"Leave an impression," says the tagline for Ballantine’s scotch whisky. On June 8, the CBI presented a bottle of Ballantine's as evidence in the Aarushi Talwar case, and it turned out that there weren't any particularly useful impressions on it.
This was the bottle the UP police had seized from the Talwars’ dining table the morning after Aarushi and the Talwars' manservant Hemraj's murders. Apparently covered with fingerprints and blood, two thirds of its contents consumed, it evoked the chilling vision of the murderer(s) swigging booze after committing a grisly crime.
But its presence was inexplicable: the CBI has admitted that while the bottle had the blood of both victims on it, the fingerprints collected from it did not match the Talwars, or any of the servants initially under suspicion for the two murders.
The CBI brought in a fingerprint expert to essentially repeat this to the special court where Aarushi's dentist parents Nupur and Rajesh Talwar are on trial for the murders.
The CBI isn't short of a theory as to why the bottle was where it was, however. Their case is built on the circumstances that suggest (according to them) the involvement of the parents, and those that suggest the innocence of intruders or servants.
Here is what the agency says in the document that forms the basis of this case, its closure report: "Presence of a scotch bottle without glasses on the dining table of Dr. Rajesh Talwar with blood of both the victims on it indicates the involvement of inmates (read parents — ed) as it was unlikely that an intruder would return to the flat to take liquor after committing two murders." [sic]
So the bottle of Ballantine's, which once had all the classic bits of hard forensic evidence on it, has, after passing through the hands of three different investigating teams been transformed into a theoretical tool. One that "indicates" what is "likely" and what is not.
The bottle of scotch was one among 36 items that were brought to court in a large cardboad box sealed by the Central Forensic Sciences Laboratory. And the fingerprint expert was one of three witnesses summoned to give statements for the prosecution.
The others were an executive engineer from the electricity department and the police photographer, Chunni Lal, who took the first pictures of the crime scene.
The engineer testified that there were no power cuts in the Talwars area through the night of the murder (15-16 May 2008). The Talwars' internet router was allegedly turned on and off several times that night, but while the CBI is sure this didn't happen because of power failures, it cannot say for certain that someone was actually flicking the switch: other "technical faults" might have been to blame.
The photographer's testimony was a matter of contention. The prosecution hadn't informed the Talwars that his statement would be recorded. But it happened anyway.
The first pictures of the crime scene are relied on in the CBI's closure report. These, say the investigators, point to the "dressing" of the scene by the Talwars.
Aarushi's bed linen was undisturbed; there were blood stains on the wall, but none on the stuffed toys on her bed; her pyjamas had been pulled up. The list is almost exactly the same as in the CBI's closure report.
That, of course, is the basis for the prosecution's case. It is the reason why a magistrate felt the Talwars should stand trial, a position upheld by the Supreme Court on June 7.
But the closure report is a curious document. In murders allegedly committed with a golf club, it lists more holes in its own story (willingly or otherwise) than are to be found in all the golf courses of NOIDA.
Some of these are: there were two murder weapons, they have only one. There are no traces of Hemraj’s blood on Rajesh Talwar’s clothes; and no blood on the clothes seized from Nupur Talwar. This list goes on, and includes the mysterious fingerprints found on the bottle of Ballantine’s placed before the court today.
Who left those impressions? More on the Aarushi trial:
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