How an inept police and an insensitive media made it worse.
Aarushi’s grandparents were having their morning tea when they got a call from Nupur on the day the 14-year-old was found murdered in her bedroom, nine days short of her birthday. The elderly couple, who lived walking distance from the Talwar residence, were the first to get there. They rushed as they were. BG Chitnis, Nupur’s 78-year-old father, says he didn’t even wear his glasses.
When they reached the apartment building, Chitnis says he could hear Rajesh crying from outside. Nupur, says her 70-year-old mother Lata, had collapsed and was lying on the passage floor, while Rajesh had become hysterical and was banging his head against the wall. Praful and Anita Durrani, family friends of the Talwars who also worked with them, arrived soon after.
The third person Nupur called that morning was Dinesh, Rajesh’s brother. He says she was shrieking on the phone, “Aarushi has died, she has been killed. The servant’s run away.” When Dinesh and wife Vandana reached the Talwars’ Noida residence around 6.45 am, they found Rajesh on the floor, clasping himself. Nupur was the more composed of the two.
Dinesh found Aarushi’s body covered with a light-coloured blanket. Also a doctor, an ophthalmologist, Dinesh says when he lifted the blanket to see her body, he didn’t need to check her pulse. It was clear to him she was dead.
Minutes later, he was on the phone talking to the police. Even as he was talking, he saw a policeman walk in. Soon more policemen, including a senior officer, had arrived and proceeded to Aarushi’s room.
Meanwhile, another close family friend, Ajay Chadha, who has known Rajesh since they were children, was rushing to Noida with wife Radhika and his mother.
Radhika had heard from Vandana. All she had said before she hung up was, “Aarushi has died. We are on our way.”
Ajay has a distinct memory of what he encountered as he walked into the house that morning. “I saw a senior police officer, who I later found out was SSP Satish Ganesh. I remember his statement very very clearly. He was walking out with a junior officer. ‘It is an open-and-shut case. Send one team to the railway station, one team to the neighbourhood, one team to his house. It is the servant. Look out for the servant.” Ajay couldn’t bring himself to go into Aarushi’s room nor speak to Rajesh, who he says was mumbling.
Radhika found Nupur in the drawing room. “Nupur was in complete shock. From the look on her face, you could tell… she was saying things like ‘kyon kiya, maara kyon, humne kya bigaada tha kisika.’”
The news of Aarushi’s death had by then reached her school. Fiza, at whose house Aarushi had spent the evening of the night she was murdered, called her mother on hearing the news. “Something terrible has happened. Please come and take me home,” she told her mother, Masooma Ranalvi, sobbing. Masooma rushed to school to pick up her daughter.
Around 9 am, when Masooma arrived at Aarushi’s house, a crowd had already begun to gather. The media had arrived and set up base outside the house. Nupur and Rajesh, she says, were numb with grief. “There was a horde of people around them. They were not in charge of anything. They couldn’t think straight. They couldn’t do anything. It was people around them that had taken charge,” said Masooma.
No one, neither friends nor family, were prepared for or knew how to deal with public attention and the media hysteria that followed Aarushi’s murder.
At around 8.30 am, her body was taken for post-mortem. Dinesh and Rajesh’s driver, Umesh, sat with Aarushi’s body in the police jeep. Two policemen were present. Ajay followed in his car.
When they arrived at the post-mortem house in Noida, they found the gate locked and the doctor hadn’t arrived. It was peak summer and Dinesh recalls asking the policeman if it had a refrigerator and was sufficiently equipped. To Dinesh, the one-storey flat-like building looked unused.
Ajay describes what he saw when the gates were finally opened. “There were two bodies lying on the floor and there were rats running around. I nearly threw up. My immediate reaction was whether it was necessary to get it done here. But we didn’t seem to have a choice and so I went to get some ice, some cloth and some dettol to get the place cleaned up. There was nothing there. They didn’t even have a freezer to keep the bodies in. This was May and the bodies were lying there on the floor.”
Even two hours after Aarushi’s body had been brought, there was no sign of the doctor. Radhika recalls Dinesh telling her later that he sat with Aarushi’s body on his lap while they waited seemingly forever for the doctor to arrive.
“There were bodies already there. That’s why I didn’t want to leave her there. There were bodies on the floor that had been there for some time. I can only presume this is the condition in most places.” The doctor finally arrived and post-mortem was conducted over the next one hour.
Meanwhile, back at L-32, the police were going about their investigation. Radhika remembers finding Hemraj’s dinner untouched in the kitchen and asking the police whether they wanted to inspect it for clues. “I personally asked the police and they categorically said, ‘humne sab kuchh dekh liya hai. Aap uthalo, safai karlo’ (We have seen all there is to see; you may clean up).”
While the investigation was still on, no organised attempt seems to have been made by the police to check the constant stream of visitors into the Talwar residence. “I remember my mother-in-law asking some people inside the house who they were and asking them to leave. It had become like a tamasha. Every maid and sabziwala in the neighbourhood was in the drawing room to see what was happening,” said Radhika. The general discussion among family and friends around the time seems to have been about the futility of keeping the body overnight, a decision only strengthened by the deteriorating condition of Aarushi’s parents.
“I cannot forget the scene when Aarushi’s body came back from post-mortem. It was unbearable. Nupur and Rajesh were so distraught. All of us cried. The elders among family and friends were keen that the body be moved to the cremation ground as soon as possible. It wasn’t Rajesh and Nupur who were calling the shots; they were in no state,” said Radhika.
Judging from conversations with friends and family, including Nupur’s mother, the police don’t seem to have objected to questions about cleaning the house. They allowed the swabbing of the floor in the house, including Aarushi’s room, when asked. “Now when I look back, I realise it was foolish of us, but when the police says we have checked everything, we didn’t think twice. And between family and friends and staff, the house was cleaned up for the family to return after the cremation.”
Aarushi was cremated around 5 pm. When the family returned home, Dinesh recalls, a policeman had been stationed downstairs. When the investigating officer arrived later that night, Dinesh informed him of black spots on the stairs and terrace landing that friends and family had pointed out to him. The officer told Dinesh he would get the terrace door opened the next morning.
The next day, while Dinesh was waiting for Rajesh and Nupur to return from the crematorium with Aarushi’s ashes to take to Haridwar, a senior ophthalmologist Sushil Choudhary, known to Dinesh, came visiting with a gentleman named KK Gautam. “He was introduced to me as a senior officer of the Noida police. And while they were there, I saw a police officer going upstairs, and that is when the terrace door was opened.”
Ajay, who at the time was on his way to the Talwar residence, got a call from Dinesh informing him that another body had been found. When Ajay arrived, he found two policemen dragging the body tied up in a bedsheet down the stairs.
“If the stench at the post-mortem house was bad, this was ten times worse. We later found out that it was Hemraj’s body. Rajesh, on returning from the crematorium, went to identify the body and after clarifying some details with Nupur, who was sitting in the car (it is custom not to enter the house with ashes), confirmed that it was indeed Hemraj.” The dragging of Hemraj’s body left a trail of blood and fluid marks on the stairs that hadn’t been there before.
The discovery of Hemraj’s body left every one, especially the police, confounded.
All through this time, the Talwars, their friends and family, had been categorically told by the police not to talk to the media, a diktat they followed unquestioningly.
“They told us it would hamper the investigation. And our priority at the time was to get justice for Aarushi. Even when all kinds of allegations started flying, they told us “Ye hum to nahi kar rahe hai. Ye mediawale pagal hain; ye karte rahte hain.’ (It’s the media, not us—the media is crazy) My first reaction was to believe the police, why should they lie to me?” said Dinesh.
But slowly they saw the police behaviour towards them changing. On the sixth day, the police posted four personnel outside the Talwar residence. But nothing prepared them for the drama of Rajesh’s arrest. On May 23, Nupur, Dinesh and Ajay, on instructions from the police, arrived in a car at the temple where daily prayers were being held for Aarushi. A ploy, they were told, to give the media the slip. They were then bundled into another car parked behind the temple and driven to police lines in Surajpur on the pretext that they needed to identify some evidence relating to the case.
What followed was a nine-hour ordeal that began in the morning. They were told to wait in a large empty hall for a senior officer to arrive. Their cellphones were taken away from them. Said Ajay, “Rajesh was taken to another room at around 3.3o pm. There was no news of him till 6 pm. At about 7.30 pm, Nupur got hysterical. One of the cops had mistakenly let out that Rajesh had been arrested.”
Back home, Radhika and Vandana had turned on the TV after friends and family called to tell them about a press conference by the police announcing Rajesh’s arrest. “When we saw images of him getting arrested on TV, we got really worried. We couldn’t reach any of them on their cellphones. We were completely clueless about what to do,” said Radhika.
After the press conference and all the allegations by the police, Nupur Talwar decided to break her silence and give a long overdue interview to the media. Her interview to NDTV unleashed a media backlash from rival channels that they did not expect. Says Radhika, “I remember getting calls from senior people in rival channels soon after Nupur went on NDTV. They said there better be an interview on their channel that night, and watch out for their coverage if the interview didn’t happen.” Senior mediapersons from reputed channels, she says, would sit in the drawing room, refusing to leave till Nupur spoke to them.
Dinesh recalls instances of mediapersons incessantly ringing the doorbell. “If one person had a soundbyte, others would go to the extent of threatening us with, ‘I will speak against you. I will write against you.’ Those were harrowing times.”
The consequences of the shoddy investigation by the Noida police and the one-sided media coverage during the ten days that followed Aarushi’s murder is something the Talwars haven’t been able to recover from even two-and-a-half years later.