It has been one year.
One year since my cousin Nupur Talwar and her husband Rajesh were convicted and sent to jail for crimes they did not commit. One year since a judge decided that Rajesh had, in a fit of temper, killed his 13-year-old daughter Aarushi and the 45-year-old cook Hemraj in May 2008 for being in a sexual relationship. And that Nupur somehow helped him (The judgment is not clear about her role).
Nupur's mother and mine are sisters.
"It's not unheard of," a senior Delhi-based journalist told me caustically after the sentencing, "for so-called respectable Indian families to have sexual liaisons with their servants."
"I'm sick of this talk of the middle-class Indian family," a pediatrician wrote to me. "I see cases all the time where ordinary parents do horrendous things to their children."
"You rich people," fumed an anonymous writer. "You think you can get away with anything."
Such conversations explained much to me. People extrapolate from their own experiences. Just because something CAN happen, they think it HAS happened. Proof and evidence become immaterial.
But how does a court of law convict based on speculation?
"Where is justice?" asks my Uncle Chitnis, Nupur's father. "Where is the justice in innocent people sitting behind bars?"
At 82, this once-proud veteran of the Indian Air Force is frailer than ever. He and my 74-year-old Aunt Lata ("Maushi" I call her in Marathi) toil to support their daughter and son-in-law in jail. They make the dusty, pot-holed, bone-jostling drive from Noida to Ghaziabad every week. They fall sick but delay going to the doctor if it means having to miss a visit to prison. They carry snacks. Clothes. Sweaters, now that Delhi is getting cold. They also take huge reserves of emotional support with them on each visit to jail.
On the days that he is home, my uncle goes online. He scans the Allahabad High Court website, where his hope turns to desperation as he looks for something he has not yet seen: a date for their case to be heard.
"People may call me mad," says my uncle, sounding anything but. "At least give us a hearing."
In May 2014, the Talwars' application for bail was rejected on the grounds that the family would be given an "expeditious hearing" instead.
The language of law is a wonderfully elastic system of communication. It can be laughably arcane as the Talwars' judgment showed us. Read the trial Judgement by CBI Court It can also be safely vague.
"Expeditious" is one such term.
In this case, it means the appeal has not been heard yet. To be clear: there have been no hearings. One judge said he was not taking detailed arguments, that he was only listening to bail hearings. Another is due to retire in December and is unlikely to touch such a high-profile case.
"It seems like nobody wants to deal with it," says Rajesh's older brother Dinesh.
The Talwars' defence counsel Tanveer Ahmed Mir, who filed a 3,000-page appeal at the High Court, tells me that cases usually take 20 to 25 years to be heard in UP. That the Talwars can at least hope to be heard before that time frame is cause for optimism.
Pardon me if I don't feel the joy.
Why did investigators never follow the leads after finding a bottle of wine, two bottles of beer and a bottle of Sprite in Hemraj's room, all partially full? Hemraj did not drink alcohol.
The prosecution's own witness had testified that Hemraj's bed had depressions that looked like three people had sat on it. And that his toilet looked like it had been used by multiple people.
Who were these people? And why, if there was evidence against them, were the Talwars convicted?
Just consider the motive. Aarushi and Hemraj were allegedly in a sexual act (rape, if it was true: Aarushi was a minor). How does anyone know they were in this supposed relationship?
Is there any evidence of Hemraj being in the room, or being dragged out of the room as is alleged? Is his blood there? Semen? One strand of hair, perhaps? A photo? A conversation to this effect? A rumour? Were Aarushi's grades at school falling? Was she exhibiting abnormal behavioural changes?
Forensic scientist B.K. Mohapatra claimed in court that Hemraj's pillowcase was found in Aarushi's room.
A-ha. Evidence! Weird that a man intent on having furtive sex was particular about carrying his pillowcase to the child's room. Still, some might say, that's evidence. Except that a tag on that pillowcase - opened in court in front of the judge - clearly read, "Pillow and pillow cover, blood stained (from servant's room.)"
Despite this, the judge said that pillowcase established the guilt of the Talwars.
The whitish discharge in Aarushi's vagina was proof of sex, the judgment said. As any woman or medical student knows, that is just perverse nonsense.
How does a reputed gynaecologist get shot down as a "partisan witness" because she had once met the Talwars some 10 years prior? And how does the testimony of a maid who admits in court that she was tutored by the CBI get accepted?
In October, the lead CBI investigator in the case A.G.L.Kaul died of a heart attack at age 52 (or 54, depending on what you read). He refused to use the lie-detector tests conducted by the CBI on the Talwars to exonerate the couple, saying such tests are not scientific. But in another case - the unusually brutal murder of the Badaun sisters - he used lie-detector tests to let the accused go free and blamed the family for the murder. Read the full article
The post-mortem reports in the Aarushi-Hemraj murders changed after Kaul took over the investigations. They also underwent change in the Badaun case.
The judgment provided a "chain of (26) circumstances" that, the judge said, proved the Talwars guilty. Click here to read 26 reasons the Talwars are NOT guilty
Every link in the so-called chain should point unerringly to the guilt of the accused. In this case, the chain does not pass that test. It breaks down - not in one or two - but in each of those circumstances. Some sections of the media uncritically published 26 reasons the Talwars are guilty.
If only Rajesh and Nupur had not been so idealistic, so naive. Even after Aarushi's murder, and despite the shameful reputation of the UP Police, they both genuinely believed if they fought for justice they would get it. For a year and a half after the murders, they both still had their passports. Only the innocent would choose to stay and fight when flight was an option.
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