Revisiting the Aarushi Talwar murder
In his new book, journalist Avirook Sen presents an exhaustive account of the case
On May 16, 2008, Aarushi Talwar, a 14-year-old girl living in Noida, was found murdered in her room. A day later, the body of Hemraj, a 45-year-old help, who worked in Talwar’s house, was found on the terrace of the same home. The case is perhaps one of the greatest whodunits in the country’s criminal history. In 2013, the CBI court convicted Talwar’s parents Rajesh and Nupur for the murders. But the investigation has more holes in it than a sieve. The reportage on the case has been to a large extent sensational and even unsavoury. One of the few exceptions was a series of news reports by Avirook Sen, 46, an independent journalist living in Gurgaon, who followed the events right from the start. Sen’s new book Aarushi is a riveting and thoroughly researched account of the crimes. Here, he shares insights from the trial took over his life.
How hard was it to be impartial while reporting a case such as this? The investigation was botched so it must have been easy to sympathise with the parents.
“It could have been much harder than it was because of the nature of the media coverage this case got. In a line: ‘Debauched parents kill daughter as punishment for having illicit sex.’ But in this instance, I enjoyed one of the few advantages of ignorance. I came into the case having read/seen very little of the coverage. I learned about it as I reported the trial. Even the fact that the investigation was botched I learned first-hand, through hearings.”
How did the trial affect your life?
“It took maybe two or three hearings for me to get sucked into the case. I found the court fascinating – the witnesses, lawyers, the judge, his typist, his clerks, the policemen. I saw each of them as characters. Not just in a murder trial, but as the individuals who people what we call ‘the system’. I began to understand that this was a great opportunity to report on how that system worked. This took my brief beyond just the murders. And to me, it was irresistible. It was pretty much all I could talk about, think about. I lost touch with regular news.
I live in Gurgaon, about 60km from Ghaziabad, so the commute was a bummer. But I looked forward to every single day. My routine was set by the trial judge. His dates were my dates. And on court days, I would stay back long after the hearing was over just to see what else was happening. And get the typed transcript of proceedings, which came after hours. Then I would leave it to the traffic gods to get me home so I could meet my deadline.”
What has the case taught you about the country’s justice system and journalism?
“Perhaps more than I wanted to know. I find the sense of entitlement with which those in the government apparatus exercise the tyranny of petty authority terrifying and ironic. Terrifying because what happened to the Talwars can happen to any of us. Ironic because we pay these people to exercise that authority.
One of the ways in which this book is different is that every significant fact in it has a clear and stated source. All of it is attributable to a person who is named or a document that I have accessed or what has been said in court. I am uncomfortable with the ‘top sources say’ type of journalism. My discomfort is rooted in the idea that what top sources tell you goes into press without questions. And questions is what journalism is about.”
Is there a danger of fictionalising a narrative of a crime?
“No, not if you set your store out as non-fiction. That is why the attribution aspect is so important. A particular passage could be ‘sexed up’, but how do you do this if you don’t have solid material backing the sexing up? Perhaps more important, there was no need to fictionalise anything about this case; the story would probably suffer if you tried.”
Can you comment on where you think the case is headed?
“I have always said that this is a fit case for appeal – more than fit, actually. The appeal will be heard when it pleases the Allahabad High Court.”
Aarushi (Penguin India) is out now
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