In the first sentences she uttered during her cross-examination, Bharti, a witness for the prosecution, told the Ghaziabad court hearing the Aarush-Hemraj murder trial that she had testified exactly in accordance with how she was tutored.
The court recorded her saying: "Jo mujhe samjhaya gaya hai, wahi bayan main yahan de rahi hoon".
Bharti worked as maid for just one week for the accused, Dr Rajesh and Nupur Talwar, quitting her job at the time of the murders. She was the first person to arrive at the Talwars' NOIDA flat (at 6 am) on the morning of 16 May, 2008 — the day Aarushi was found dead in her bedroom.
She is also one of the 13 witnesses the CBI feared Nupur Talwar might "tamper" (sic), if she was granted bail. This is the argument on the basis of which the apex court adjourned the bail hearing till 17 September, allowing time for the 13 to depose and be cross-examined in the trial court. Nupur remains in jail.
Bharti's testimony assumed importance because it might have helped clear up a crucial point of contention. The CBI has said that the Talwars have “tried to create the impression” that someone locked them into their flat from the outside. As the first person to enter the flat the next day, Bharti was the only witness who could have set the facts that led to the CBI’s thesis straight.
In Monday’s testimony, Bharti had said that the second of the series of three doors that one needed to pass in order to enter the flat, was latched from the outside, but not locked.
A lock can be opened from the inside, but a latch cannot, so this appeared to support the Talwars’ position that they were indeed locked in. Except that there were insinuations embedded in the testimony that cast doubts.
Bharti told the court that the first time she tried to open the outer most gate (a grill) she could not. But that when she came upstairs again having collected the keys thrown down from the balcony by Nupur Talwar, she merely touched the grill and it opened. She also said that while throwing the keys down, Nupur told her that the second door (with a frame and see-through mesh) was latched rather than locked and that she didn’t need the key. Bharti asked for it anyway.
The suggestion is obvious: when Bharti went down to get the keys, the Talwars used a second route to access the doors. Such a route exists. One of the two doors in the flat’s servant’s room opened into the small passage outside the flat, to the left was the outer grill, to the right, the mesh door.
A second, much more used, door of the servant’s room opened into the drawing room of the flat proper. It was easy enough for someone to enter Hemraj’s room from here and enter the passage trough the other door. The rest was easy: ease up/open the front grill from the inside, latch the mesh door from outside, return to the drawing room through Hemraj’s room. So when the maid comes up, she finds that the outer door opens easily, and the mesh door is latched.
Bharti made no mention of the access to the passage through Hemraj’s room. But at the argument stage, the prosecution could have laid its case out (and still might) exactly as above, using the maid’s testimony.
Except that there are a few problems. The biggest of these appears at the very beginning of the court record from Tuesday: “Jo mujhe samjhaya gaya hai, wahi bayan main yahan de rahi hoon
Bharti said this in the first minutes of her cross-examination, almost at the stroke of the lunch break. The rest of the examination would continue half an hour later. The stern looking lady cop who chaperones her to and from court whisked her away. Who else went with Bharti is unclear.
When the hearing resumed, the defence objected to the witness leaving the court without permission before the cross-examination was completed. This is against court procedure. (All other witnesses in the case have so far remained in court during breaks, Dr. B.K. Mohapatra, the forensic scientist, for instance, had a fixed seat where he sat patiently through breaks.) In its application, the defence alleged that the witness was taken away so that she could be schooled.
Once Bharti returned to court, the proceedings took a surreal turn. Her statements to investigators were read out to her line by line. These were recorded in 2008, and are documents that the CBI has told the court it relies upon. Almost without exception, Bharti told the court she did not tell the CBI any of the facts attributed to her by the investigators of the time. This included things like her finding the mesh door latched — something she told the court on Monday.
From her cross-examination, it appears the CBI may never have interviewed her at all. That she was saying whatever she had to say for the first time, and only to the court. Including: “Jo mujhe samjhaya gaya hai, wahi bayan main yahan de rahi hoon
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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