City City Bang Bang, Columns

The sickness within?

The Allahabad High Court’s judgment on the Aarushi Talwar case makes for extraordinary reading. While it appears from the headlines that the Talwars have got a reprieve, the ‘benefit of doubt’ because of lack of enough compelling evidence, the judgment is categorical in its rejection of the prosecution’s case. It exposes the incompetence, the lapses in procedure, the bumbling nature of the investigation, the cluelessness of the forensic team, the patently biased mind set of the trial judge and lays bare the complete absence of any meaningful evidence.

The judgment systematically demolishes every element of the case, and it is important to tune in to the kind of language it uses.

First, the motive- (“It is crystal clear, his evidence for the purpose of believing that she was subjected to any sexual intercourse or any fiddling or manipulating with her vaginal cavity was done after her murder does not inspire confidence and no credibility can be attached to the same” and “we have no hesitation in holding that the prosecution has failed to prove by any reliable or cogent evidence, the motive suggested by the prosecution). The sexual angle was completely made up, with zero evidence to support it- what passed for forensic evidence was ludicrous.

The premise that Hemraj was killed by Rajesh Talwar in Aarushi’s room is rejected (“CBI has miserably failed to lead any evidence which may even remotely suggest that Hemraj was murdered in the bedroom of Aarushi), adding that “the prosecution theory that the appellants had hidden the dead body of Hemraj on the terrace of their flat is patently absurd”.

The allegation about the murder weapon is dealt with this way “It is apparent that the entire theory of crime weapons being golf club and surgical scalpel has been propounded by PW38 Dr. MS Dahiya on the basis of absolutely wrong information supplied to him by PW39 AGL Kaul, … is liable to be rejected out right”.

The contention that the house was locked from the inside was based on the testimony of the maid which the judgment described as “per se illegal as she has nowhere stated the aforesaid fact in her examination-in- chief, moreover, her statement is full of contradictions, embellishments and material improvements which are result of tutoring”.

We still don’t know what happened that night, but the judgment is not shy of pointing out that a viable alternative theory exists- “there is sufficient evidence on record to which we have referred to herein above and dealt with in detail suggesting entry of outsiders into the flat of the appellants” and goes on to admit to “a strong possibility of outsiders having accessed into the appellants’ flat and left after committing the double murder.”

Overall, it is clear from the judgment that the lapses went beyond mere incompetence. But then, the Aarushi case brought the worst side in all the parties involved. The police, the lower judiciary, and in particular the media. But most astonishing is the ease with which a highly improbable scenario became such a mainstream possibility in the minds of so many.

Even if the prosecution had got it right, it meant that Hemraj was caught in an act of statutory rape. It is astonishing that in all the reams that have been written about the case, this essential implication has been consistently glossed over. The insinuation that a 13-year-old girl was in a sexual relationship is by definition incorrect. That as a society, we ignored this aspect of the accusation, and leapt straight away to the highly improbable conclusion that this was an ‘honour killing’ says something quite unpleasant about us.

The trigger perhaps was the first press conference which legitimised outlandish theories. Even if what was stated in the conference was too crude, it opened the door for salacious possibilities. The assertion that the ‘father was as characterless as the daughter’ is reprehensible at so many levels, but once somebody said that, it made everything else, however bizarre, feel less over the top.

A mystery that is so difficult to solve using the facts (or what we thought were facts) available in the public domain becomes a blank slate on which we get to write our own view of the world. The fact that there so many disparate clues to construct fanciful narratives around, made this is an exercise in imagination for so many.

The loss of a compass, the dilution of certitudes about the ways in which we lead our lives, is a possible explanation of why we were so open to believing something that is at a fundamental human level, so unpalatable. The creeping sense is that in today’s world, anything is possible, and that elsewhere, as we speak, unspeakable acts that defile our way of life and overturn our sense of right and wrong are taking place.

Media stepped in to raise the pitch several notches and lurid fantasy replaced coherent reportage. The horrendous nature of the investigation magnified what was intrinsically a complex situation into a spectacle of depraved speculation.

Depending on where we stood, we felt deep empathy with the parents, were convinced that the parents were the culprits, sympathised with the domestic help who were regarded as the automatic suspects, muttered darkly of larger conspiracies, essentially indulging in replacing the unknown with some version of the unimaginable.

But now, with the judgment being as unequivocal in its rejection of the so-called evidence and unsparing of those that put together the case, it is time to leave this truly tragic tale, and the people it turned us into, behind. It is impossible to fathom the kind of pain that Rajesh and Nupur Talwar have had to bear, and will continue to carry. But it is time to let them get off the stage of our attention, and slip away into the shadows of their life. We have used their story enough, to make whatever point we have wished to make. Enough.

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