THE CBI had filed a closure report in a murder mystery no one could solve. But on February 9, in a ludicrous twist, based on the same report, the special CBI court in Ghaziabad charged Rajesh and Nupur Talwar for the murder of their daughter and asked them to appear in court on February 28. Dante’s hell is alive in Delhi and the Talwars seem to have no way out of it.
THEY DID say they wanted “Justice for Aarushi!” On Sunday evening, 30 January 2011, the biggest assembly yet of citizens gathered near Delhi’s Jantar Mantar to protest the CBI’s failure to solve the Aarushi Talwar and Hemraj Banjade murder case. Most were school and college kids who’d heard about the meet through Facebook and SMS. They lit candles, they marched, they signed statements. There were also placards and shouts of “We Want Justice!” “We Want Touch DNA!” A heedless CBI has refused to deploy Touch DNA technology in the case, believed by many to be a fool-proof way to finally crack who did it. In between breathless chants, a small group of college girls whispered to each other, “I’m sure the father did it. Or at least he had something to do with it.”
What they didn’t know is that it’s the same father, Dr Rajesh Talwar, who’s been agitating the CBI for the last year-and-a-half to use Touch DNA testing.
Five days before the Sunday meet, Aarushi’s parents filed a petition protesting the CBI’s attempt to close the case even as it still claimed that Rajesh Talwar remained the only suspect. They’d like the investigation to continue and the culprits punished. In the Ghaziabad court, the CBI asked for some time to examine the petition and the court took a break. Rajesh headed out of the building to the notary. Nupur was still upstairs at the court with some of the lawyers when they heard an uproar downstairs. Someone told Nupur not to look down since commotions are a regular affair at the court. Rajesh had just stepped out when he was attacked by a 29-year-old man with a meat cleaver. Utsav Sharma slashed Rajesh’s right temple and then took long heavy swipes from his right ear down his cheek with the blade, slicing a critical artery. Rajesh instinctively put up his hands and Utsav hacked at both his hands as well till one finger was dangling by the skin. All this happened in moments before Utsav was overpowered and handed over to the police. Nobody from the recording television crews offered help. By then Rajesh had begun bleeding profusely from his mutilated arteries and muscles. He was rushed to a nearby hospital where the doctors were nonplussed beyond applying some bandages, so he was then rushed to Delhi’s Apollo hospital. In the ambulance, his BP sinking fast and struggling to speak through his bleeding face, Rajesh told his brother Dinesh, “I don’t want to take this further. I’m done. If I go, take care of Nupur.”
THE AARUSHI case has been battering our rawest nerve endings for almost three years now. First it riveted the nation with successive sensational discoveries: Teenager killed, servant suspected! No, servant also killed, father suspected! Honour killing! Class rage! Sexual perversion! UP police useless! CBI team brilliant! CBI team useless! CBI’s second team replaces the first team! Then, as the case spluttered on and on, we stopped paying attention. We took more and more of what the CBI announced and the media pronounced on face value. So that by now, everyone has an opinion. Everyone is convinced. Everyone ‘knows’ things. Everyone has ‘heard’. After all, if the chatterers have chattered on for so long, some of it must be true?
If they were guilty, why would the Talwars want the CBI to not close the case and keep investigating?
So what have we been told by our media about Aarushi and her parents? Incest, underage sex, extra-marital affairs with family friends, hotel rooms for swinger parties, wife-swapping, influence-mongering. A newspaper presented a comic strip with Aarushi and Hemraj kissing. A television channel showed footage morphed to look like the 14-year-old taking her clothes off. One reenacted the murders in a flat in the Talwars’ colony. Not to be outdone, another reconstructed how the victims’ throats might have been sliced. Yet another beamed an MMS of a girl claimed to be Aarushi. One channel even said that the Talwars were so well-connected they often hosted high-profile soirees with famous media editors!
The State often finds the media to be a natural ally when it wants to wage a proxy war from the shadows. Two weeks after the murders, the press was inundated by leaks of email transcripts from Aarushi’s computer. Her exchanges with three boys and a year-old exchange with her parents were salaciously, and deliberately, presented to project her as a promiscuous teenager.
The grieving, bewildered middle-class doctor couple proved inept at handling the conspiracy theories and titillating fabrications produced by the media. Many in the public began wondering how the parents could have possibly slept through such a night of mayhem. The press kept suggesting from newly ‘leaked’, ‘exclusive’ gossip, such as how the Talwars were in a wife-swapping party on the night of the murder, how Rajesh was actually in an incestuous relationship with his daughter, how Aarushi was not the Talwars’ biological daughter, how the Talwars were suspected of buying out the police, the CBI, the postmortem doctor, the judges. No evidence emerged for these claims. Partial pieces of information were constructed into innuendos, such as how the parents kept Aarushi under lock and key in her room. After years of hectic rumours, many became certain that with so much smoke, there must be fire. Everyone became convinced Rajesh and Nupur must be shady people, even if nobody was quite sure exactly what they’d done.
Lean closer and the rumours begin to vapourise. The media has parroted and invented and insinuated and alleged, but relied more on an original imagination and information ‘leaks’ rather than on proof. The State’s soft war on the Talwars has succeeded, and the media, in this case at least, has worked its charm of mass hypnosis and mass hysteria very well.
Just last month, in a display of the conspiratorial hysteria that has by now settled into the public mind, Shobhaa De ranted on her blog: “The conduct displayed by Mr and Mrs Talwar appears a bit too calculated, even cold blooded to viewers… For a mother of a dead girl to project such steely determination during what must have been the most harrowing time of her life, seems a bit unnatural… Their faces are stony, their eyes, strangely devoid of any emotion… Did [Aarushi] stumble across a dark and dirty family secret? Had she become an ‘inconvenience’ to her own parents?… The crime has been committed by skilled, educated, clever people — that much is obvious… Even if the culprit is eventually found, and the Talwars get off the hook, the country will continue to be stupefied by their stellar performances on television night after night. No tears, no sorrow. Just icy arguments proclaiming their own innocence.”
Not only do you lose your daughter, you stumble upon her bloodied and cut open body in your home. Not only do the police not chase leads, they theorise idly about your daughter having sex, about you having extramarital affairs, about you murdering your daughter. Not only are you not left in peace to grieve, you get pre-emptively thrown into a hell-hole prison without any evidence brought to bear against you. Not only does the country’s premier investigative agency still not chase the leads the police missed, it backtracks on the few leads some of its officers do come up with. Not only does the court not let you examine the bumbling CBI’s defamatory investigation, a vigilante attacker slashes your face and hands with a meat cleaver and leaves you at the door of death. Not only does the court not challenge the CBI’s contradictory closure report, it asks the CBI to file a chargesheet against you for murder. And the media rolls in glee and TRPs. It’s as if someone designed the perfect and most cruel punishment for a parent in modern India. A punishment that continues till date, almost three years later.
TEHELKA’s cover story of 28 June 2008 (Two Funerals and a Hundred Blunders) raised some critical questions in the case that remain pending today. In his infamous press conference where he first proposed the canard of Aarushi’s father Rajesh-asphilanderer- and-murderer, “was [Gurdarshan Singh, IGMeerut Zone] merely covering up for an inept probe conducted by his own colleagues?” “Will the media-led middle class rest if the CBI points the finger at the compounder and the other domestic helps it is interrogating?” And “will the CBI help rehabilitate Rajesh Talwar, who has already been declared a killer?”
Since then, it has turned into a problem of perception. And with the crime itself still shrouded in mysteries, the struggle for public opinion has taken centre stage. Whose word will we believe? The Uttar Pradesh cops? The CBI’s first team? The CBI’s second team? The media? Or the Talwars?
On 29 December 2010, the CBI finally threw in the towel and filed a closure report for the case, stating that it strongly suspects Rajesh Talwar committed the murders but doesn’t have sufficient evidence to chargesheet him. Some media outlets promptly exaggerated some of the statements in the closure report and pronounced further sexual innuendos about Aarushi. The Talwars have responded by filing a protest petition to counter the insinuations in the closure report and to plead for the investigation to continue.
The CBI has a host of flimsy reasons to suspect the Talwars. That the Talwars slept through the double murders. That the Talwars ‘dressed up’ the crime scene after committing the murders. That they diverted the police on a false lead of chasing Hemraj for Aarushi’s murder. That Rajesh refused to provide keys for the terrace where Hemraj was found and then refused to identify his body. That the family tried to influence the postmortem report. That they withheld the suspicious golf club from the CBI. Most of these claims seem to emerge from thin air, as we will see later on.
Today, the south Delhi home the Talwars moved to in 2009 is covered with large photographs of Aarushi. As Rajesh Talwar recovers slowly from the attack and the subsequent surgeries, the couple are at their most exhausted and yet still don’t accuse the servants outright since they don’t finally know what happened that night. Rajesh deduces that someone came into their home that night, which means Hemraj must have let someone in after they went to sleep. But before the Talwars can even get to establishing who killed their daughter, they must somehow fight the invisible enemy, the cloud of guilt cast by the CBI as its parting shot.