The prosecution witness who testified before the Ghaziabad court in the Aarushi-Hemraj murder case on Wednesday said he lived in ‘Antim Nivas'. Kripa Shankar Tripathi is a pandit in the NOIDA crematorium, and lives there. He performed Aarushi's last rites on the afternoon of May 16 2008.
Tripathi's appearance did nothing to challenge stereotyping. Neither did his testimony. The court heard that he had never been to school but knew how to read (only) Sanskrit. The rest was a description of the routine paperwork that a cremation entails. Tripathi made just one significant change to an earlier statement. He said the Talwar family took a locker to keep Aarushi's remains on the 17th and may have come back to pick them up about an hour later, rather than in “10 minutes” as he had told investigators earlier.
The Pandit's inclusion in the list of 13 important witnesses who the CBI feared might be “tampered” by the accused, specifically, Aarushi's mother Dr Nupur Talwar (her husband Dr Rajesh Talwar is on bail), is a little baffling in the light of Wednesday's proceedings. The CBI's plea before the Supreme Court not to grant Nupur Talwar bail till these 13 were examined rested on the argument that the accused would influence them.
But the list is odd not just for who is included, but also for who is left out. Dr Ritcha Saxena, the pathologist who first examined the controversial slides of Aarushi's vaginal swabs, is not on the list. She happens to be a friend of Dr Nupur Talwar. The slides were later found to be contaminated/swapped. Dr Saxena has steadfastly denied she had anything to do with this.
On Wednesday, as everyone waited for the pandit's brief testimony, the topic of casual discussion among journalists shifted to the maid Bharti's cross examination the day before.
Bharti was from Maldah, a particularly backward district in West Bengal, from where economic migrants continue to come in waves to the National Captial Region. It is commonplace to find rickshaw-pullers or maids in Gurgaon and NOIDA speaking to each other in Bengali. It is also a fact that in the age of police verifications—Maldah borders Bangladesh and has a substantial Muslim population—even the workers who have their ration cards in order tend to lie low, always a little fearful of authority.
Like the pandit who testified on Wednesday, Bharti was one of the 13 witnesses the CBI had feared might be influenced by the defence. A poor, slum-dwelling domestic help, consigned, as servants all over our country are, to a life of following orders, Bharti was particularly susceptible to being manipulated. And in fact she was.
Almost as soon as her cross-examination began, Bharti blurted out that she was testifying the way the CBI asked her to. Her words to the court were: “Jo mujhe samjhaya gaya hai, wahi bayan main yahan de rahi hoon.”
At the end of the cross-examination came the suggestion that defence puts to each prosecution witness as a matter of routine - and one that every witness routinely rejects. Bharti was told she had testified under pressure from the CBI. She said this was not true.
Every prosecution witness's examination ends in this formulaic way. While news agencies had reported the hearing highlighting Bharti's admission that she had said what the CBI dictated to her, newspapermen stressed the point that she had denied being under CBI pressure. As often happens in court, there was debate about this among journalists.
Both statements were made under oath, so both must be considered true. This does not mean they are contradictory: schooling someone doesn't necessarily involve applying pressure. The best tutors do not need to resort to such tactics.
We are reminded of this every 5th of September, Teacher's Day. Which is what Wednesday was.More on Aarushi trial:
Aarushi trial: Did the CBI dictate witness' statement?
Maid's testimony adds to the mystery
What happened in the flat?
CBI 1.0 versus CBI 2.0
CBI’s (pillow) cover blown
Suspicious servants, blood stains and a reckless typo
The forgetful forensics man
Screaming advocates and a media-friendly lawyer!
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