Aarushi murder case: Transgression through TV debates damaged Talwars' reputation, says lawyer Rebecca John

Come Monday, dentist couple Rajesh and Nupur Talwar will in all likelihood walk out of Dasna jail in Uttar Pradesh's Ghaziabad following the acquittal by the Allahabad High Court on Thursday. The duo spent four years in jail after a trial court convicted them of killing their 14-year-old daughter Aarushi and 45-year-old servant Hemraj Banjade.

Supreme Court lawyer Rebecca Mammen John. Image courtesy Rebecca's Facebook page

Supreme Court lawyer Rebecca Mammen John. Image courtesy Rebecca's Facebook page

They are no longer convicts but there is no answer to the most intriguing question yet -- whodunnit? Once the acquittal order reaches the jail along with the release warrant from the trial court, the couple would be allowed to leave prison.

"If this was a case being fought in Delhi, the two would have been home by now. If this is the state of affairs in Dasna, imagine what goes on in the rest of the country? We're looking at a logistical nightmare. We talk about Digital India without acknowledging that our systems require reform on a mammoth scale," Supreme Court lawyer Rebecca Mammen John, who represented the Talwars told Firstpost expressing her disappointment at the procedural delays.

The twist and turns in the case also exposed the shortcomings of the country's premier probe agency — Central Bureau of Investigation — with the Allahabad High Court also taking a strong exception. Speculations ranged from tampering of evidence to tutoring and planting of witnesses. Questions have also been asked about what led to the change in the attitude of the second investigation team that went after the Talwars.

"Despite the fact that I’ve been a vehement critic of the CBI in this case, I am invested in the system and I do look to the CBI to solve several other cases that they’ve even done great work with. It’s also not that the cops don’t do their job properly. There is a general problem with police investigation procedures in our country and one of them is the lack of specialised skills," said Rebecca.

"The police lack training, infrastructure and also solid forensic back-up required in such cases. If forensic reports aren’t sent in six, seven, even nine months, then the investigation is poorly conducted," she said pointing out to a complex web of reasons and a lack of leadership from the top that rarely monitors the investigations.

"It is also important to accept that investigation has become a specialised field. In the New York Police Department, the teams for sexual offence and economic offence would be different. Just the way areas of law are specialised, the areas of investigations too need different handling," the apex court lawyer said.

How much of the public perception influence this case? The lawyer felt that with the Talwars being socially upscale and affluent there was a public assumption that they were capable of influencing the outcome of the case.

"Rajesh was arrested within five days of the murder and released after 40-45 days. The second team of the CBI was hostile towards the Talwars in a way that even the minutest of requests was opposed tooth and nail during the trial, including the request to examine another witness in our defence and the right of the Talwars to summon witnesses to the court," she said wondering which court denies the accused this basic right.

The lawyer denied that Talwars are powerful people saying the needle of suspicion otherwise would not have come on them in the first place.

"They borrowed money from their relatives to pursue this litigation. I know that their bank accounts are empty. They lived in a two-bedroom flat in Noida, not at a bungalow in Golf Links. Harish Salve, Pinaki Mishra and I have fought for them for free," said Rebecca, who has walked the talk with the couple for the last ten years and has been the only person they confided in.

The senior lawyer was particularly critical of public condemnation based on external speculation mostly triggered by TV debates. She said that this caused significant damage both to the couple and the case.

"This is where the transgression takes place. If the truth is to be decided by men in black suits on primetime, then why do we need courts," she said questioning the psyche that decides someone is a criminal before the court of law holds him/her guilty.

"How hard is it to unquestioningly report and put out statements from prosecuting agencies?” Rebecca asked.

The lawyer said that each time they’d read a story in the papers, they’d get frightened and make calls to her, even in the wee hours of the morning. The criminal lawyer shared a story of a phone conversation she had with Nupur before the couple was arrested.

"Nupur hadn’t been keeping well and wanted to go buy herself a new salwaar kameez to feel better. When she entered the store, people stopped doing what they were doing and began staring at her. She heard her name in the murmurs of those strangers, felt humiliated and left. She decided that she’ll borrow clothes from her cousin instead," she said.

Rebecca recalled another time when Rajesh was to pick her up at the Allahabad airport before a hearing in the high court. He showed up with his face completely covered and a cap on his head. "I didn’t want to recognise him like that. Such humiliation is the human price they’ve both paid," the lawyer said.

The Talwars, who are trained dentists, were running a small clinic inside the jail for inmates. Ever since the verdict has come out, Rebecca informed us that they’ve both been working overtime to tend to as many patients as they can, before they finally return to a society where they’ve lost face and friends.

"Chitnis (Nupur’s 90-year-old father) who has served in the Indian Air Force sat through the hearings and took everything on the chin. His wife would easily break down. Family friends like the Durranis too stood by them through this ordeal," she said.

Hemraj Banjade not forgotten

"In every statement that the Talwars have released, they have said that they will continue to fight for justice for both of them. One of the earlier questions I asked them was whether Hemraj was in their needle of suspicion. They talked about him in compassionate terms and with a great degree of respect," said Rebecca, who felt that in many ways, Hemraj’s death was collateral damage -- the misfortunate of being at the wrong place at the wrong time.

Hemraj was the domestic help of the Talwars.

Who is the real convict?

"The high court has clearly stated that it is not in a position to rule out that outsiders had access to the house. Even the evidence in Hemraj’s room and the front room suggests this," Rebecca said mentioning about the beer bottles and crumpled bed sheet.

But is it really possible that the other two present in that modest flat, slept through two murders? Can we assume that none of the two victims screamed in fright or were those screams frail enough to not be able to tear through the sound of air-conditioning and fall into the couple’s ears?

"I think somewhere we forget the day to day realities of living. We can leave a key somewhere and spend the day looking for it. Unfortunately, when a crime takes place, these become incriminating circumstances. My husband is also a journalist and so many times, he has come home late and left the key to the house hanging on the door," said Rebecca, who is a seasoned criminal lawyer. The lawyer felt the theories about this case are not worth the paper on which they’ve been written.

Rebecca understands that there's a baggage with which people view this case. She revealed that when she took it up, people came up to her and dissuaded her from going ahead, suggesting that this decision might impact her credibility. She calls this journey with the Talwars a 'toxic one'.

Incidentally, during the investigation, Rebecca's 79-year-old mother was murdered in her ground floor house in East Delhi. But she chooses not to share her memories or how she emotionally connected with the couple. When the verdict came out, people asked her if she’ll go and hug the two. She replied that her relationship with Rajesh and Nupur has had a degree of formality to it and that it is this kind of objective distance that ensures one’s judgment isn’t coloured or compromised.

Updated Date: Oct 14, 2017 21:02 PM

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