I must begin with a confession. I don't have an opinion about whether the Talwars murdered Aarushi or not.
I envy the certitude with which so many people are either expressing relief at the acquittal - "They have already suffered so much - to have your child murdered and then go through this humiliation and imprisonment"; or anger - "Did no one kill Aarushi?! Who was funding this campaign in favour of the Talwars, of course the parents did it". And more.
The murder turned most average Joes and Jills into experts on human psychology, crime investigation and forensics from the comfort of their homes. I unfortunately remained immune to this effect. I do have an opinion about what the court ought to have done. The chain of evidence does not conclusively point one way or another. Therefore, the accused cannot be deprived of their liberty. We need not and must not feel compelled to punish someone/anyone just because a 14-year-old child has been murdered. It is perfectly normal and possible for a murder case to not conclusively point to any person in which case it's not "no one killed Aarushi", but "we cannot say with certainty who killed Aarushi" and therefore we cannot punish anyone. Wanting to punish someone just because we feel pained and outraged may have something to do with a society seeking some kind of moral closure, it does not have anything to do with justice. It is justice that the courts need to focus on, not on misplaced notions of collective conscience and certainly not on a society failing to find closure. Sometimes, justice doesn't demand that someone must be held guilty, it demands that no innocent person should be punished.
Was justice done? Do I have any opinions about anyone else being guilty? To both questions, my answer is "partly/kind of". Justice has not been done fully not just because we failed to conclusively establish who the murderer was but because we continue to enable more murders. It is here that I must come to the list of those who I believe are guilty. First and foremost, every institution responsible for police and judicial reforms. To say that the investigation in this case was "shoddy" would be a cruel understatement. Per most reports, the media and the cops carelessly walked over and contaminated the entire crime scene. The police couldn't even bother to look in all parts of the house such as the locked terrace.
The case has taken nine years and we have just finished with the first stage of appeal. During this time, the accused have spent a significant time in prison, their livelihoods have been brought to a grinding halt, they have suffered pain and humiliation. All we get to hear from all sides of the political spectrum during elections are empty slogans and lofty promises. When was the last time you heard a politician addressing a rally and speaking about the need to bring about police reforms, ensure that the police is modernised not only in terms of equipment but also in terms of training?
The second verdict of guilt I have in mind is for most of the media which was hellbent on reducing a tragedy into an ugly and sensational drama. No boundary was left uncrossed, no effort unspared in turning the case into dinner-time gossip. The media has the power to direct focus and determine the contours of popular discourse. We are rapidly turning into a voyeuristic society, it is time that most media outlets sit up and reflect on how many lives they are willing to ruin and how many people they are willing to subject to humiliation for TRPs. They also need to wonder if turning people into voyeurs is in turn affecting press freedom. Increasingly, all people care about is who can make them the angriest, and not who is telling the truth and/or talking about the most important issue.
The list of guilty cannot finish with a look at ourselves. I repeat - we need to ask what determines who we vote for, what determines which channel we watch, what do the TRPs tell us about who we really are? Until and unless all of these questions are addressed, until and unless our collective conscience aches for the right reasons, we will be responsible for many more Aarushis being killed.
(Dushyant is a lawyer and columnist.)
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