Manuscript help, book reviews and author interviews
Reprinted with permission. This review appeared in The Outlook magazine on 31st August,2015.
Blood That Won’t Wash
Where do you start trying to comprehend what has happened in the Aarushi/Hemraj murder case? This book has a whole catalogue of events, mixups, insinuations, fudges, lies — enough to leave you reeling. Much of it is shocking, but perhaps only if you have zero idea of how the wheels of justice turn in this country.
I mean, why would the CBI concoct the email address “firstname.lastname@example.org” to send official correspondence to the Talwars, then deny they had done so, then admit it when directed to their own court submissions that contain the address, but then claim some “very special reason” — not to be disclosed — for doing this?
Why would presiding Sessions judge Justice Shyam Lal, faced with a witness — the Talwar’s maidservant — who starts her testimony by saying she has been tutored (‘Jo mujhe samjhaya gaya hai, wahi bayan main yahan de rahi hoon’, or ‘whatever was taught/explained to me, I’m saying here’), pronounce that she is an “illiterate and bucolic lady from a lower strata of society” and therefore if she has been tutored, “her evidence cannot be rejected”? Yet having thus ruled such tutoring acceptable, why would he pronounce in his judgement that she has “nowhere stated that … both accused were found weeping” — using this lack of tears as a sign of their guilt — when in fact in her testimony before him she said precisely the opposite: that she found “uncle and aunty crying … Aunty threw her arms around me and started crying”?
Why would a CBI officer get an opinion about the state of a dead girl’s vagina from two sweepers who were in the room when her autopsy was conducted?
Why would investigating authorities administer psychological tests to three men — in which each man both admitted to being at the murder scene that night and claimed the other two were there as well and wielded a deadly weapon with deadly purpose — but then simply shelve the transcripts of these tests and not investigate these men further?
Why would Justice Shyam Lal start writing his final judgement days before — before! — the defence started its final argument, and later admit as much to Avirook Sen?
Sen documents all this and plenty more, and irrefutably, in his book. It’s like one long series of sucker punches that leave you reeling, wondering how any investigation and trial can proceed in this perverse way.
And yet this one did. The great value of Sen’s book is that he does what too few of us ordinarily do: subject the judicial process to close scrutiny. Which is, to me, the highest degree of respect anyone can pay to our justice system. And in this case the conclusion is inescapable: on the evidence presented before the court, this case against the Talwars simply cannot stand. “Look at the evidence”, the book fairly screams. When you do, you find there is precious little against the Talwars. But what’s even worse, it’s pretty clear that enough was actually made up, or twisted around, to damn the Talwars.
And yet, and yet … something niggles.
Now certainly Sen did not see it as his job to find out who murdered Hemraj and Aarushi. Yet certainly he believes the Talwar couple is innocent. Honestly, I believe so too: when a prosecution has to twist or invent facts to make its case in court, that tells a story by itself. I also realize that a defence carries no burden of proof; it merely has to raise reasonable doubt about the prosecution’s case. Enough in this book raises such doubt and suggests that, at a minimum, a profound miscarriage of justice has happened here. I have no idea if this is even possible, but I hold on to the hope that some higher court will take note of what happened in this trial, quash the Talwar’s convictions, even reprimand the judge, and order a fresh investigation.
But forget the courts for a moment. Let’s ask the basic question the court was not mandated to answer: are the Talwars innocent? Do the egregious lapses in the case against them, by themselves, mean they are innocent? Should Sen’s belief in their innocence, by itself, persuade us that they are innocent? Here’s my one beef with this meticulously researched book: that even unwittingly, it asks us to be so persuaded. And unfortunately, that’s not quite good enough. My personal dilemma is a troubling one: I think they are innocent, but I can’t say why I think so.
Thing is, somebody killed two people that night. I realize that what I’m really asking for may be impossible — that this tragic conundrum gets solved. Who indeed murdered Aarushi and Hemraj?
by Avirook Sen
Penguin Books, Delhi, 2015