of the media and public wants to see the Talwars hang. Why the thirst to see the Talwars hang? Because the camera lens has become our vision in the Aarushi-Hemraj case. And the camera simply does not like Nupur Talwar.

In the place of a bereaved mother, the camera sees a slim striding woman with an angular, rather hard, face. The camera zooms in on her expressionless eyes and notes with moral outrage that she sometimes touches and clings to her husband. This is a hateful 'mother' image for the camera. We like our television mothers plump, weeping, asexual and dishevelled, without access to top lawyers or the Delhi elite. Our mothers must be objects of pity. If they are not, we become enraged. No wonder a national daily screams "She" ate vegetables in jail, "She" read hanuman chalisa in jail — almost as if these are activities of a nameless "she", an epithet for an evil she-devil. For the sake of justice, we must see all players in the case, the Talwars, the domestic staff and Aarushi, through the eyes of the law and not through the eyes of the camera lens.

The media is obsessed with the rich yet is paradoxically also highly judgemental about affluence. A middle class home is stereotyped as 'posh', access to known people is inevitably described as 'elitist connections', a social life inevitably described as 'swinging lifestyle'. When Gurdarshan Singh, Inspector General, Meerut Range, held a press conference — in which he repeatedly forgot Aarushi's name, yet pronounced with conviction that her death was a drunken honour killing in a home which was apparently a diabolical circus of money, liquor and 'lifestyle' — he gave voice to many of our secret fears about the darker side of advancement.

Let's examine the other stereotypes that the Aarushi-Hemraj case has thrown up. Most middle class Indians suffer from guilt about 'servants'. Pinning culpability on a 'servant' for a crime and allowing rich, well-connected employers to get off scot free is a well established Indian morality play. "Bechaare servant par dosh daal diya" is a syndrome that has undoubtedly often been a reality. Yet, is there not some amount of middle class hypocrisy at work here? We insist on the innocence of the 'servants' because they are the poor underdog, yet why is it that in the same breath we are prepared to believe the worst of Hemraj, that he actually had an alleged 'relationship' with 14-year-old Aarushi?

The first investigation team of the CBI listed Krishna (Talwar's compounder) as a suspect. The first team of the CBI collected the forensic report which established that the blood of Hemraj was on the pillow cover recovered from Krishna's room. But it did not actually file a report or come to any conclusion because they were inexplicably changed midway through their investigation. The second team has now produced a certificate that this evidence was the result of a mix up.

Krishna may well be innocent. But only a court can pronounce that judgement on the basis of evidence. As a society we cannot decide on innocence or guilt based on social class. Sure, the rich routinely manipulate the law, but as a reflex action of political correctness, if the middle class is always guilty and the poor are always innocent, then the law will always founder on a class war.

The CBI court's order denying bail to Nupur Talwar reads: "The legal history is replete with instances of matricide and fratricide. Everything is possible in these days of modern era where moral values are fast declining and one can stoop to the lowest level." Is the Aarushi-Hemraj case about matricide, fratricide and the decline of moral values in the modern era? Or is it about evidence on record and trial based on evidence? 

The camera is often needed to prod a comatose system. But today after four years of merciless coverage, if we want to safeguard the rule of law, it's time to switch off the cameras in the Aarushi-Hemraj case and let the dignity of the law take over.

Sagarika Ghose is Deputy Editor, CNN-IBN. The views expressed by the author are personal.


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