Working as a journalist has taught many of us to refrain from absolute statements or quick judgements. I would certainly say that for myself. However, fellow journalist Avirook Sen’s book Aarushi made me dump my illusion of balanced comments. This was a birthday gift from my lawyer son—he asked me what book I wanted this time and I specifically asked for this. For someone who has never been really embittered about the “system” despite the daily goings on that we observe through our working life, this book came as a wave of engulfing cynicism. To put it without editorial restraint, I lost faith in the Indian criminal justice system, in policemen, in lawyers, in investigating officers of all ranks and to some extent in parts of the media which reported the case without due diligence in choosing words, sentences, courtroom reproductions if not suggest what seemed at that time ancillary judgements.
Of course we don’t know the truth. But Sen’s insightful, painstaking, persistent way of laying out the facts is enough to make most readers of his book cringe repeatedly and feel horrible. It made me feel an emptiness in the pit of my stomach, an emptiness that looms up in the face of loss. The careless, insensitive, disrespectful handling of Aarushi’s post mortem reports, the assumptions about her “relationships” with the working class men who are a part of this case, some of who seem to have walked away with little burden to their souls make you very uneasy. Sen’s detailing of situations and facts and the late CBI investigation officer AGL Kaul’s unexplained prejudices around this case can leave many an engaged reader angry. Very angry and helpless. It would be sentimental to say so how would Aarushi’s convicted and incarcerated parents be feeling but that obvious question and many others surround you when you keep down this book. That as a CBI officer, Kaul got away with corresponding with Rajesh and Nupur Talwar (and some of their relatives and friends) through an email address firstname.lastname@example.org makes you wonder why was this man not investigated or sacked by the CBI. Investigated for being a psychologically troubled man with strange compulsions and the need to be weird and completely out of line and sacked for being unprofessional and disloyal to the CBI as an institution.
What about higher authorities, what about judge Shyam Lal of the infamous Ghaziabad court who pronounced the guilty verdict just before his retirement. Lal’s layered obsessions with his own image, with sitting atop a “VIP case” with high velocity ripples in the media and thus popular notice and his use of what can only be called ridiculous English that allegedly took a couple of months to be crafted–before the hearings concluded and the judgment was read in court—reveals a disturbing regard for self and a severe disregard for fairness. Surely there were gaps in the entire investigation, serious gaps that probably helped officers like Kaul get away with what he did. But it makes you shudder that the so-called protectors of the law refused to pay heed to incriminating narco-analysis reports, to tampering of evidence and create a saleable story out of honour killing and an adolescent school going girl’s “character”.
Do read the book. It is not an easy read because it concerns itself with factuality and reportage in great detailed way. You may find parts of the book—divided into two broad sections of Investigation and Trial—tedious. But this very attention to fact tells us about Sen’s journalistic competence. By refusing to get tempted to make this a saucy murder mystery or a psychological thriller, he has stood by what journalists sign up for and should do. Had he turned this into a racy thriller, the book wouldn’t have yet again shoved a mirror into our faces about the pedantic, patriarchal, sexually judgmental and legally choked country that we can become from time to time.
I called up Sen on the spur of the moment two days before writing this blog. It was a spontaneous conversation about the thoughts that stayed with me after I read the book. Sen said he was on his way back from Dasna jail, Ghaziabad where the Talwars are imprisoned.
Incidentally, I still live in the same Jalvayu Vihar of Noida, just a few blocks down the road where Aarushi and her parents lived. None of us know who is really guilty but none of us want to be where the Talwars are if they are innocent. If the case is reopened as it should be and the guilty verdict overturned, this book will have fulfilled more than its purpose.