I am mystified by our ongoing fascination with the murder two years ago of 14-year-old Aarushi Talwar. Part of our morbid interest, I am guessing, stems from the mysteriousness of this double murder. Despite three investigations — though let’s not accuse the Noida police of anything close to an ‘investigation’ — two from separate CBI teams, we are no closer to the truth about what happened on the night of May 15, 2008, when the ninth grade teenager was killed at home.
First we are told that the servant, Hemraj Banjade, did it. A day later when the body of the unfortunate Banjade was discovered, Noida police say it was the father, Rajesh Talwar, who had done it. Motives keep changing, from incest to wife-swapping and honour killing to ‘characterless’ behaviour. The father is arrested, the father is released. The case is transferred to the CBI, then a second team takes over. The murder weapon keeps changing: it’s a khukri, no it’s a surgical instrument or perhaps it’s a golf club. Every norm of decency is set aside as Aarushi’s postmortem vaginal examination becomes the subject of speculation.
If this is trial by insinuation, then our investigating agencies have succeeded.
The second aspect of this case has been the absolutely deplorable media reporting — though there have been some honourable exceptions. Police stenographers masquerading as crime reporters have faithfully reported one-sided police versions. Mail Today ran a story authoritatively headlined: “Talwars were out partying on night of killings” (wrong). And the Hindustan Times described “How Dr Jekyll turned Mr Hyde”. Indeed. But print simply couldn’t match TV in the salacious stakes: one channel re-enacted the footage of a 14-year-old girl taking off her clothes, another channel re-enacted the crime itself, complete with red paint and sinister voice-overs of a ‘khooni baap’, and a third showed an MMS clip of a girl they said was Aarushi. Lies, damned lies and journalism — and still the media circus continues.
Crime, particularly when it involves the middle class (Jessica Lall, Priyadarshini Mattoo) translates into higher TRPs and circulation figures. Media are in no hurry to give up this juicy bone. But at least part of our fascination with this story stems from how close this crime skirts people like us, ie the English-speaking, upwardly mobile classes of new India. By all accounts, Aarushi was the kind of daughter middle class families dream of: intelligent, articulate, well-read. A girl in tune with the tools of her time: the internet, mobile phones, digital cameras; a star student and only child of progressive parents.
Much of this story stems from the clash of civilisations between this emerging India and investigating forces that come from a state where honour killings remain routine. Why does a daughter send e-mails to her father? Surely there is a communication problem. Doesn’t the presence of Chetan Bhagat’s The 3 Mistakes of My Life on Aarushi’s bookshelf point to mistakes made by Aarushi, police ask. A school project on addiction must mean there was an addiction problem in the family. And on it went. Only in this case the class struggle manifested itself in the power of the police to pervert facts and cast suspicion.
But if there is one reason why this story stays alive it is because the Talwars will not let the case rest. With every twist and turn they have stuck to their demand to learn the truth about their daughter’s death, asking for a touch DNA test even now, earlier asking for a CBI investigation and later opposing the closure report — a move that now ironically makes Nupur a suspect (surely if they were guilty they should have happily accepted the closure report). Like Job in the Old Testament, Rajesh Talwar has borne every mental and physical assault — the latest from a meat cleaver from a deranged man outside the Ghaziabad court that has left him grievously injured.
For us, the Aarushi Talwar-Hemraj Banjade murder is another story. For Rajesh and Nupur Talwar it is a fight — to the end if need be — for justice for their child.
Namita Bhandare is a Delhi-based writer.
The views expressed by the author are personal.