A teenage girl, daughter of a well-known doctor couple, is found brutally murdered in the family apartment in Noida, a suburb of the Indian capital, New Delhi.
Next day, the decomposing body of the family’s servant, an initial suspect in the girl’s murder, is recovered from the terrace of the same building.
Who killed Aarushi Talwar and Hemraj, the domestic help?
More than five bruising years after the double murders became India’s most talked about crime, a court is due to deliver its verdict on Monday. The dentist couple, Rajesh and Nupur Talwar, is accused of killing their 13-year-old daughter and 45-year-old help by slitting their throats.
The twists and turns in the case have been many and bizarre, making it India’s most high-profile and controversial trial.
In the beginning, the police threw Rajesh Talwar, into prison for killing Aarushi because she “objected to her father’s relationship” with another doctor, and that the “girl herself was in a relationship with the servant.” Talwar, 49, was bailed out after 50 days in prison.
Twists and turns
Amid mounting concerns that the local police had botched up investigations – the crime scene had been run over by the media and outsiders – the case was handed over to India’s top investigation agency, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
The CBI took a different tack, investigating the role of three other men – Krishna Thadarai, Dr Talwar’s assistant at his clinic, Raj Kumar, a servant, and Vijay Mandal, a driver – in the murders.
The three were held and released after nearly two months after a sensational revelation by the CBI – Krishna reportedly told the investigators in polygraph, lie-detector and narco-analysis tests that he and the other two men were involved in the murders.
The chief investigating officer Arun Kumar said Krishna had told the sleuths that the three men had got drunk at Talwar’s home on the night of the incident, entered Aarushi’s room, gagged her, hit her with a “hard, blunt object” and “tried to sexually abuse her”.
This had led to a violent scuffle, Krishna apparently told the investigators, after which they went to the terrace, killed Hemraj, returned to Aarushi’s room and “then slit her neck”. But since narco-analysis confessions, triggered by drugs, are not admissible in a court of law, the agency allowed the men to be released, saying they would look for harder, clinching evidence.
A year later, the agency appeared to have made little progress despite a new team of investigators at the agency taking over the case. And then, in what many thought was a shocking and inexplicable twist to the case, the CBI said in December 2010 that it now believed the parents were involved, but wanted to close the case because of lack of hard evidence.
The CBI’s closure report said a “number of circumstances indicate the involvement of the parents in the crime and the cover up”, alluding to precise surgical cuts on the victim’s bodies which were the work of “professionally trained people” and suggesting that one of Rajesh Talwar’s golf clubs may have been the weapon of murder. This time, the three men were exonerated.
The Talwars protested. They appealed to a special court, set up to try cases involving investigations by the agency, against the CBI’s plea to close the case.
But in another tantalising twist, the court disagreed with both the Talwars and the CBI: it said the agency’s closure report had enough material to charge the Talwars with the murder.
In June 2012, the 17-month-long fast-track trial began in the court. If Rajesh Talwar and his wife, Nupur, 48, are found guilty of murder, they could face a life sentence or even capital punishment.
‘Miscarriage of justice?’
Monday’s verdict is not likely to bring closure to this case. In the more than five years it has dragged on, the chase shone a spotlight on an all that is wrong with India.
The police and the CBI have been blamed for a possible miscarriage of justice thanks to shoddy investigation, sloppy marshalling of circumstantial evidence and casting aspersions on the parents, sometimes turning it into kind of morality play.
Many of India’s 24-hour news channels and countless newspapers have been blamed for whipping up an unprecedented frenzy over the case, selectively publishing leaked lurid details of the case, and railing against the Talwars, stoking fears of a trial by media.
According to leading writer and historian Patrick French, the Talwar’s “lack of knowledge about the people in their home was to destroy their lives – aided and exacerbated by the administrative dystopia of the state of Uttar Pradesh”, where Noida is located.
And the way the Talwars have been castigated before being proven guilty has also revealed the sharp social cleavages in a fast-changing country – salacious gossip about the supposedly libertine lifestyle of the couple and their daughter were liberally splashed over the media.
“If you look at the way the case has developed, it would lead to logical suspicions that the Talwars have been framed. The flip flops during the investigation and the decision by the court to start a trial on the basis of a report by an investigation agency to close the case for lack of evidence haven’t been still explained,” says sociologist P Roy.
Rebecca John, a senior lawyer in the defence team, says she is “fighting for civil liberties and to uphold individual rights” in defending the Talwars.
“I am still looking for that one piece of definite evidence which nails it on the Talwars,” she told an interviewer. “What we found by extensive reading of the case files is actually evidence that nails somebody else and establishes his involvement in the case.”
John says there’s “something rotten” about criminal justice and policing in India. “We need to change it fast,” she says.
Reports say the Talwar couple is stoic before the verdict. “”Even if they acquit me, I am not going to let this go,” Rajesh Talwar told a news website. “I am going to make sure that those who did this to my child are brought to justice. I owe it to Aarushi.”