Midway through the testimony of one of its most important witnesses, the CBI has managed to mislead at least one court: either the Supreme Court of India, or the special court in Ghaziabad where the Aarushi-Hemraj murder trial is in progress.
At issue is a piece of evidence crucial to the trial: a blood stained blue and white pillow cover on which the victim Hemraj's DNA was detected. The source of this piece of evidence is critical, and on Tuesday, forensic expert Dr B.K. Mohapatra of the Central Forensic Science Laboratory testified that it was recovered from Aarushi's room.
Dr Mohapatra was part of the team that collected this piece of evidence, but he relied on a letter from the CBI when testifying where it was found.
The implications of this claim are serious: it places both victims in the teenager's room. Possibly, as the UP police once delicately described it, in an “objectionable” but "not compromising" position. The theory that this was an honour killing carried out by the parents, Dr Rajesh and Nupur Talwar, then falls neatly into place.
Dr Mohaptra's testimony is the first prosecution claim that suggests Hemraj's blood was found in Aarushi’s room. Through the course of its investigation, and later in courts, the CBI has said the opposite.
So where was this game-changing blue and white pillow cover that was displayed in the trial court on Wednesday actually found?
In April this year, referring to the same piece of evidence, the agency told the Supreme Court: "One pillow cover was also seized from the room of the deceased Hemraj and the same was also sent for forensic examination…"
This passage is from the CBI’s counter affidavit to Nupur Talwar's review petition before the Supreme Court. It was filed on April 23, 20102, and verified as “true and correct” by the CBI’s additional SP A.G.L. Kaul.
One pillow cover could not have been found in two places. It stands to reason that at least one court is being misled.
The CBI counsel R.K. Saini explained that Dr Mohapatra could not be expected to remember the sources of various items seized, even if he was part of the team collecting evidence. He was therefore relying on a letter written three days after the seizures by an SP, CBI. The SP, however, was not part of the 12-member team that inspected the Talwars’ premises on June 1, 2008 to collect this and other clues.
Was there any other document on record that confirmed where the pillow cover was recovered? The prosecution counsel said there wasn’t, and that it was up to the investigating officer to elaborate on its provenance.
How the courts view this contradiction is a matter for them to decide, but for now, it has had the desired effect for the CBI. Dr Mohapatra's revelation to the trial court spawned a number of dubious media reports — and even dodgier headlines.
Websites and newspapers went with ‘Partial male DNA found on Aarushi’s pillow’ or variations of it. Fact is, even the CBI has not officially claimed that the item belonged to Aarushi.
Some newspapers went even further, attributing to Dr Mohapatra the claim that samples from the walls and door of Aarushi’s room also contained male DNA. (The CFSL scientist never made such a claim.)
The common thread that runs through these reports is that each one supports the CBI’s position, regardless of documents and depositions on record. And nobody from the CBI is actually quoted to support a claim. That means the stories are out there, but entirely deniable — should the need arise. (It hasn’t, because the questions are never raised.)
This is why, when you ask regular newspaper readers who killed Aarushi, they almost always say: ‘it must have been the parents’.
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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