THE CIRCUS BEGINS
On the 16th morning when the Noida police were first called after the discovery of Aarushi’s murder, they were convinced the servant Hemraj was the culprit. Then, when Hemraj’s body was found the next day the police suddenly had egg on their face and the media threw itself into a frenzy, asking uncomfortable questions about the cops’ sloppy investigation. It seemed like deja vu. The same police force had showed a startling ineptness in catching the Nithari serial killers a few years ago. With their main suspect suddenly a victim and with so much pressure rapidly building up, the cops abruptly turned upon the next available person — Rajesh. On May 18th, they began telling the press the murders seemed to be the work of a trained medical professional, since the injuries suddenly seemed to have been perpetrated not by a khukri but rather a ‘surgical instrument’. Additional Director General of Police Brijalal said, “The way in which the throat of Aarushi was cut, points out that it is the work of some professional who could be a doctor or a butcher.” Who could blame the Talwars, still grieving, for not paying attention at this point? They didn’t see what was coming next.
The Special Task Force joined the probe and the Talwars were interrogated. The police case raced rapidly now: on May 22nd, a Noida SSP claimed the murders were an “honour killing” and on May 23rd, Meerut IG Gurdarshan Singh announced that Rajesh killed Aarushi and Hemraj to hide his extramarital affair with his partner at the Noida clinic, dentist Anita Durrani. Singh was particularly creative in weaving two fantastic sets of retrospective sexual innuendos into his tale — Rajesh had been indulging in adultery and this had driven Aarushi into the arms of Hemraj for solace. The cop happily announced to the media crush, “Dr Rajesh had gone out around 9:30 pm on May 15 and when he came home at around 11-11:30 pm, he found Aarushi and Hemraj in an objectionable, though not compromising, position. He killed her in a fit of rage even though he is as characterless as his daughter was.” Rajesh was supposed to have taken Hemraj to the terrace and killed him, then descended to drink some whiskey before murdering his daughter. The police had nothing to back up these conjectures — no evidence, no witness, no murder weapon. What they had was a sensational story. The media ran with it, of course.
It didn’t help that Singh kept referring to Aarushi as “Shruti” during his press conference.
The Talwars did not know what was happening at the press conference on May 23rd. According to them, that morning, they had been taken to the Police Lines area. When they reached there, Nupur and Rajesh were split up. Nupur was put in a room with her cousin and a woman constable. Hours passed. Nupur got a phone call asking her whether it was true Rajesh had been arrested. Nupur scoffed, saying Rajesh was right there in the next room. By evening when Rajesh had still not returned, she began to panic. She also found she’d been locked into the room with the constable. Nupur in the locked room told the constable she was going to get out somehow. They could shoot her if they wanted but she had to see her husband. Outside, she was first told her husband was in the next room but she couldn’t see him. She called her family and realised the rumour was true: Rajesh was in Dasna jail.
Meanwhile Rajesh had first been taken to a local magistrate. He kept pleading to be allowed a phone call but the magistrate looked scornful and told the police to take him away. Rajesh was taken to Uttar Pradesh’s Dasna jail. The cops threatened him to sign a confession of guilt. Rajesh says, “In the car the cops were talking amongst themselves about where they should go to kill me.” By now Rajesh was numb with confusion but also indignant. He refused to sign, though police kept abusing and threatening him through the day.
Why does the closure report say Aarushi’s injury was in the back of her head when the post-mortem report says it was in the front?
By evening the police insisted they had a confession from Rajesh (they didn’t). Since it was conveniently a Friday, he couldn’t apply for bail till Monday. Rajesh spent the weekend in Dasna jail.
The ball had been thrown out of the court, and it was up to the Talwars and their well-wishers to retrieve it. Nupur began speaking properly to the press only after Rajesh’s arrest, since till then the couple had been following the UP police’s advice that they don’t — in retrospect, they say it was the worst piece of advice they’ve followed in the whole affair. The tide of public opinion had already turned against them. Fortis Hospital fired Rajesh the day he was arrested. Friends avoided the Talwars. Alone at home or running between lawyers and courts to get Rajesh’s release, Nupur often felt suicidal.
There arose a smaller tide of support from unexpected quarters — Aarushi’s school friends at Delhi Public School, Noida condemned the police’s mud-slinging in a protest march; Women And Child Development Minister Renuka Chowdhury inveighed against the police’s proclivity in giving out “character certificates”; members of the Indian Dental Association and former patients professed their belief in Rajesh’s innocence.
After reading Jean Sasson’s Love in a Torn Land about Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, Aarushi had given it to Rajesh. Reading it then, Rajesh had commented that he was thankful at least India didn’t treat its jailed prisoners as badly as Iraq did.
In custody Rajesh was again threatened to sign a confession. This time he wrote one in English, which his captors couldn’t read — where he said he was innocent. At Dasna jail, Rajesh was in an overcrowded barrack with only a stone floor of spit and grime as his bed. For a toilet there was just a separate room for everyone to relieve themselves. Some numberdars in jail offered him fruit and mosquito repellent in return for bribes. When Nupur would visit Rajesh, he’d clutch her fingers through the mesh and ask, “I have never harmed anyone in my life. Why is God testing us?” Over time prisoners with tooth trouble began asking him for help; Rajesh began seeing them in the jail hospital, where he fixed the dental chair and arranged for better medicines and basic equipment.
There remained the fear that the police would plant evidence on Rajesh or he would be physically harmed. The Talwars successfully requested the case to be moved to the CBI, which happened on 31 May, 2008. Rajesh was released from jail on 11 July, 2008. He had been in jail for 50 days.
Even while Rajesh was inside Dasna, the CBI had started pursuing some other leads in the case. This CBI team began investigations in June 2008 under Joint Director Arun Kumar. In the space of one week beginning 7 June, the Talwar clinic assistant Krishna Thadarai was detained, given a lie detector test and a narco analysis test and then arrested on 13 June. Two others — Raj Kumar, a domestic help for the Durranis and Vijay Mandal, another domestic help in the Talwar neighbourhood — were also arrested.
In a press conference on 11 July, 2008, Arun Kumar stated the CBI had come up with no evidence or motive that pointed to Rajesh and squarely blamed the three arrested servants for the crime. The CBI also clarified that the Noida police’s incredible charge — that Rajesh had been enraged by catching Aarushi and Hemraj in a “compromising” position — was only a canard that had originated from Krishna’s statement to the police.
Kumar reconstructed the crime for the press based on the testing done on the three domestic helps: on the night of May 15th, Krishna, Raj Kumar and Vijay Mandal drank whiskey in Hemraj’s room, went to Aarushi’s room, gagged her and tried to sexually assault her. When she resisted they struck her head with a blunt object. Hemraj panicked and a scuffle broke out among the men. Fearing they’d wake the Talwars, they proceeded to the terrace upstairs where they murdered Hemraj. Then they returned to Aarushi’s room and slit her neck. Krishna had apparently confessed in his narco-analysis test.
In January 2009, CBI spokesperson Harsh Bhal told media the agency had “finalised the investigations” and was ready to file a chargesheet “very soon” on the basis of forensic evidence and confessions of the suspects. However, no chargesheet ever appeared.
In September 2009, the case was transferred to a second team under Deputy Director, CBI, Nilabh Kishore. The CBI spokesperson Binita Thakur told TEHELKA this shift was needed for a “fresh look” at the case because the first team hadn’t got anywhere. The new team backtracked and again pointed a finger at Rajesh Talwar while absolving the servants.
Anonymous ‘CBI sources’ revived the honour killing theory for the media. Nilabh Kishore questioned the Talwars at his Dehradun office on 18-19 May, 2010. A few days later, on 24 May — on what would have been Aarushi’s 17th birthday — a story in The Pioneer announced: “Sources said the CBI has learnt that Hemraj knew of Aarushi’s close relationship with a boy and had been blackmailing her over a period of time… Sources said blood on Aarushi’s pillow belonging to both her and Hemraj showed that they were killed together on the bed. Besides, Hemraj had been hit on the back of his head and Aarushi on the front, which clearly indicates their positions when attacked… ‘Somebody was desperate to ensure that the crime did not look like a case of honour killing,’ said a CBI officer, adding, ‘You don’t need to be a Sherlock Homes to guess who he can be.’”
In response to The Pioneer’s 24 May story, Rajesh Talwar moved the Supreme Court in summer 2010 alleging the media had violated the Court’s 2008 direction to “exercise caution” in publishing any news that might prejudice the investigation or damage Aarushi’s reputation. When the Court issued a show cause notice to The Pioneer, Nilabh Kishore issued an affidavit on 4 October, 2010 stating that “no authorised person in the CBI” had briefed the correspondent for The Pioneer’s report and that the article contained many “factual infirmities and conjectures and is not based on facts”. But this is not the last time we were to see the same factual infirmities.
On 29 December 2010, the CBI filed a closure report that cleared the three servants of all suspicion and put Rajesh as the main suspect. In putting forth its case, the report once again resurrects the Noida cops’ infamously wild theories by repeating that “the UP Police during their investigation had suspected Dr Rajesh Talwar to have committed the crime due to grave & sudden provocation on finding his daughter in a compromising position with Hemraj”; paradoxically, though, the same closure report also admits “there is no evidence to prove that Hemraj was killed in the room of Aarushi”. Also, the closure report is selectively amnesiac — it doesn’t mention why its own first team (under Arun Kumar) had publicly rubbished this theory, or how the second team (under Nilabh Kishore) has disproved Kumar’s findings.