In a way, the story of the Aarushi-Hemraj murders begins with the prosecution witness who appeared on Monday at the special court in Ghaziabad, where Aarushi’s parents Dr Rajesh and Nupur Talwar are on trial. Bharti, the maid who had worked for the family for just a week, arrived at the Talwars’ NOIDA flat around 6 am on the morning of 16 May, 2008. Aarushi had been lying dead in the flat for several hours by then. Hemraj’s body was on the terrace. But at the time, no one except the killer(s) knew any of this.
Bharti was the first 'outsider' to arrive at the scene of the crimes, within minutes of when the Talwars say they discovered their daughter had been killed. She told the court that she reported for work as usual, but Hemraj, who normally opened the door for her didn’t do so that day.
The entrance to the flat had a grill gate followed by a short passage, at the end of which were two more doors: the one on the outside with a see through mesh, and a final wooden door that opened into the drawing room.
Bharti said she rang the bell twice before Nupur Talwar arrived and opened the wooden door, and spoke to her through the mesh asking where Hemraj was. The maid also said she tried the outside grill but it would not open. In the meantime, it seemed Nupur could not open the mesh door in the middle to let the maid in.
Bharti suggested that her mistress give her the keys, so she could try the door from the outside. Nupur then asked Bharti to go downstairs so that she could throw the keys down from the balcony. Once this was done, Bharti made her way up. She told the court that the first grill opened as she pushed it this time.
The meshed middle door had been latched from the outside; she unlatched it and the flat was now open. She then stood at the doorway thinking a theft may have occurred because both Rajesh and Nupur were crying.
Bharti told the court that when she asked Nupur what had happened, she fell into her arms in tears and told her to go and see herself. The maid says Nupur took her to Aarushi’s room and removed a part of the sheet covering the teenager’s body. Bharti left the flat not long after this; she also left the service of the Talwars.
It has been the prosecution’s claim that the Talwars tried to create the impression that they were locked into the flat from the outside. The Talwars have suggested that whoever killed Hemraj and Aarushi latched the mesh door before leaving the flat. They have also argued that the case is less about who was prevented from leaving the flat, and more about who was allowed into it.
This is why Bharti’s testimony — specifically on how she entered the flat that morning — assumes importance. Based on Monday’s proceedings, no conclusions can be drawn. The passage between the outer grill and the mesh door that was latched could also be accessed from Hemraj’s room — a door led into it.
It is therefore possible that one of the accused used this door, placed the latch on the mesh and went back into the flat via Hemraj’s room, as the maid went down to fetch the key.
Another maid who worked for the Talwars, Kalpana Mandal, has said this may not have been possible. In her statement to investigators in 2008, she said the door from Hemraj’s room into the passage could not be used because a refrigerator stood in front of the door.
Kalpana is due to appear in court on Tuesday. Given the pattern followed by almost every witness in this case, she may well make significant changes to what she had told investigators earlier.
Tuesday’s proceedings are likely to be tense, but Monday’s events offered yet another glimpse of how the Ghaziabad court functions.
Central to this was the defence’s complaint that it is never informed which witness to expect at the next hearing. (The defence was told Bharti would depose when Bharti arrived; and said it would cross-examine her only on Tuesday on these grounds.)
This isn’t a new complaint — In July, the court had asked the prosecution to give the defence two days notice so that it could prepare adequately for cross-examination. This is a directive the prosecution has routinely ignored, said the defence.
On Monday, on receiving yet another application from the Talwars, the court asked the CBI to let the accused know who was coming the next day. This is how the defence knows it can expect Kalpana.
But first, it will take on the task of cross-examining Bharti.More on Aarushi trial: Complete Coverage - Aarushi Trial Special Articles -
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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