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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

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(Published in on 11 January, 2012, retrieved from

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It has been more than three and a half years since Noida woke up to news of a 13-year-old schoolgirl, with a playful smile and kohl-darkened eyes, having been found murdered at her home. On May 16, 2008, and for weeks after, television crews swarmed around the house, combing it for evidence and interviewing anyone who passed by.
Most news channels, including the one I was working for at the time, were based in Noida, and reporters found it convenient to dash from their homes to Sector 25, hop over for a bite to Sector 18, run back when they had to do live on-ground reports, and return to office to hold court.
Within hours of the discovery of Aarushi’s body, the excitement over a death in our turf had doubled – it turned out that a male servant, who had been suspected of the murder, had been killed. Hemraj’s body was recovered from the terrace of the house, thanks to a retired policeman with a rather morbid interest in the case, who decided to snoop around the house when the slain teenager’s parents were out.
Immediately, the media – and public – began to put two and two together, to come up with several mathematical possibilities. They decided the Class IX student of Delhi Public School was having an affair with the Nepali grandfather, and that her enraged father Rajesh Talwar had carried out an ‘honour killing’. Others put forward more imaginative, and disturbing, theories – that Aarushi’s dentist parents, Nupur and Rajesh Talwar, were involved in a high-society wife-swapping circle, that Aarushi had an incestuous relationship with her father, and that Aarushi was the child of Dr. Nupur Talwar’s lover, among other things. But everyone was sure of one thing – that the killers of the girl were the people who had brought her into the world.
Their reasoning was even more cocksure: How can you sleep through a murder (whether the victims shouted out or not)? If Aarushi did not scream when her throat was slit, her vocal chords must have been cut by someone who was familiar with anatomy, and who better than a doctor (even if the doctor in question was a dentist who had no reason to know how to sever vocal chords)? How could anyone have entered a house that was locked? (Forget that most, if not all, homeowners in Noida have flouted building norms, so that their houses share walls with a couple of others.) And here was the clincher: the Talwars had not shown enough grief. And by thus failing to shed the appropriate volume of tears expected of bereaved parents, they had indicted themselves.
After Rajesh Talwar was arrested a week later, media persons made a habit of thrusting microphones in his face, asking if he had killed his only child. They stalked Nupur Talwar to ask why she was standing by her husband, and whether she had been his accomplice.
The only interview I have read with the Talwars that does not judge them one way or the other was done by Patrick French for his book India: A Portrait. As one reads the description of the home the Talwars live in and the room they have maintained as a shrine to their daughter, and hears the Talwars speak of their trauma, one wonders why everyone in India seems to think s/he knows better than the investigating agencies that have repeatedly failed to solve the case.
The Talwars were stunned, horrified and furious at being suspected of involvement in the killing of the girl they had raised and loved. But what comes through most obviously is the despondence they feel – whichever way the investigation goes, and whoever is found guilty, their daughter is lost forever. And the Talwars have not only had to deal with the shock of their child’s death, but have been denied a chance to mourn and heal by a series of accusations based on conjecture, and media trials based on fancy.
Last Friday, the Supreme Court dismissed an appeal by Aarushi’s parents against their trial, and directed them to face court proceedings. The media’s reaction to the Bench’s decision was chilling. For years now, Indian media houses – especially television news channels – have seen themselves as the country’s only reliable anti-corruption agency, and now they treated the dismissal of the Talwars’ appeal as a personal triumph.
The celebrations broke out as tirades on television, and updates on Facebook. One reporter put up a link to an article detailing what the Supreme Court Bench had said, with a fervent wish that something ought to come of it this time. A comment on that post read: “These monsters shdve been tried earlier and shdve been rotting in jail by now...i have no doubt in my mind that they did it. I saw remorse...monsters!”
But what revolted me even more was another comment, which read, “But those were fun days!”, complete with a smiley, and responses to that, reiterating how much “fun” covering the mysterious death of a schoolgirl had been.
How do people who are callous enough to refer to reporting on a tragedy as “fun” believe they have the right to call people who are suspected on circumstantial evidence of killing their daughter “monsters”? And when interrogations, investigations, forensic tests and narcoanalyses have led to dead ends, why do we think this is an open-and-shut case, and that all of us know who the guilty party is?


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