You enter the CBI's special fast track court through a narrow iron gate, situated at one corner of the maze of tin and concrete that is Ghaziabad’s ‘kacheri’. To the right of the gate is a public toilet with limited facilities -- the urinal sees heavy use and no cleaning; the two private stalls are padlocked, one of them with a bold sign saying, for some reason, ‘notice board’. Perhaps to announce all the shit that happens.
To the left of the gate is a large crate where rubbish is dumped. This comes mainly from the eateries that line the lanes of the complex. The one nearest the court is nameless. Its only signage is above a wet spot: kripaya haath yahan dhoye.
Sprinkled among the food stalls are standalone Xerox machines, typists and passport photo specialists. This could be a court complex in any other provincial town.
But it is here, in Ghaziabad, on a little piece of judicial real estate flanked by a toilet and the rubbish dump, that India's most anticipated murder trial in recent memory commenced on June 4, 2012. Rajesh and Nupur Talwar, both successful doctors, faced trial for killing their daughter and their manservant.
A week earlier, the first investigating officer in their case, Dayaram Nanoria of the UP police, had visited the same court complex. In the room opposite the one where the Talwars are being tried, Nanoria was convicted in a custodial death case. This 1995 incident took place in Bulandshahr. Nanoria has been given three years.
Aarushi Talwar was murdered on the night of 15-16 May 2008. The Talwars' only child, she would have turned 15 just over a week later. The man first suspected of killing her, the Talwars' 45-year-old servant Hemraj, turned out to be a victim as well. His body was found on the terrace of their NOIDA flat the next day. With its discovery, what was first thought of as a sad but fairly commonplace case of servant killing master, transformed itself into a dark, dramatic, impenetrable mystery.
At its centre, was a once happy urban middle-class family: Doctor parents accused of taking the life of their child.
In the first days after the murder, what you saw was Aarushi’s face -- a smiling, pretty face, it’s eyes large and bright, as if she was looking at a future she quite fancied. But within weeks began a series of leaks from the police that drew attention away from the face of a little girl, to the body of a woman.
Partly illiterate (Aarushi had "sleepovers": as understood by the UP police, this is adult entertainment), partly malign (her character was loose, like her father’s, a senior UP police officer said at a press conference) and wholly and unquestioningly swallowed by the media-- like the miracle cure fish that asthma sufferers gulp down -- the insinuations lay Aarushi bare.
The investigation has had a lot to say about the “dressing” of the crime scene, and indeed, this central to the prosecution’s case against the Talwars: the covering of the bodies; washing Aarushi clean and so on. What the state has done simultaneously, and with far more competence, is undress a dead girl who was not yet 14.
A week or so after her post-mortem and police briefings, came a thousand further dissections. Done remotely, on desktops for stories and in drawing rooms for conversation, these slashed and sliced the corpse, peered inside.
Why was the adolescent Aarushi’s vaginal opening “unusually dilated”? Why was the cervix visible? Her pyjama strings were untied, and the cleavage of her buttocks was visible. And that “white discharge”, and the wet sheet… No traces of sperm, so what could it have been?
Post-post-mortems do not do a corpse the dignity of stitching its wounds up - it is carrion by then, a grade lower than a fresh dead body. Aarushi was stripped, and torn skin still hangs from all over her like loose ends. The trial has the difficult task of tying them all up.
The Aarushi murder received the attention it did because it was a story that spoke to the conflict that 21st century India lives through every day. This is the battle between the city and the village. These two Indias are brought up to think differently on many of the issues that surfaced as the case played out. Sex and morality, for instance. Or honour killings: part of life in rural India, shocking in the city. Or even what constitutes good television.
This is why the Talwars fought (successfully) to have their case transferred to the CBI from the UP police, and petitioned (unsuccessfully) to move the case out of Ghaziabad to Delhi.
But Ghaziabad, somewhere between village and city, it is going to be. Here, there are hundreds of towers under construction. Every name pregnant with promise: ‘Imperia’, ‘Laurel’ (perhaps a larger complex called ‘Hardy’ will be announced soon), ‘Riviera’ (this is Hindon, not Menton). For now, all they do is blow dust in your face.
On the roads, both drivers and pedestrians seem to take just a few more risks - or are they just liberties? In the court complex, a minor traffic jam results in a casual call to vandalise a car (ironically, it had a policeman sitting in it), although no damage is actually done.
The Talwars sat next to each other, on a bench farthest from the judge. Their view blocked by a human wall of black and khaki. The prosecution was to have called its first witnesses, but the untimely death of a member of the Ghaziabad bar association meant an adjournment.
The layered battles that couldn't quite begin were now scheduled for June 8, a lawyer tangentially involved in the case, told the waiting cameras. When they asked why, he said: "Condolence ho gaya".
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