In all the arguments that would erupt afterwards, everyone agreed on this: The mid-May murders were barbaric, audacious and riveting.
It was mid-July 2008, two months after the double murders of Aarushi Talwarand Hemraj in Noida’s Jalvayu Vihar, and a month after Hemraj’s blood had been discovered on clinic helper Krishna’s pillowcase, that the CBI entered our office in New Delhi’s Barakhamba Road from where we broadcast Nepal 1, India’s only satellite Nepali language TV channel.
CBI Sub-Inspector Anuj Arya showed me his ID card, and sat down across the table. At his request, I shut the office door, switched off the mobile, and took the landline off the hook. “Ma’am, I have a few questions which you alone must answer, without any prompting. First, what was playing on your Nepali channel between about 11.45pm and 12.45am on the night of 15th/16th May?” At those late hours our last news bulletin used to be on air, followed by programmes of hit songs and a repeat telecast of a popular live phone-in request programme. I told the CBI officer so.
“Which songs were playing immediately after the news? Please tell me the most catchy line of each song”. As any broadcaster will tell you, instant recall of songs played two months earlier at midnight on one’s channel can be a trigger for early onset of Alzheimer’s. So I asked the CBI officer if I could summon our scheduling and run order files. He agreed, and I opened the file to the broadcast schedule and the song play-list of the intervening night of May 15-16.
Our Kathmandu office used to mail us the playlist for the day, and as I turned the pages quickly to look for the playlist for the 15th, my journalist’s antennae were on high alert. Heart pounding, I located the required playlist. Ten songs on that list, the first line of each song written clearly. Arya pointed to the first three songs, and asked if a certain line appeared in any of them. He let me call our Nepali-speaking programme producer in to help. Ten minutes later the producer returned and told me in Arya’s presence that one of the songs the officer had selected had many iterations of those particular lyrics.
It had been a strange half-hour, and now for the first time, Arya smiled broadly. “Ma’am,this is all I was looking for. The case will be solved now. This evidence proves there were others in Hemraj’s room that night. In the narco test Raj Kumar told us that he, Krishna, Vijay Mandal and Hemraj had been drinking in Hemraj’s room, while they watched a Nepali TV channel, and when asked what was playing on the channel, he hummed this very line.”
There are times in a journalist’s career, when along with the adrenaline, life is suddenly backed by music, however inappropriate it might sound to others. This was one such moment. Our TV channel had independently corroborated the CBI’s line of enquiry, and India’s most painful and bizarre case of recent times would now be solved. As between two professionals, I assured Arya that I would not share this “discovery” with anybody since that would jeopardise the investigation. Before he left, I asked for, and he gave me his mobile number.
Since our TV broadcast licence mandates that we maintain copies (dubs) of 90 days’ telecast content, I offered to give him a transfer dub of the hour under scrutiny. But the officer said that they would obtain a copyfrom a DTH platform, and indeed a couple of days later, Jawahar Goel of Zee’s Dish TV called to tell me that the CBI wanted certain transfers of our channel.
At this point, it’s important to reiterate that by mid-July ‘08, CBI’s Team One had established that there were four persons in Hemraj’s room that night, including Hemraj. So I expected the announcement of the identity of the killers to be made public any moment. But I had not reckoned with the “system” that undergrids investigations in our country comprising, in this case the CBI, the IPS “brother fraternity”, UP Police, the bureaucracy, intelligence agencies and political czars. The system serves its Pashas and wannabe-Pashas, and certainly not those who knock at its doors.
I knocked at many doors because the case started to slide down an elliptical path. I spoke to four CBI directors and wrote to one (of course my letter was not acknowledged), and I asked each director about the conclusions of Anuj Arya’s findings at our office and the perfect match of lyrics. Silence. After he retired, one director, who presided over the case told me that SI Anuj Arya’s investigation was a red herring, since they had conclusively identified the Talwars as the killers. He also shared that each of the three outsiders who their own Team One had “proved” to have been present in Hemraj’s room, had perfect alibis — one had gone to meet his mistress, another was at the railway station, etc.
This information on alibis must be in the CBI case file; so also the report of Arya who has been now promoted and was listed as a prosecution witness. The CBI must release the basis on which they rejected their own Team One’s conclusion that there were four persons in Hemraj’s room, including him, so that there were a total of seven persons in L-32 Jalvayu Vihar that night, and of those, two were murdered. CBI’s Team Two’s case pivots on the “fact” the there were four persons in the flat, and two of them killed the other two. This astounding inference caused the Talwars to behounded for nine years, and spend four years in jail.
Questions abound. Why, in view of their own findings, did all five CBI directors not keep in their sights the three “outsiders” who were in Hemraj’s room that fateful night? Why did the worthy sleuths, five CBI directors, not reach out to the friendly and highly efficient Nepal Police to “sweep up” clues about Krishna and Raj Kumar who were in Hemraj’s room? In view of the growing disquiet in the country, why did they not re-examine Bihar-based Vijay Mandal? Was the CBI’s Team Two nudged to cover up for certain IPS officers?
TV crews, including ours, have tried to visit Krishna’s village in Nepal. They report a heightened sense of fear and intimidation, even at the “gavisa” village-cluster level, and do not want to spend the night at even the district headquarters. But they report that Raj Kumar has been associated with a beauty parlour in Kathmandu. As the crow flies,that’s about 800 km from the CBI headquarters. A trip there would be fair and lovely.
Finally, let us rest the rich-poor binary, which has surfaced again. Hemraj, who was murdered,was from the same socio-economic cohort as the other three in his room. Let us also rest the immoral justification that the media was not reporting salaciously, but was in fact only “doing its duty”. A media with a medieval operating system in which “honour killings”are a default provocation by a dentist couple to clobber their only “delinquent” child to death, deserves to be called the new despot of Fake News.
We have not learnt many lessons from this outrageous miscarriage of justice, but two do standout: One, that quiet due legal proceedings, away from the shrill media, as at the Allahabad High Court, are more likely to deliver justice, and two, that even if one person stands up against grave injustice, a groundswell will force a sharp re-scrutiny.
We’re waiting for the CBI to constitute Team Three. Because somebody did kill Aarushi and Hemraj, and we must know who.