Nine years, three investigations, two trials and two verdicts later we still don’t know who killed Aarushi Talwar and domestic help Hemraj.
After four years of living behind bars with the memory of a dead daughter and a country that believed they killed her, Dr Rajesh and Nupur Talwar will walk free Friday having been acquitted in the double murder of their daughter Aarushi and their domestic help Hemraj. For the Talwars the trial actually began from the morning of 16 May, 2008 when the body of their 14-year-old daughter was found. From honour killing to blackmail, the Talwars were subjected to relentless scrutiny by journalists and TV anchors hungry for a scoop. Theories, conjecture, source-based information (we got a lot of that) and some more — the Noida double murder was frankly a classic case of prime-time voyeurism.
Messed up from the beginning
I was in Bengaluru getting ready for a ‘live’ on the upcoming Karnataka state elections when news of the Aarushi murder case first broke on 16 May, 2008. Next day back in the Times Now newsroom in Mumbai we reported a second decomposed body being found, that of Hemraj, the domestic help — that’s when it turned into a double murder.
As the visuals streamed into the newsroom, we all wondered how journalists were being allowed to ‘contaminate’ the scene of the crime. The Times Now ‘ground report’ literally had the reporter walk around and leave multiple prints all over the bloodied terrace where the body of Hemraj had just been discovered.
No crime scene tape, this one had multiple camera wires wrapped all around. The blood stained hand on the wall that was touted to be Hemraj’s was being pointed at by every journalist with the policemen looking on, happy to be in the camera frame. It was a mess.
Given the media glare, Noida police were happy to pass on ‘source-based’ information that kept our breaking news tickers going. After ruling out the family’s former servants, the police started suspecting the parents as the prime suspects. In a matter of days, the police claimed to have cracked the case and called a press conference where Meerut inspector general Gurdarshan Singh propounded the honour killing theory with aplomb.
Former joint director of the CBI Arun Kumar who later led the investigation was reported as saying the fact that Nupur Talwar did not cry in a TV interview and the investigators could not understand the mind-set of an urban, middle class family was what largely fuelled this theory.
Angered with the accusations the Talwars’ family and friends accused the Noida police of framing the dentist couple in order to cover up their own botched-up investigation. A CBI probe was ordered.
First CBI probe
The CBI investigation was first led by the then joint director Arun Kumar. His investigation which went on for close to 100 days very clearly pointed at Dr Rajesh Talwar’s assistant Krishna and two domestic servants — Rajkumar and Vijay — as the main suspects. The three were arrested by the CBI and Arun Kumar said in a press conference that the evidence did not point to the Talwars at all.
I remember the day the narco tests were conducted on the three staffers, some channels ran with the story of how the servants were being targeted because they were poor. Krishna’s sister Parvati was on every ‘prime time’ debate claiming her brother was innocent and at home when the murders happened. Even though Krishna in his narco test had said that Rajesh Talwar was not involved and Rajkumar and Vijay were, whereas the other two had clearly named Krishna as the murderer.
After the Talwars were acquitted Thursday by the Allahabad high court, Arun Kumar, now additional DG of the BSF, tweeted, “My only concern is how do we ensure that this is not repeated. It was worth pursuing the truth.”
Second CBI probe
Arun Kumar’s investigation and report was found ‘replete with loopholes’ by then CBI director Ashwani Kumar and he was taken off the case in September 2009. A.G.L. Kaul was given charge of the investigation and the same investigating agency that had arrested the three staffers let that trail go cold and thereafter it seemed as if the CBI only had two suspects — Rajesh & Nupur Talwar.
However, even Kaul, when he filed the closure report in December 2010, could not prove that the Talwars had killed Aarushi even though the closure report read like a chargesheet against the couple. For instance, in pt 24 (iii) of the closure report reads, “The surgical cuts on the necks of both victims was the work of professional trained experts. This could only be the parents.” (sic)
The CBI gave a clean chit to the aides and named the Talwars as the main suspects. The Talwars at this point protested the closure report not because of them being suspected but because they wanted the investigation to continue.
The first verdict
But in what can only be described as bizarre, district magistrate Priti Singh threw out the petition, and using the same CBI closure report that said it did not have enough evidence to indict the Talwars, asked for a trial with Dr Rajesh and Nupur Talwar as the main accused.
The trial which went on for 15 months finally resulted in a guilty verdict and a life term for the parents of Aarushi. In a 204-page exhaustive order, the special CBI judge Shyam Lal relied more on religious references from various scriptures from the Quran to the Bible and Gita rather than facts. The defence claimed the judgment was wrong in law and filed an appeal in the high court.
The second verdict
Four years after the Talwars were found guilty, the Allahabad high court overturned the judgment of the trial court with a strong indictment of the guilty verdict by the lower court. The two-judge bench of justices B.K. Narayana and A.K. Mishra said that the CBI court had failed to prove beyond doubt that the Talwars had committed the double murder.
“Suspicion, however, grave it might be, cannot take the place of proof,” the judges stated.
Who killed Aarushi Talwar? From the day she was murdered until nine years later when the Allahabad HC acquitted Aarushi’s parents citing lack of evidence, this question has been asked. The unfortunate answer is no one knows and perhaps, given how botched-up this investigation was, we might never have the answer.
Nine years, three investigations, two trials and two verdicts later we still don’t know who killed Aarushi Talwar and Hemraj.
(Mahrukh Inayet is a contributing editor to ThePrint)