In a case where the murder weapon seems to change depending on who is being accused, the Aarushi-Hemraj murder trial took a turn that brought it back to where the investigation started—a time when details were basic, and theories hadn’t yet been formed. On Wednesday, the man who conducted the post-mortem on Aarushi’s body told the court on cross-examination that the injuries to the 14-year-old’s head were caused by a “blunt object whose shape fit the wound”. And that her throat was slit by an “extremely sharp weapon”.
Dr Sunil Kumar Dohare, the medical officer who conducted the post-mortem on Aarushi’s body, also said that the abnormally dilated vaginal cavity he observed was not included in his post-mortem report because it was a “subjective finding”, and such findings are never recorded.
(An article in the Journal of the American Medical Association describes “subjective findings” as “self-contradictory and time-dishonoured” phrase that has led to “tragic miscarriages of justice”. The article goes on to say: “By definition, findings are either objective demonstrations of abnormality, or the objective lack of demonstrable signs of abnormality”. The doctor writing in adds that the medico-legal use of the phrase is therefore “quietly vanishing… unlamented”. This was in 1976.)
In his statement 24 hours earlier, Dr Dohare had been more specific. He had told the court that the blunt object was probably a golf club; the sharp weapon, a surgical knife. These are the weapons he had mentioned in his fourth (and final) statement to the CBI in 2010.
On Tuesday, he had also told the court that the wide opening of the vaginal cavity (“the cervix was visible”) indicated that Aarushi’s private parts had been “manipulated” after her death. And the presence of a “whitish discharge”, which he suspected to be from “outside” in only certain parts of the vagina, suggested “possible cleaning” of the vaginal canal.
When asked whether such a discharge might be normal in the case of girls Aarushi’s age, Dr Dohare replied that this was possible. However, he insisted that a natural discharge would be evenly spread.
One of the prosecution’s documents is an 18-page report by a committee at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), cited in Sify on Tuesday. The CBI had sought expert opinion on forensic matters from AIIMS, and a seven-member board that included four AIIMS specialists in forensics and DNA, a CFSL scientist, and the medical officers who conducted the post-mortems on Aarushi and Hemraj, was constituted.
The report was sent to the CBI in September 2008. It has no mention of the dilation of Aarushi’s vagina—or any of the implications later drawn from the “subjective findings” Dr Dohare revealed only to the CBI. At a time when three Nepali servants were the main suspects (Aarushi’s father, Rajesh Talwar, had been arrested, but golf and surgical precision hadn’t entered the picture) the document also records that the murder weapon could have been a khukri.
Dr Dohare, along with every other board member, signed every page of this report.
During his cross-examination, Dohare admitted that each page carried his signature, but that he was responsible only for the part of the contents that concerned the post-mortem. According to the document, and Dr Dohare’s post-mortem, nothing abnormal is detected in Aarushi’s genitals.
Dr Dohare is a man of average build, his prominent features being thick glasses through which his eyes seem to bulge, and a weak chin (these are subjective observations). His tendency to explain rather than answer directly, earned him little reprimand from the judge on Wednesday as he talked about his limited role in the framing of the AIIMS report—he had “signed it” but not “prepared it”.
On the morning after Aarushi’s murder, Dr Dohare was called in to conduct the post-mortem of, in his words, some “VIP” victim. It emerged during his cross-examination that the Aarushi autopsy was the first he had conducted where female sexual organs were examined.
He told the court he completed his MBBS in 1993 and received training in autopsies in 1998-99 (“a long time ago”… “20 years”). He then made a correction, this was not “training”, just an academic course.
He said he knew about the National Human Rights Commission guidelines regarding post-mortems (blood samples and photographs are a must), but had not read them. He knew about the guidelines in his state, too, but hadn’t read those either. In Gautam Buddh Nagar (Noida), post-mortems were conducted exactly how he had carried out Aarushi’s, he said.
When the court broke for the day, I asked Dr Dohare about the AIIMS document. Why had he signed it, when he took responsibility for only part of its contents? He began by saying he was not an expert in the other fields included in the terms of reference, and then palmed the question on to a CBI officer standing nearby. The CBI man said: “He wasn’t asked this question”.
Dr Dohare’s testimony to the court is curious when it comes to signatures. On the documents he has signed, he takes limited responsibility. On those to which he hasn’t put his name, he is very forthcoming. The doctor told the court that he was present at Hemraj’s post-mortem, and that the wounds on the manservant were similar to those found on Aarushi. Hemraj’s post-mortem report does not register Dr Dohare’s presence.
Dr Dohare is probably the most important witness in the trial. His testimony is one of the pillars that prop up the case against Rajesh and Nupur Talwar. In it, are suggestions of the weapons used and the tampering with Aarushi’s body. In it, the CBI has argued, are both the motive and the method for the murders. But in it, are also a number of contradictions—contradictions that the doctor was confronted with on Wednesday.
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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 email@example.com