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Death in life

Outside, the lights were bright, and the sounds of celebration loud and festive. Inside the house, there was darkness enveloped in silence. In their top floor flat in Azad Apartments, a tony part of south Delhi, Rajesh and Nupur Talwar, both dentists, sat with the lights off, not even talking to each other. Their daughter loved festivals such as Christmas, and without her the Talwars had little to celebrate.

“We used to buy a big tree for her for Christmas. Diwali was her favourite festival. Now we have nothing to celebrate. We prefer to shut the doors and windows, pull down the curtains, and sit quietly,” says 45-year-old Nupur Talwar.

On May 16, 2008, their 14-year-old daughter, Aarushi, was found murdered in their house in Noida, on the outskirts of Delhi. A day later, the police discovered the murdered body of their domestic help, Hemraj Banjade, on the terrace. After 30 months, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which had been entrusted with the job of finding the murderer, sought to close the case last week, admitting that it had made no headway in the twin murder, despite several arrests, narco-analysis and polygraph tests.

Among those arrested and released were Rajesh Talwar, 46, his compounder Krishna Thadarai, the Talwars’ friend Anita Durrani’s domestic worker Raj Kumar and their neighbour’s help Vijay Mandal. All of them were granted bail by a sessions court. Last month, the CBI in a report cleared Krishna, Kumar and Mandal of all charges.

The courts have to take a decision on whether the case can be closed, but the CBI’s lack of progress has led to a situation where all those whom the police tied to the case are in a state of limbo. Somebody is guilty, no doubt — but the others are innocent. And what is clear is that everybody has gone through trauma.

Without a resolution, each of the four accused will remain one in the eyes of the people. Indeed, their lives have changed so drastically that for some, it’s already a death sentence.

At the Talwars’ residence, an uneasy calm hangs like a shroud in the perfectly done up room. The cream curtains match the cream and brown sofa. Crystal showpieces adorn a wooden table. Aarushi’s presence is palpable — six photographs of her and a painting hang on the walls. The dining table and the six chairs placed around it exude stiffness — it looks like they haven’t been used for long.

“We don’t invite friends for a meal anymore,” says Nupur.

Miles away in Lumbini in Nepal, Krishna too is living in misery. When he was released on bail after his arrest, he found that he was jobless. “He has been unemployed since then,” says his niece, Sunita. “He survives on his brother’s income.”

Krishna, 28, went back to Nepal after he was branded an accused. His father died last month after a prolonged illness. “My uncle used to be extremely fun loving. But after the incident, he has stopped interacting with people,” Sunita says.

Krishna came to Delhi from Nepal when he was 14 and lived with his sister and brother-in-law Bhim Bahadur Thapa — Sunita’s parents — in the servant quarters of a neighbour of the Talwars. He earned Rs 5,000 a month as a compounder at the Talwars’ Noida clinic.

For the Thapas too, the murder case posed a series of problems. Thapa lost his job at a music company and could never find employment after that. Sunita, who works in a travel agency, keeps the kitchen fire burning.

Krishna may have been exonerated but his family members are still to be accepted by society. Sunita’s 12-year-old brother, who goes for tennis lessons to a neighbourhood centre, is often taunted by other students. “Your mama (uncle) is a murderer, they say,” Sunita adds. “Children refuse to play with him.”

Krishna’s brother Mohan, who stays with his wife and two children in Okhla in Delhi, also lost his job in a paper mill. “I used to earn around Rs 9,000 a month but now I have no steady source of income. We are being made to pay a price for no reason,” Mohan laments.

Like Krishna, the Talwars moved out of their Jal Vayu Vihar flat in Noida after the murder and arrest. Rajesh Talwar was arrested on May 23, 2008, and kept in police remand for two months. The Talwars complain that they were given no time to grieve the loss of their child since soon after the murder they found that they had to defend themselves.

The police hinted that the father had committed the crime in a fit of rage on finding Aarushi in a “compromising position” with Hemraj. It was alleged that Anita Durrani, also a dentist, and Rajesh Talwar had a relationship, and Aarushi got to know of it and told Hemraj.

“We were shocked to hear those false allegations against our daughter and us. The three of us had a perfect relationship,” the mother says. “Our reputation has gone for a toss because of these baseless allegations,” says the agitated father.

After the CBI took up the case on May 31, 2008, Talwar was released on bail on July 12 after the investigators admitted they had no evidence against him. But the 31-page closure report filed by CBI says, “The findings of the investigation reveal a number of circumstances that indicate the involvement of the parents in the crime and cover up.” The report provoked friends and patients of the Talwars to hold a demonstration in the capital on Thursday.

“The pain seems to be never ending. Justice doesn’t exist. We are stuck in a web of lies,” says Talwar.

Professionally, too, the Talwars met with upheavals after the murder. The two worked as consultants at a Noida hospital, but were asked to leave after Talwar was arrested. They now devote their time to a clinic they run in Hauz Khas, and the one in Noida. “The clinics are the only place we go to. Our patients have known us for eons and support us,” says Talwar.

His elder brother, Dinesh Talwar, has also stood by them from the very beginning. The latest CBI report, however, does not spare Dinesh either. According to it, the Talwars, including Dinesh, tried to influence the contents of Aarushi’s post-mortem report.

“I cannot concentrate on work as most of the time I am either busy attending to the police or giving bites to the media,” says Dinesh, also a dentist. “Though people don’t say anything to your face, they certainly look at you with suspicion, which is extremely insulting,” he adds.

The others who were accused by the police find the going equally tough. Raj Kumar, 24, has gone back to Nepal, but his life is not on track either. “He is mentally traumatised and cannot sleep at night,” says his lawyer, Naresh Yadav. Kumar had undergone narco-analysis tests twice.

Mandal, 26, has returned to his hometown in Madhubani in Bihar and is also jobless, says lawyer Yadav. He has to take care of a younger brother and two younger sisters, but has no means of doing so. “Owing to his alleged involvement in the case, his sisters are not getting a suitable match,” says Yadav.

Yadav is seeking compensation from the government. “The lives of these three have been completely destroyed because of these false allegations. We demand compensation from the CBI for this,” he says.

Compensation can be sought under Section 357 of the Code of Criminal Procedure if “malicious prosecution” can be proved in a court of law. “But,” says advocate K.T.S. Tulsi, “the process is time consuming and frustrating.”

The CBI, in turn, stresses that it doesn’t intentionally vilify anybody. “We ensure that the reputation of the people in question is not jeopardised in the process of an investigation. Keeping people’s reputations in mind, we do not file a charge sheet against anyone unless we have strong evidence,” says a CBI source. “But we have to question the suspects. We have followed the rule in this case too.”

The Talwars don’t want compensation, but they demand a re-investigation into the case. “We don’t want the case to be closed as desired by the CBI. We want them to do touch DNA tests,” demands Rajesh Talwar. The test analyses skin cells left behind when an assailant touches a victim or objects at a crime scene.

Psychologists advise all the parties involved to look for coping mechanisms. “They should look at ways of moving on in life,” suggests Ashum Gupta, professor, department of psychology, Delhi University. “Society needs to play a role in helping them do so.”

The Talwars are doing their bit. They have registered a society in the name of Aarushi to provide free medical help to the poor. “But what will give back our peace of mind is justice for Aarushi,” says Nupur Talwar.

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