Today's Paper

Aarushi murder case sabotaged by DNA tampering

Praveen Swami

NEW DELHI: Forensic investigators at the Centre for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics in Hyderabad determined late last year that vaginal swabs drawn from teenage murder victim Aarushi Talwar were substituted with samples from an unconnected — and still unidentified — woman.

Highly-placed sources at the Central Bureau of Investigation said the CDFD’s findings make clear there was a conspiracy to destroy evidence that Aarushi might have been sexually assaulted — or might have engaged in consensual intercourse — on the night of her murder.

The CBI sources said the CDFD finding, which was extensively discussed at a high-level meeting of investigators called eight months ago, led the organisation to drastically revise its initial findings in the case. “It seems evident,” a senior official said, “that the three servants we thought had killed Ms. Talwar and her family servant Yam Prasad Banjade [also known as Hemraj] did not have the resources to tamper with evidence.”

Swabs tested negative

As part of the standard autopsy procedure, New Okhla Industrial Development Area-based doctor Sunil Dohere had drawn vaginal swabs from Aarushi’s body following her May 15, 2008 murder. The doctor reported that the swabs contained a white discharge, suggestive of seminal fluid.

However, Dr. Dohere’s superior, Dr. S.C. Singhal, later told media that slides prepared from the swabs had tested negative for semen.

Officials at the CDFD, India’s premier DNA-testing institution, said there was indeed no semen in the slides sent to them by the CBI — but said corroborative testing left no doubt the material was not drawn from Arushi in the first place.

Laboratories cross check the genetic make-up of seminal and vaginal fluids with blood samples drawn from victims or their families to rule out tampering, a procedure that recently led to the detection of a near-identical effort to shield the perpetrators of the rape-murder of two women in Shopian, Jammu and Kashmir.

From the outset, the investigation into Aarushi’s death was marred by poor crime-scene management and lapses in procedure.

Early on, Uttar Pradesh police investigators arrested Aarushi’s father, Rajesh Talwar. Meerut Range Inspector-General of Police Gurdarshan Singh alleged Dr. Talwar had killed his daughter and Hemraj, in an alcohol-fuelled rage, after discovering them in an “objectionable but not compromising” position.

Police based their findings on three facts: the door to the apartment where Aarushi was killed was locked from inside, where only her parents, Noida-based doctors Nupur and Rajesh Talwar were present; Banjade’s body was found on a terrace to which the family alone had keys; and both parents claimed not to have heard any noise through the night, when Banjade and Aarushi were brutally beaten to death.

But no hard evidence emerged to link Dr. Talwar to the killing, and he was released from jail.

Later, the CBI alleged that a neighbour’s servant, Krishna, had assaulted Aarushi with the help of associates Raj Kumar and Shambhu. In this account of events, Banjade was killed to silence an eyewitness to the murder.

The former CBI Director, Arun Kumar, asserted at a July 2008 press conference that Krishna had confessed to the murder during narco-analysis — a procedure involving sodium pentothal injections that has been internationally discredited following research that demonstrates that it often throws up false results.

However, the CBI failed to gather evidence of this theory either, and was unable to file charges against the suspects.

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