The nine-year mystery over the brutal murder of a 13-year-old girl and a servant in Delhi’s neighboring suburb Noida, took a decisive turn on Thursday when the Allahabad High Court acquitted the parents.
Dentists Rajesh and Nupur Talwar – who were accused of murdering their daughter Aarushi and Nepalese servant Hemraj Banjade – were discharged by the High Court on grounds of “insufficient evidence”.
The ruling overturned a verdict from 2013 by the Central Bureau of Investigation Court, which found the couple guilty of murder and destroying evidence, creating a furore across India.
The gruesome murder of the girl had led to widespread outrage, which was amplified when Uttar Pradesh (UP) State Police announced that the parents were the key suspects. In a widely-condemned press conference by a senior state police official, the parents were accused of murdering their child because she was close to Banjade, the cook and house helper. As the probe progressed, it was transferred to the Central Bureau of Investigation, a federal agency which continued to explore the case on similar lines.
First court told it was an ‘honor killing’
During the trial, prosecutors said the parents were guilty of an “honor killing” of their daughter, a term used to describe murders motivated by a sense of prestige in caste or social hierarchy. Given the servant Banjade hailed from Nepal, any “relationship” between the child and him was unacceptable to the parents, investigators argued. The trial court found merit in the Bureau’s case and cited “circumstantial evidence” to sentence the parents to life imprisonment in 2013.
But the High Court found loopholes in the Bureau’s investigation, ruling that the couple should be freed immediately.
That in turn prompted a decision by prosecutors to challenge the latest verdict in the Supreme Court, the country’s top court of appeal.
How the case unfolded:
Aarushi Talwar, 13, the only child of the dentist couple, was found dead on her bed on May 16, 2008. Her throat had been slit. There was blood on the pillow, the walls and the floor. A camouflage-print school bag on her face covered cuts on her head, inflicted by three blows.
Initially, Banjade, the family’s 45-year-old Nepalese cook, was the prime suspect. But the case took a new turn a day later after his body was discovered on the terrace, which was mysteriously locked from the outside.
A week later, UP State Police declared Aarushi’s father, then 44, as the prime suspect. The Inspector-General of Police Gurdarshan Singh told reporters that “Rajesh was having an affair with another dentist. His alleged extramarital affair was known to Aarushi and Hemraj. The two used to discuss this and had become close. Dr Rajesh could not tolerate this when he saw both in objectionable, but not a compromising position.”
On May 23, 2008, Arushi’s father, Dr Rajesh Talwar was arrested for the double murder. He and his wife Nupur were charged with murder and destroying evidence – including “dressing up” the crime scene and cleaning their daughter’s body, allegedly to destroy evidence of sexual intercourse. However, no murder weapon could be found and no scientific or forensic or material evidence to back up their claims.
The Central Bureau of Investigation shifted the burden of proof on the Talwars by suggesting, with the most simplistic logic, that in a home with four people and no sign of forced entry, if two people were dead, then the other two must have done it. The parents denied all charges.
The UP Police said the murders had been committed with “surgical precision”. The post-mortem reported three wounds to Aarushi’s head, and measured the incision on her neck at 14 centimeters by six. It also noted the presence of “whitish discharge” from her vagina but recorded that nothing abnormal was detected.
Illicit affairs, sex and murder – the media lapped up every innuendo leaked by the police. Aarushi’s character and the Talwars’ supposedly scandalous liaisons became a matter of public debate for years.
What went wrong with the investigation
- The UP State police did not cordon off the crime scene soon after Aarushi’s murder, as rules prescribe. At least 100 people — friends, family, journalists had thronged to the home accessing every corner;
- UP State police were also blamed for the botched collection of evidence from liquor bottles found in Banjade’s room and from Aarushi’s pillow;
- Blood was spotted on the handles of the locked door to the terrace. A neighbor testified later that he had pointed out the blood to a policeman, who mused about the door being an escape route. The key could not be found and police did not break open the door;
- The CBI was also accused by the Talwars of intimidation, tutoring witnesses on their court testimony, doctoring documents and tampering with evidence;
- Investigation agencies claimed that Banjade was killed in Aarushi’s room but failed to find any trace of his blood there.