“I don’t know what to tell you about the case.” This was how he began when he spoke to me for the very last time. “I can just tell you that what is happening isn’t right. They are implicating the wrong people.” And with those mysterious lines, my ‘Deep Throat’ in the CBI and initial investigator in the Aarushi Talwar murder case hung up for good.
This was more than three years ago, and though we had no way of knowing at the time whether he was speaking the truth, that conversation coincided with the last point of clarity and hope in the case: the summer of 2008, when the CBI looked like it would undo the bumbling crassness of the NOIDA police, before taking the entire country on a ride accusing three domestic help of having killed the 14-year-old girl; the summer when the then CBI director almost announced that he was about to declare the case solved — famous last words.
As the Supreme Court upheld the trial against Aarushi’s parents last week, I could not help thinking about my Deep Throat and how his contrary opinion in the case got him kicked out of the investigation, or at least that is what he led me to believe. I’m wondering whether he is now satisfied that his organisation has finally come around to his theory on the case — that it wasn’t Krishna, Mandal and Rajkumar, the help, who killed Hemraj and Aarushi, but that it was the teenager’s parents. I haven’t spoken to Deep Throat since, as he became disillusioned and completely went into a shell as the three help were bundled in and forced into various tests like narco-analysis and brain mapping. But as the trial in the blind murder case is scheduled to begin next month, I am wondering if we will ever know what really went down that night in May 2008.
As a journalist, I don’t think I have been questioned about any case as much as the Aarushi case, be it in the newsroom or elsewhere.
Even the most cynical, news-weary colleague has often cornered me on the news floor to ask: “So, tell us the off-record stuff, Sunetra, who really killed Aarushi?” And being a typical journo, I have often felt the pressure to live up to their expectations of knowing the inside story — “Well, you know what they are saying...”, and given them some drivel. Which is why the final report of the CBI in the case is so unexpected. For the first time, you have all-knowing investigators going on record to almost say, “Hey, there are a lot of things we don’t know in this case, but here is what we do know.” The final report in which the CBI recommended closure of the case for lack of evidence actually lists 15 different holes in the agency’s own theory that the parents did it.
I find it fascinating that instead of trying to hide the weaknesses in the case or pretend that they don’t exist, which is what most investigating agencies do, the CBI in a detailed manner lists out how it feels the parents must have been the only ones who could have committed the murder, but also admits that it can’t explain why Nupur’s clothes, unlike her husband Rajesh’s, have no trace of blood. It can’t explain why, if Hemraj was killed at the same time that Aarushi was killed, his blood was nowhere to be found in the room. And it can’t explain why hours after the murder, Hemraj’s mobile signal was picked up by some tower in Punjab. How did it reach there if his body was lying on the Talwars’ terrace? The phone was never found, but what is the Punjab connection?
Apart from the intricate details and insights from the investigator, what the report also shows is that now and then, and we rarely see instances of that, the CBI is also capable of seeing shades of gray, of seeing nuanced relationships. For me the most moving part of the final report is when the CBI describes events leading up to Aarushi’s murder. It recalls how Rajesh and Nupur Talwar had bought her a digital camera for her birthday, which was a few days later. The investigators describe how the Talwars were so excited they couldn’t contain themselves and decided to give their daughter her present that very day. They have a perfect moment of bliss where Aarushi is so thrilled that she even takes pictures with her new camera, which, ironically, become exhibits of evidence in her own murder. That takes place a couple of hours later, and the CBI says they have no evidence for what could have provoked such loving parents to turn into murderers.
I praise this CBI report, but I don’t know whether I believe it. After all, just a few years ago the same agency told me that the servants killed Aarushi. And while the agency is transparent about everything else, it does not go into any detail about how the first set of investigators went exactly the opposite way. I wish my Deep Throat would come back to tell me why his bosses forced a particular line of investigation, but I don’t think he ever will.
Nupur Talwar once came into the NDTV studios for her first interview and I remember staring at her, trying to figure out if she was involved. Did she look guilty? Did she look heartbroken? I can’t say, because as a wise man once told me, don’t assume anything of human beings, they are capable of anything.
Sunetra Choudhury is an anchor/reporter for NDTV and is the author of the election travelogue Braking News On Twitter:@sunetrac