Benefit of doubt — on Aarushi murder case probe and trial

The Allahabad High Court verdict acquitting Rajesh Talwar and Nupur Talwar of the charge of murdering their 14-year-old daughter Aarushi and domestic worker Hemraj in May 2008 is not merely an indictment of the Central Bureau of Investigation Special Court that sentenced them to life in 2013; it exposes the shoddy investigation by the Noida police in the first few days after the double murder, and hints at the lack of probity even in the way the CBI handled the case. The Bench terms some witnesses as “planted”, and concludes that circumstances indicating that someone else could have committed the crime had been ignored. At one point it even observes that there was “clinching evidence” about the presence of outsiders in the Talwar residence on the fateful night. It is in keeping with the see-saw nature of the investigation that the trial court’s findings — that the dentist couple committed the crime, that they shifted Hemraj’s body to the terrace, dressed up the crime scene and hid the weapons — now lie in tatters. The Talwar trial is illustrative of the vast gulf between public perception, now lamentably exemplified in speculative media coverage and social media frenzy, and courts of law that go by evidence and reason. However, the facts and circumstances were such that anyone would have been torn between blaming the parents and sympathising with them. It did not help their case that the murders took place in their home. The claim that they were fast asleep while Aarushi was being killed in the very next room and the body of Hemraj was being moved to the terrace did stretch credulity.

In the end, they have got the benefit of doubts that surfaced during the probe and the trial. Usually, in a case based on circumstantial evidence the court looks for a cogent narrative pointing to guilt, and will not treat suspicion as proof. Few would dispute the fact that the investigation was botched up. The crime scene was unprotected. Hemraj’s body was not found for a whole day. Three associates of Hemraj were suspects, but there was not much evidence to proceed. A DNA report implicating one of them, Krishna, was dismissed as a typographical error. To be fair to the CBI, it did want to close the case for want of evidence, but was forced by the court to pursue the prosecution. At the end of the appellate stage, it is difficult to say whether the case should never have gone to trial or that it was desirable that the entire evidence underwent scrutiny at two levels. Acquittal in a murder case is an injustice of sorts. It either means the state has failed to bring home the guilt of the accused or that it prosecuted the wrong people. Those exonerated will naturally feel vindicated, but the perception of justice having been done is limited to the accused and their well-wishers. It is difficult to ignore the fact that the culprits who murdered Aarushi are yet to be nailed and duly held to account.


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Printable version | Mar 4, 2021 9:19:18 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/benefit-of-doubt/article19856026.ece

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