The Aarushi murder case is a disturbing example of how a bungling police and a sensation-hungry media can make a horrendous travesty of justice. Arrested for killing his teenage daughter Aarushi on the basis of tenuous circumstantial evidence, condemned by fanciful and self-serving leaks by the Uttar Pradesh police, and tried and ‘convicted’ by the media, dental surgeon Rajesh Talwar has gone from a heartless murderer to a free but traumatised man in the space of less than two months. The Central Bureau of Investigation, to which the case was transferred, has dropped all charges against him and turned the finger of suspicion on three people — a compounder of Dr. Talwar’s and two men who worked as domestic help in the neighbourhood. The Noida police, who had earlier investigated the case, were clearly taken in by the now accused compounder Krishna’s version that 14-year-old Aarushi had become intimate with the household’s domestic help Hemraj, and that the two were killed by an enraged Dr. Talwar. They did not merely bungle the case — they indulged in character assassination of the worst kind, sparing not even the murdered teenager, the butt of prurient leaks that upset women activists as well as the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights.
The twin murders set off a feeding frenzy among sections of the media, particularly some television channels, which spun stories awash in lurid speculation and with little regard to objectivity and professional ethics. A study done by the Centre for Media Studies showed that six leading news channels devoted almost 40 hours of programming out of a total of 93 hours during prime time between May 16 and June 7 to the twin murders. The tendency of the media and the public to believe the worst may have been furthered by the lurid story of a 73-year-old Austrian man holding his daughter prisoner in a basement and sexually abusing her that broke when the Aarushi case was making news. But nothing can justify the unthinking acceptance of the veracity of police leaks and using them to build a wholly fanciful story. A cautious CBI — which has said that the lack of evidence against Dr. Talwar does not mean he has received a totally clean chit — deserves to be congratulated. But it also has a lot of work to do to legally shore up its case. Now, the main evidence against the three accused consists of their narco-analysis induced confessions, not admissible in court. The murder weapon is missing, and some critical questions need answering. Exposing an inept investigation is the easy part; the real challenge is to painstakingly gather the evidence required to punish the guilty.