Twelve years have passed since the nation was rocked with the controversy surrounding the Noida double murder case, or as a lot of us would call it, the Aarushi Hemraj murder case which took place between 15 and 16 May, 2008.
I was 11 when the news broke out, close to the age of Aarushi whose character was being questioned by the media. People around me discussed the case and the speculations surrounding it, how they too would have taken a grave step if their daughter was caught engaging in a sexual relationship with the servant, how the family’s honour needed to be defended. Some even went to the extent of saying that Aarushi was served right for what she had done. And all these opinions based on what? A hyped, blown out of proportion media trial.
Justice had been served to Aarushi, Hemraj and their murderers even before the investigation took a concrete shape. We’re in 2020 and the case still stays unsolved. Rajesh and Nupur Talwar are still the prime suspects, based more on what could have happened rather than what happened, and the investigation on the other servants present that night have been conveniently dropped off because scapegoats have already been found.
The character assassination that was carried out not only of Aarushi but also her parents and their promiscuous nature was something that scared me as a kid. Why were we judging her when we didn’t know her? I’m still confused. Yes, the media reports what it deems to be true, but the fact is that TRPs also matter and the media and viewers lap up any opportunity of a scandalous story.
What could have been any other case of murder that needed a clean and precise investigation was turned into a scrupulous piece of scandal. Nobody was worried about who did it or why? Were the parents even guilty? There were others present in the house that day. Could they have done it? No. Rather it became a hot scoop about a teenage girl’s “open” nature and how the middle class deals with such incidents.
Moreover, along with a trial by the media, Aarushi and Hemraj were also failed by politics and a botched up investigation. The UP police first arrived on scene and were unable to protect any evidence as neighbours and friends streamed into the house, destroying valuable evidence that would have probably secured justice for the girl, the manservant and the family.
The case was handed over to the CBI and one investigation led to another, literally. There was a position shuffle in the CBI due to the intense pressure mounting on the agency to provide concrete results and this shift also brought about a change in the line of investigation. While the first team, headed by Arun Kumar, had found some evidence that the servants were responsible for this and could have pursued the case further, this direction was completely cut off.
The next team set about on its own mission to close the case as soon as they could. Narco analysis, brain mapping, lie detection and polygraph tests are not admissible in court as evidence, but from the little behavioural scientists could gather, it seemed pretty obvious to them that the parents did not have a hand in this, while probably the three other servants and helpers did. While not admissible in court as pieces of evidence in themselves, these procedures can help the investigating authority to fish out pieces of information that can be used later on to unearth evidence.
Multiple factors define this case, the most unsurprising being India’s middle class and their double standards; those who believe and try to project themselves as “modern” and “broad-minded” as well as “forward-thinking” but also jump to conclusions when the character, particularly a girl or a woman is to be judged. This middle-class hypocrisy and north Indian patriarchal norms, when mixed with some juicy controversial nuggets, stirred people into gossip. They moved the focus from the heinous murder to tales of a family that had a secret life.
This then transferred to the media which shred the family’s reputation into bits and when people say that the Aarushi Talwar murder case was based not on a judicial trial but a media trial, all those who have been following the case know what is being referred to. The trial was publicised scathingly, stories upon stories constructed, a sort of palimpsest of the entire narrative.
The angle of the palimpsest also brings in another thought. The CBI and other nodal agencies are put under such immense and gruelling pressure that the end goal often becomes not to find the perpetrator, but to close the case. This is seen in the Aarushi Talwar and Hemraj case, wherein the second team cherry-picked facts that suited the narrative they wanted to build and even coerced some of the doctors and witnesses to alter, albeit very slightly, their statements.
The first line of investigation was leading to the servants’ hand in the murders, but the evidence was difficult to get. It was easy to target the Talwar’s. It was something that seemed plausible and was something that the largely middle-class audience of India would be able to digest. A father caught his daughter having sex with the servant. In a fit of rage, he killed both of them; Aarushi to save his family’s honour and Hemraj for doing the unthinkable. Testimonies were changed. The murder weapon turned from a khukuri to a scalpel to a golf club without any evidence.
Aarushi was an easy target. She had way too many boyfriends to be able to defend her character at any point. The Talwar’s were nouveau riche and engaged in wife swapping and other pleasures. The interpretation of the evidence changed from Aarushi’s vaginal swabs showing no abnormality to an indication of penetration. “Dressing up” of the crime scene was another concept introduced by Dr Dahiya, who was asked to reconstruct the crime scene. But there are so many loopholes that one finds in these statements and proclamations.
The CBI at an early stage and even the court during the trials very conveniently forgot the infamous email address created to converse with the Talwar’s, bearing the name of Hemraj, meant as a cheap tactic to hold the Talwar’s guilty. The blood-stained pillowcase recovered from Hemraj’s room, another purple coloured pillow cover recovered from Krishna’s room with Hemraj’s bloodstains on them, the fingerprints on the scotch bottle, the fact that Aarushi’s bathroom was accessible by the guest bathroom and the fact that the three other domestic helpers who admitted to being present that night were all overlooked.
First, because this did not support the narrative that was being stitched in order to hold the Talwar’s guilty and close the case and second, the Talwar’s looked guilty. Nupur Talwar was especially seen as cold and emotionless in the multiple interviews she gave after her daughter’s death. Nobody wanted to believe the more plausible option that she was devastated at losing her only daughter and there was only one conclusion that seemed logical. Only a cold, calculative murderer could look so emotionless. Her face gave it away. She had partaken in the killing of her daughter and their house help.
Though the Talwar’s now stand acquitted by the court due to a lack of evidence, one might say that many pieces of evidence work against them. And this might be the reason a plea has been filed against the acquittal of the Talwar’s by the CBI to the Supreme Court.
The door of their house was locked from the inside. Hemraj had on multiple occasions reached out because he believed he had a threat to his life because of Rajesh’s short temper. What kind of parents lock their child inside her room? Did they do so because they already had an inkling of her liaisons with the domestic help Hemraj? The crime scene looked dressed up enough but not too much. Aarushi’s genitals were apparently cleaned after her death. The router was switched off about 3 hours after her death despite there being evidence of no power cut from the electricity board.
This most definitely makes it difficult to discern who the killers maybe, but it becomes problematic when a trial is botched by opinion rather than evidence. It becomes a chance to conduct character assassinations and for the media to gain huge viewership in light of the stories that it is fed or that it cooks up.
The police stand accused of not securing the crime scene when they arrived, collecting fingerprints through measures that deemed them inconclusive except for two prints and letting journalists and family members in and out easily. The citizens stand disputed on what version of the story they endorse. The CBI let institutional politics get in the way of the case. The media swarmed over the case like a storm of locusts.
Certain circumstantial evidence is not in favour of the Talwar’s. The three others in the room with Hemraj that night, Krishna, Rajkumar and Vijay Mandal had admitted to being there. With each passing year, new pieces of literature and visual content is released as authors, investigators and even common folk try to piece the puzzle.
Avirook Sen’s book Aarushi sent out shockwaves in regards to the procedure of the investigation and the mindset that determined this procedure. Meghna Gulzar’s film Talvar starring the stellar Irrfan Khan was another look at how the case was mishandled.
With so many pieces of literature on the internet and off it, we get to see multiple faces of the case. We as a country have sensationalised, commercialised and turned into gossip the crime that turned lives upside down. Nevertheless, we do not know who killed Aarushi Talwar and Hemraj and why?
The promise of justice stands flawed. How many more years and how many more Aarushi’s will it take for us to reform as a society and for investigations to be transparent and true to the purpose. Only time will tell, or probably we will be rendered immobile the next time justice is to be meted out. But for now, the Noida double murder case of 2008 stands unsolved, etched in popular memory and a testimony to how we function as a society.