Aarushi trial: The Ghaziabad court as a character

Last Updated: Tue, Jul 31, 2012 12:04 hrs

Jinko jaldi saza chahiye, woh jaldi kar lete hain. Jinko baad mein chahiye, woh der lagaate hain.

This little gem was the answer to a question. As the defence's cross-examination of the police photographer Chunnilal Gautam entered its fifth day in the Aarushi-Hemraj trial, I was making small talk with a junior court official. Wasn't it unusual that a single witness was taking up this much time? I asked. Which is when told me that it really didn't matter: Saza to hogi.

We were outside "Fast Tract Court No.2" (sic; these words have been carefully painted, the number scrawled on a piece of paper and pasted).

There are about two lakh cases pending in Ghaziabad. All "under one roof", according to the court website. But the CBI special courts are in an annexe. Here, "high-profile" cases are moved along with urgency. For instance, the accused in the Nithari killings appear in the same courtroom as the Talwars. In the court opposite, a scam involving retired judges is being heard.

Alert readers might recall that the entrance to this fast track area is flanked by a public toilet and a perpetually overflowing dumpster. Inside, is a courtyard through the middle of which runs an open, often brimming, 3-foot deep drain, in whose depths lies the backlog of many years of filth.

We know this not just because of the stench. A few weeks ago, Dr Dinesh Talwar, Rajesh Talwar's elder brother, neglected to "mind the gap" and fell into drain. He escaped without injury, but one leg of his trousers had muck till the thigh.

Towering over the courtyard is a water tank into which a monkey may or may not have fallen to its death some years ago. (The veracity of this story is disputed: some veteran advocates swear it is true and only use a nearby tubewell; shop-owners laugh off the suggestion). At any rate, the tank overflows with unfailing regularity, the spill gathering exactly at the foot of the steps of court No 2.

Here, a layer of slime has formed -- it fells prosecutors and defendants without bias. Two weeks ago, Balchandra Chitnis, Nupur Talwar's octogenarian father, escaped a nasty injury when an agile young policeman grabbed him just as he was about to hit his head on the steps.

Mr Chitnis, a retired air force officer, said he has trouble with depth perception. At lunchtime, the steps, the slime, the drain must seem like an obstacle course as he brings back cold drinks or biscuits for his daughter and son-in-law.

Rajesh and Nupur Talwars' entry into court is always dramatic -- in a Groundhog Day way. On each date, they appear separately, but suddenly, through the tall shrubs under the water tank, accompanied by policemen. This route avoids the cameras situated at the entrance near the toilet -- and is safer, considering Rajesh Talwar was attacked in the more crowded part of the court on the other side. But the path was forged -- it was never part of the architect's plans.

The Talwars' "entry point" used to be a breach in the wall of the annexe's courtyard. But as a seasoned reporter puts it: "In Ghaziabad, holes in the wall always expand." Now, there is no wall; though its brick and concrete remnants offer some much-needed seating.

Seating is tight within the actual courtroom as well. It is the size of a largish "drawing-dining", which means at lunch, prosecution, defence and clerks open their tiffin-boxes and eat together -- just to clarify, this doesn't mean they share either their meals or their thoughts. On occasions when a lawyer needs to speak to the Talwars, or the CBI counsel needs to brief a journalist, this must be done in whispers, within feet of the "opponent". At these times, you can inhale the air of suspicion in the court.

There are workarounds for the lack of privacy. But what do you do about the power situation? Ghaziabad is notorious for its power cuts, and these interrupt the court. Often, preventing proceedings from being recorded on the computer provided.

(As on April Fool's day this year, there were 1128 electricity act cases pending in Ghaziabad -- a relatively low number, I would think. On the other hand, there isn't that much power to steal -- the town recorded an 80 per cent rise in genset and inverter sales this summer.)

The court has a back-up generator, but it frequently loses the battle against Ghaziabad's electricity supply. Everybody in the courtroom then speculates when the lights (and fans) will come on, an agreement on when to resume is eventually arrived at. Through all of this, the fast track court soldiers on.

During the breaks, prosecution, defence, the media, and any vaguely interested parties, move to the vicinity of Sitaram's tea stall, or stand around the stationery shop that sells cold drinks and stocks lawyers' accessories. No matter how hot it is, correct court attire isn't a negotiable matter, and must include a neck band. At the stationer's, you could buy one manufactured in nearby Hapur with the following attributes: "quality for personality; smart look; evershine; economical".

Neck bands and gowns in order, advocates sweat through proceedings. They do take one liberty, however, wearing slippers or sandals instead of shoes. The learned court might have a view on grounds, but it tends not to look at feet.

Outside, during power cuts, the copiers turn on generators and double rates. Handcuffed accused, their freedom held firm at one end of a rope, stop at the stationery shop and stuff their socks with gutka and cigarettes as they head back to jail. The cops with them mutter a sympathetic koi nahi, lene do.

The kacheri's ancillaries -- all the copiers, photographers, stationers and eateries within the complex -- survive and thrive in conditions where there are more hardships than privileges. Life in the complex is one of acceptance, adjustment and compromise, because these are the values of the vessel that hold it.

That vessel is the complex itself. And it lives, breathes and perspires differently from the offices and housing complexes in middle-class NOIDA. The Ghaziabad court is a character in the Aarushi trial, it holds opinions that bounce off its walls. Ask about the case, and you will hear an echo of: saza to hogi.

More on Aarushi trial:

Complete Coverage -

Aarushi Trial Special

Articles -

Doctor only willing to take 'unsigned' responsibility

'Strange' but not 'abnormal'

Screaming advocates and a media-friendly lawyer!

The mysterious case of a morning walker

Dhyan Nahin Hai, sings UP cop

What about the pyjama strings?

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 avirook@gmail.com

More from Sify: