I went to meet one of the CBI officials who gave me a tiny bit of detail for a story. So insignificant was his information that I can't even recall what they had concluded. But what I do remember was a conversation with that same man a few days later.
"I can't talk to you. I can just say that whatever's happening isn't right. They are trying to involve the wrong people.'' And then he put that landline down. I didn't have his mobile as his sense of being an upright officer meant only to meet me at his office. What happened after that was that he never took my call again, and sometime later, he retired and disappeared into the sunset.
We watched what happened with the Aarushi case with shock. Sometimes while scratching our heads, sometimes with our jaws dropped. I tried to link what he'd said with all the developments taking place- the three domestic helps being arrested, the khukri being found, the golf club theory, the parents being arrested - but it was all too jumbled up. I didn't know if that junior official was actually forewarning me or whether it was just the bitter parting shot of a man who'd been taken off a case. I could assume anything, but you know what they say in journalism which especially holds true of crime stories? Assumption is the mother of all cock-ups.
And yet, that's exactly what the CBI did. The team that believed the team of three domestic helpers killed Aarushi as well as the team that believed the parents killed Aarushi - they are both guilty of making huge leaps of faith based on what they thought the truth was. The main evidence they relied on was narco-analysis and lie detector tests. Now, one doesn't have to be an expert to know that you can't rely on truth serum-fuelled confessions. And yet, instead of using it like one is meant to, as leads to get the real, scientific evidence, the CBI announced they had got their group of killers. What certainly didn't help was the one conducting the tests- Dr Malini - who was later sacked after word got out of her doctoring test reports.
The other team that believed the Talwars are guilty had a more fertile imagination. They had no murder weapon, they had no explanation for why Hemraj's blood wasn't found in the room where Aarushi and he were apparently killed, they certainly had no witnesses, and yet, they went ahead and argued in court about how the father had likely killed his own daughter: "It's a really tragic case but that's the only thing that could have happened.'' I really respect that officer but there's something not right with that. How does one go from closing a case because you have no evidence to arguing in court about how Rajesh Talwar swung his golf club at Hemraj but accidentally killed his daughter instead. Hadn't they just concluded that there were no eye-witnesses to that?
They based their entire case on the strength of the testimony of the cleaning lady who arrived at the house the morning of the murders. The CBI says she testified that when she reported for work, the door was locked from inside. Then, about 90 seconds later, when she returned with the key, she found the door open. This gave CBI their theory - if four people were inside the house, and two are dead, then it follows that the two alive killed them. They also point out how Rajesh Talwar refused to hand over the key to the locked terrace where Hemraj's body was found, as testified by the Noida police. But the thing is: who will take the Noida police seriously after they have gone on live television with zero evidence to say vile things about a 14-year-old girl? The High Court has gone by the Indian Evidence Act and dumped these theories, even calling the cleaning lady's testimony doctored.
As my colleague Neeta Sharma pointed out, there have been six CBI directors since 14-year-old Aarushi died. One of those directors said that it was a very clear cut case and the killers would be found in a month. One official said that the killer left a finger print on the whisky bottle and it was very easy to identify. And yet, almost a decade later, we are not wiser, we have the same questions, and the same swapped pillowcase theories. The CBI director should now do the right thing - admit they are lost and not waste everyone's time by filing an appeal. It would at least be the honest thing to do.
In the spirit of honesty, I will also stop answering the question which people ask me most when they hear I'm a journalist. To appear clued in, we are always tempted to hazard a guess but to the next person who asks who killed Aarushi, I'll just say- I really don't know.
(Sunetra Choudhury is Political Editor, NDTV. She's author of 'Behind Bars: Prison Tales of India's Most Famous'.)
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