What do you do when the entire system goes deaf on you?


There are many events this week that demand attention. The cynically manufactured impasse in Andhra Pradesh, the gunbattle in Keran, the Narendra Modi merchandise factory, the escape velocity of Jupiter, the continuing mess of UP and the unconscionable damning of Sikkim. But there is one story that pulses deep beneath these, haunting, knocking at one’s conscience, demanding to be told and retold.

On the face of it, this could seem an indulgence: why should the tragedy of two people count for much in a country of 1.2 billion? Ordinarily perhaps, it wouldn’t. But this is no ordinary story. It exemplifies what can happen when an entire system goes deaf on you. It exposes the tectonic damages irresponsible media can do. It encapsulates the cold, impervious heart of our democracy. It typifies the mess of our criminal jurisprudence and forensics. Remember, if this could happen to these two people, it could happen to you.

In fact, the story of Rajesh and Nupur Talwar is not just a tragedy: it is a perversity. Everyone knows their 13-year-old daughter Aarushi was gruesomely murdered five years ago. So was Hemraj, their live-in house help. The Talwars were blamed almost instantly for these murders. The cops floated a salacious theory. They said 13-year-old Aarushi was “in a compromising position” with 45-year-old Hemraj in the room next to her parents, while her father was awake. He supposedly found out and bludgeoned both to death on the bed. Then his wife woke up, and instead of being aghast, she helped her husband further slit her daughter’s and servant’s throats, then dragged the servant up two flights of stairs to the roof, to make it look like the “work of outsiders”.

Five tortuous years later, both the cops and the CBI admit they have nothing to back this outlandish story: neither motive, nor evidence. Not a drop of Hemraj’s blood was found in Aarushi’s room; not a hair or skin trace. In fact, a seven-member forensic committee from AIIMS deduced he was killed on the roof itself. This should have put an end to the malicious theorising: if the servant wasn’t in Aarushi’s bed, the father had no reason to kill them.

But bizarrely, the story just continued to swell. The laziest mathematical equation underpinned this: four people were in the house; two are dead, the other two must be the killers.

But here are some facts: The Talwars were not the only people in the house that night. Apparently, there were three other servants. They didn’t need to force an entry because they were Hemraj’s friends. Both the Talwars and these servants have taken two lie detector, two polygraph and two narco-analysis tests. The Talwars have come clean on all the tests. The servants, on the other hand, indicated deception in the first two. And, in the narco, they apparently gave a blow-by-blow account of how they murdered Aarushi and Hemraj. Subsequently, a pillow cover with the dead man’s blood was found in one of these men’s rooms: explosive evidence.

Yet, they are not even part of the trial. Instead, the Talwars are trapped in a hermetically sealed argument where they must prove their innocence, without being allowed to make any reference to these servants. Two days ago, the Supreme Court — yet again — rejected the Talwars’ petition asking they be given access to the narco and polygraph tests. They have been knocking repeatedly at the court’s door because it is their legitimate right and they have nowhere else to go. But the court has rapped them again and again for wasting time. Apparently, the Talwars should hurtle faster towards the injustice awaiting them, without a fight.

Here are some more facts: The CBI had filed a closure report, seeking the case to be closed. It is the Talwars who insisted the case be reopened and the investigation continued, so the real culprit could be caught. Is that standard behaviour for murderers?

There are bloody palm prints and footprints on the terrace. Indian forensics is unable to decipher who they belong to. It is the Talwars who have been urging the CBI to get forensic experts from abroad for advanced DNA testing. Is that standard behaviour for murderers?

This is not even a fraction of the Talwar story. Nor even a glimpse into the lunatic darkness that surrounds them. The trial is almost done. They have not been allowed the witnesses they wanted. Soon the verdict will be out.

This story will one day sear the nation’s conscience. TEHELKA published a 10,000-word cover on them. There is material enough to write 10,000 more. But for words to have meaning, there must at least be a listening ear.


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Shoma Chaudhury is Managing Editor, Tehelka, a weekly newsmagazine widely respected for its investigative and public interest journalism. Earlier she had worked with The Pioneer, India Today, and Outlook. In 2000, she left Outlook to join Tarun Tejpal, and was among the team that started Tehelka.com. When Tehelka was forced to close down by the government after its seminal story on defence corruption, she was one of four people who stayed on to fight and articulate Tehelka‘s vision and relaunch it as a national weekly.

Shoma has written extensively on several areas of conflict in India – people vs State; the Maoist insurgency, the Muslim question, and issues of capitalist development and land grab. She has won several awards, including the Ramnath Goenka Award and the Chameli Devi Award for the most outstanding woman journalist in 2009. In 2011, Newsweek (USA) picked her as one of 150 power women who “shake the world”. In May 2012, she also won the Mumbai Press Club Award for best political reporting. She lives in Delhi and has two sons.


  1. Shoma ma’am i have a question , are Krishna’s purple pillow cover and parcel 21 the same ? If yes , then how come parcel 21 was recovered from Hemraj’s room , as the tag by inspector Pankaj Bansal said ?

  2. A compelling account indeed. The conduct of Police and the CBI has been suspect form the beginning. But the big question is what is the motive of CBI frame Talwars and save real culprits who ever they may be?. Answer to this question is as important as saving the innocent!

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