Ghaziabad: Rajesh and Nupur Talwar stood in the rickety dock of the Ghaziabad trial court on Tuesday, July 10, as the clothes their daughter Aarushi was murdered in were presented as evidence. Out of a sealed carboard box, came ‘Parcel number 4’, wrapped in a white cloth and polythene. It contained Aarushi’s pyjamas, her undergarments and a t-shirt.
The evidence was presented during the cross-examination of police photographer Chunnilal Gautam. ‘Prosecution Witness No 1’, as Chunnilal is referred to in court documents, had answered/evaded questions on four previous court dates. On Tuesday, among other things, he was asked about Aarushi’s untied pyjama strings.
The Talwars stand accused of the murder of their 14-year-old daughter and 45-year-old servant Hemraj, primarily because, to the eyes of the CBI’s investigators, the crime scene looked “dressed up”. No one but the killers would take the trouble to do this. And no one but the parents had the opportunity for a clean-up.
When he arrived at the Talwars NOIDA home on the morning after the murder, this is what Chunnilal saw: Aarushi’s body covered with a white sheet, which when pulled back revealed her fatal wounds. Blood spattered on the walls, but no traces of red on the toys on her bed. Her pyjamas low around her waist, the cleft of her buttocks showing. Six inches or so of untied string hanging on each side…
This is what the police photographer told the CBI, and then the trial court. However, his first impression, in a statement recorded by the UP police on May 31 2008—Aarushi was murdered on 16 May—has none of the details that lend his testimony potency.
The details are critical. Blood spattered on the walls, but unsoiled toys (not there in original statement; implication: placed later by killers who had feelings for Aarushi). Pyjama strings untied, buttocks showing (not mentioned in first statement; implication: someone pulled them up after the murder). In the alleged rearrangement of the crime scene, the Talwars are prime suspects. This also makes them the murderers. In the absence of any hard evidence, that is the case against the dentist couple.
Except that it isn’t that simple. Aarushi’s cotton pyjamas also had an elastic band, a common feature in these casual garments. They could be worn without tying the strings, says defence counsel M.K. Sisodia. The fact that the strings were loose doesn’t mean she was in a state of undress at the time of her murder. The suggestion that Rajesh Talwar clubbed his daughter and servant to death in rage because he discovered them in a compromising position rests on small details like the pyjama strings.
And what about the stuffed toys on Aarushi’s bed? Chunnilal’s photographs show that they are there, and he says they “did not appear” to have blood marks on them. He also told the court that he “did not pick up the toys” to inspect them closely.
Chunnilal’s cross-examination took five days because the pictures and fingerprints he collected from the scene, along with the post-mortem reports conducted by the U.P. government’s Dr Sunil Dohare, are about the only hard evidence collected.
And both Chunnilal and Dr Dohare (who the prosecution will present in the near future) “improved” their original statements substantially. While this is entirely legal, it is also the defence’s right to confront the witness on the improvements.
Chunnilal has been confronted on the contradictions in his statements over five days, and always had a three-word response: “Dhyan Nahin Hai.”
In Tuesday’s one-and-a-quarter-page transcript of his cross-examination you could count 18 ‘dhyan nahi hai’s.
For a man who remembers so little, he seems to have done a wonderful job recalling, many months after the murder, every detail that pointed to the “dressing up” of the scene.
Sidelight: The CBI has argued that the Talwars tampered with the evidence at the crime scene. In a reply to the court on Tuesday, it accused them of tampering with evidence yet again. Following a mismatch between negatives and prints submitted to the court, the agency had been directed to hand over photographs taken by Chunnilal to the defence for inspection. The CBI now says that the defence had “physically handled the material” and had “tampered” with the evidence just as on “earlier occasions”. The court will direct the parties on 18 July, the next hearing.
Aarushi Trials Chapter One: The dissection of a 14-year-old
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