Aarushi trial: A dubious witness and the strange case of the word 'rape'

Last Updated: Tue, Oct 30, 2012 19:20 hrs

The special CBI court for the Aarushi-Hemraj murder trial heard a prosecution witness disown the statement he made to CBI. Several witnesses have done exactly the same thing during the course of this trial, but Deepak Tomar, a Vodafone nodal officer, whose job it is to liaise with investigating agencies, is the first witness to deny the statement he made to the second team of the CBI.

The distinction is important. Two separate CBI teams conducted the investigation into the NOIDA murders. The first, led by Arun Kumar, was replaced in 2009 by one led by Neelabh Kishore. Kumar’s team suspected the Talwars' servants, but hit a dead end, resulting in its disbanding. Kishore’s team revived the honour killing theory; it is as a consequence of this line of investigation that Dr Rajesh and Nupur Talwar stand accused of killing their daughter Aarushi and servant Hemraj on the night of 15-16 May 2008.

Tomar appears to have acted less as a nodal officer than as a courier for Vodafone. A superior gave him hard copies of call records of three cellphones, which he handed over to investigators in Kishore’s team in November 2011.

The records are crucial for the prosecution in order to establish motive. No one but the people talking to each other know what transpired, but the CBI has alleged that Rajesh Talwar’s elder brother Dinesh requested a fellow doctor, Sushil Chaudhary, to ask K.K. Gautam, an influential former cop, to have the word “rape” left out of Aarushi’s post-mortem report.

Gautam is the only witness in the conversation to say such a request was made. The CBI has decided not to call Chaudhary — who supposedly spoke to Gautam — as a witness. However, the agency insists that the word “rape” is what the calls were about. For the prosecution, this fits neatly into the honour killing theory: the north Indian middle-class family trying to cover up the secret that gives away the motive for murdering their daughter and servant.

There are several problems with this hypothesis: the first is that the post-mortem was conducted by Dr S.K. Dohare, who, despite giving five different versions of events, did not once say that he suspected rape.

One must therefore assume that it was the intent of the Talwar family that mattered when they allegedly made the circuitous request to Gautam — this is why the call logs are important. The story of the logs begins much later than when they were first furnished.

It starts with Gautam dramatically revising a statement he gave in 2008 to Kumar’s team, which made no mention of “rape”. In April 2010, he tells Kishore’s men that his eye doctor, Chaudhary, called him to ask whether he could help have the word removed from the post-mortem report.

The call records for these conversations are lying in a CBI inbox, but these are not printed out or referred to. On November 12, 2010, Tomar takes printouts from Vodafone, handed to him by his superior Anuj Bhatia, to the CBI office. The printouts are dated 11 November, 2010.

During Tuesday’s proceedings, the defence tried to establish that the records Tomar had handed over to the second team of the CBI were forgeries. The actual records of the calls — sent to the agency in July 2008 — have not been placed on record. The basis for this argument lies in critical discrepancies in the prosecution’s documents:

- The only request the CBI sent Vodafone asks for details of conversations between 14 May, 2008 and 18 May, 2008 for the phones Gautam and Chaudhary used. Anuj Bhatia’s e-mail to the CBI clearly says the records he is forwarding are for these dates. The records Tomar carries to the CBI concern a much longer period: 14 May to 7 July, 2008.

- Bhatia signs some of the “certified” copies in pencil: a fact that the trial judge was slightly taken aback by on Tuesday.

- Tomar is a Vodafone employee, but somehow, he names Dr Dinesh Talwar as the owner of an Airtel connection (records of which he had no access to) in his statement to the CBI. He now denies he ever took the doctor's name — and says he signed a statement that did not contain it. This statement has not been placed in court.

It is the defence’s case that the CBI made the records up in order to frame the Talwars. Tomar's cross examination continues on Thursday.

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Currently a visiting fellow at INSEAD, France, Avirook Sen has been a journalist and writer for over 20 years. A former resident editor of Hindustan Times (Mumbai) and editor of Mid-Day, he has written with passion and insight on subjects as varied as sport and terrorism for top publications across the world. His first book, Looking for America, was published in 2010 to enthusiastic reviews. You can write to him at avirook@gmail.com

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