The Allahabad High Court has given Rajesh and Nupur Talwar the benefit of the doubt and overturned the CBI court ruling of 2013, which had relied on circumstantial evidence to find them guilty of the killing of their daughter Aarushi and their domestic help Hemraj. But it is impossible to extend the same courtesy to the investigative agencies, the Noida police and the CBI, which strikingly botched up the investigation. Into the factual vacuum that they created rushed opinions, anxieties and obsessions, which tell us a lot about ourselves but absolutely nothing about who committed the crime. The Aarushi murder case, which absorbed the nation quite interminably, became a parable of modern life in India, from which everyone who had a voice — the TV anchors shouted the loudest — read his or her interpretation of what was wrong with Indian society in transition. Along with the serial rape and killing of children in Nithari, also nearby in Noida, it became a palimpsest onto which our worst nightmares were projected.
Why did this collective madness happen? Simply for a lack of facts, the very reason behind the acquittal in court. The botch-up originated with the Noida police, which did not collect evidence according to due process or even common sense. The corpse of Hemraj was discovered two days after he was killed, only because the police had not bothered to open the door behind which it lay. A golf club suspected to have been a murder weapon was not discovered until much later. Forensic evidence went off the record. And the authorities were in a hurry to declare the crime an honour killing, on the basis of suspicions rather than facts admissible in a court of law. Crucially, while the 2013 verdict of guilty had held that there was nothing to show that outsiders entered the house at night, the present judgement has pointed out that there was nothing to show that they didn’t. The uncertainty about comings and goings undermined the validity of even circumstantial evidence, exposing the complete lack of due diligence in the investigation.
This systematic dereliction of duty happened in Noida, an information technology, media and business hub in the National Capital Region. Facts went unrecorded and were replaced by conjecture with alarming rapidity, concerning a crime committed in a neighbourhood peopled by an empowered upper middle class, in plain sight of a nation obsessed with the case. It offers a sobering suggestion of the state of affairs in the districts, where the lack of due process may not invite such attention and criticism, or may not even be understood as a flaw. Faith in the law must stand diminished whenever due process is conducted with undue clumsiness.