“Aarushi” by Avirook Sen

This story continues to haunt many in India even after the parents of the 14-year-old schoolgirl Aarushi Talwar,  found murdered in their own home in Noida in May 2008, are now in jail, sentenced to life imprisonment for killing their own daughter. Is this case which took the country by storm in those days such an open and shut case as some have made it out to be? Were the parents foisted with the charge of murder? Did the CBI team hastily conclude that the parents of the dead girl had killed her just to close the case and get laurels for themselves? Was sufficient attention and scrutiny paid to the servants, Krishna and his friends, who were key suspects at one time? Were they let off despite considerable evidence being found against them? Did the Talwars jeopardize their own case by getting conflicting legal advice from different lawyers thereby diluting their stand in the process? Was the evidence produced in court doctored by those who wanted to see a verdict against the Talwars?

These and many more questions are sought to be answered by the author Avirook Sen in his book, simply titled, “Aarushi” published by Penguin India, 312 pages, (2015). Before I read the book, as one who had keenly followed the case in the media, I felt the Talwars could be behind the crime. Had they found their daughter and only child in a compromising position with Hemraj, their middle-aged manservant that night? Remember Hemraj too was found murdered, though shockingly his body lying on the terrace of their house was found a few days later. This theory that made the rounds seemed to find favour in a large section of the population. It was propagated by the media in their daily shows. As the author writes, middle class India with our codes of morality were considerably titillated by theories about sex on the young teenager’s part  and relationships outside marriage on the part of her parents.

On reading Sen’s book, I wonder if Rajesh and Nupur Talwar were framed. Were they made the scapegoats as the true culprits were never identified? Did they unwittingly spoil their own case by making contradictory statements which were pounced upon by the cops who were waiting for them to make even half a mistake?

Sen’s training and experience as an investigative journalist is reflected in the writing style and descriptions of the people and events in the pages that flow so easily. There is a great amount of research that has gone into the book and I admire the author for the meticulous work done in documenting the notes and references made in the book.

It is often said that in our legal system what matters is the evidence placed before the courts. This determines the outcome of the case more than anything else. Perhaps the CBI and the prosecutors were able to present such evidence against the Talwars. Instead of the prosecution having to prove the Talwars guilty, on reading the book one feels in this case the Talwars were forced to fight to prove their innocence- and they apparently failed to do so.

Arushi Talwar has now been dead for 7 years. Her parents are now in jail and likely to be there for the foreseeable future. The media has lost interest in this case and moved on to newer ones. The judge who gave the verdict has retired. One of the main CBI investigators in this case is no more. Yet, there is a feeling amongst many that we have not heard the last of this case. What will happen in the future remains to be seen. And who knows, Avirook Sen may just write a sequel.

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