The special court in Ghaziabad hearing the Aarushi-Hemraj murder trial heard direct evidence of violence for the first time on Friday. It came from a prosecution witness, Umesh Sharma, who told the court that he had received an eardrum-splitting slap from the CBI's investigating officer A.G.L. Kaul. The CBI prayed that the witness be declared hostile. The court granted the prayer.
Umesh is Dr Rajesh Talwar's driver, and still in the dentist's employ. The incident in question occurred in 2009, during one of the driver's several interviews with the CBI at the agency's Lodhi Road headquarters. He told the court that he has been afraid of the CBI ever since.
Umesh was listed as one of the 13 witnesses the CBI feared may be "tampered" if Nupur Talwar was released on bail. Umesh drives Nupur's husband and co-accused, Rajesh, to the trial court for every hearing—a fact that the CBI is well aware of.
Briefing the media, CBI counsel said that once it was established (through Umesh's testimony) that the Talwars, Aarushi and Hemraj were "last seen" by him the previous night as he came to return the car keys, the prosecution had no further use for the witness. Anything else that he said would only suit the accused. Hence the move to declare him hostile.
Umesh deviated from his earlier version to investigators in as much as he could not identify a 4 iron and a 5 iron from a set of 12 golf clubs. His signature is on a 2010 memo written in English (which he cannot read), in which he apparently identified the clubs correctly. A golf club (or ‘stick' as the CBI has it) is the alleged murder weapon. The clubs (and a putter) lay in court all day on Friday—prone on a table where prosecutors and their witnesses usually have their lunch.
Almost immediately after the prosecution prayed that the witness would not support its case, the court declared Umesh hostile. Now, the CBI began cross-examining its own witness.
Umesh told the court that he had cleaned Aarushi's room on the evening of 16 May after asking the police, though he could not name a specific policeman. To routine questions about whether he was under pressure from the Talwars, or had said what he had at their behest, Umesh offered routine denials.
Having started as a prosecution witness in the morning, the driver was testifying in favour of the defence after the lunch break. Questioned by defence counsel, he told the court about his treatment at the hands of the CBI, specifically, officer Kaul.
Kaul is the investigating officer under whose watch the creepy e-mail address email@example.com was created even for official communication with the Talwars. Kaul used the address most frequently, and although the CBI had initially denied its existence, it was forced to admit the address was created for unspecified ‘special' reasons. Documents bearing the address have been submitted to various courts by the CBI, so Kaul's conduct was impossible to cover up.
Kaul also signed an affidavit submitted to the Supreme Court that said a crucial piece of evidence—Hemraj's blood-stained pillow cover—was collected from Hemraj's room. Several months later, however, he and his team of lawyers pressed the point that the item was discovered in Aarushi's room. A game-changing claim, because it would place both victims in the same room, giving the parents the ‘honour killing' motive; a story that begins with their discovery of the teenager and the servant in a compromising position by the parents. This attempt to mislead the court was foiled because of the presence of the original tag in the actual item: it clearly said the pillow cover was from Hemraj's room. Not Aarushi's. This was displayed in court as CBI counsels looked on sheepishly.
Now, there is the allegation that he roughed up a witness. The CBI interviewed Umesh several times, but after Kaul had dealt with him, he alleged, he had to visit a hospital. He brought papers to show he had to court. These will be admitted to the record.
The scene now shifts to the Supreme Court, which will hear Nupur's bail plea on Monday. Of the 13 witnesses who were supposed to have been examined by now according to the Supreme court's direction, seven have been dealt with. The CBI withdrew one witness, one turned hostile, another is not on the submitted list of 141 witnesses relied upon by the agency. Two guards and a maid remain.
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org