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Remembering Aarushi Talwar: Justice Undelivered

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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. 

media trial against talwars
Nobody was worried about who did it or why? It became a hot scoop about a teenage girl’s “open” nature.

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.

HBO also brought out a two-part docu-series named Behind Closed Doors to take a deeper look into what conspired that night and afterwards. There is also a podcast called Trial By Error, an original production of Arre-Saavn that seeks to dive deeper into the case and its aftermath. There was also talk that Nupur Talwar was denied permission to pen down a memoir while she was lodged at the Dasna jail with her husband. 

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.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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