“Aarushi Was Bubbly, Jumping At My House a Day Before Her Death”
Fiza Jha, Aarushi Talwar’s best friend recounts how she was full of life, even on the day before she was murdered.
On the night of 15 May 2008, Aarushi Talwar was murdered in her bed. She had sustained injuries from a possibly fatal blow to her forehead. Her throat was slit. 14-year-old Aarushi’s body was found by her parents the next morning. Two days later, the prime suspect, Hemraj Banjade, the Talwars’ domestic help, was found dead on the terrace.
On 12 October, the Allahabad High Court delivered its verdict in the case, acquitting the Talwars of murder charges. This blog was first published on 30 August 2015 and is being republished from The Quint’s archives in light of the verdict.
I write this as Aarushi’s best friend, as her classmate, as a student of the school she went to, as a girl who was in her dance class, as a girl who lived in Noida with her, and simply as a 14-year-old of that time.
Aarushi had come to my house a day before her death. Excited, jumping, bubbly, but she had a bad cold. We were working on a school project together. She was extremely excited about the weekend, and her birthday party. She was going to have a sleepover. I spoke to her on the phone the evening before the fateful night. Everything seemed normal.
The next morning, on 16th May, Aarushi was no more.
I had just turned 14 then, a sheltered adolescent, and now, I am 21, away at college, living by myself in a different city. From then to now, these have been some of my feelings, thoughts and opinions – having seen up close the role of the media, the police, the CBI and the law.
The Night That Was Recklessly Twisted
The night of the murder has been almost written, rewritten, twisted and confused so much that eventually you just believe one version for the sake of convenience. But how were the stories written without a shred of evidence and without questioning logic or legitimacy?
There was never any compulsion for me to believe in the culpability of the Talwars or in their innocence. They were not my relatives, not even family friends. Aarushi, though, was my best friend, my class mate, my dance class partner – I had known her from the age of five, she was the first friend I had made in school. But I believed in their innocence because I knew what I knew.
But I also know that murders are not solved by one’s belief – you need hard evidence, you need proof, but that didn’t seem to be the case here.
“Like Vultures At a Crime Scene”
I saw things unfold from Day 1, and I also saw the entire process of the case being handled with complete ineptitude, the media hawking like vultures, contorting facts and information from the very morning and sensationalizing the entire incident dangerously.
I was in the house that morning after the incident occurred, with hundreds of neighbours, family members, friends, police officers, journalists, milling about the house. No part of the house was cordoned off, everything was being touched by everyone. Aarushi’s room itself had not been cordoned off, the alcohol bottles from the night before were lying around. The blood was splattered on the wall of her bedroom.
From the next day itself, I saw news channels report the case with all kinds of theories and headlines about what had happened, before anything had been really investigated.
I remember staring at the screens, and hearing screaming headlines about the adulterous affair between Aarushi and Hemraj, the wife swapping theories, the loose morals of the parents, and wondering if I was having a bad dream. All this was absolutely untrue and ridiculous. It was so surreal and absurd. There was, of course, no proof or evidence to any of this, still none to this date. But no one cared, they flashed those headlines the next morning after my 14 year old classmate was murdered regardless.
I often wonder how the case would have turned out if it hadn’t gotten so much hype, so much coverage, and so many onlookers analyzing it with their own opinions, completely disregarding the facts. Would it have been handled better by the police then? Would the CBI have behaved differently? Would the judiciary have responded differently – without the strain of India’s rapt attention?
The Facts and The Evidence Never Mattered
The facts and evidence never mattered – to any cop who dealt with the case, to any CBI investigator, any reporter, any judge, any celebrity talker that was called to the 9 o’clock prime time debate; nor to any family that was discussing the Talwars like characters of some thriller crime novel in their living rooms. No one actually cared about the forensic evidence or how it was recorded. And how the police and CBI got the prosecution witnesses to change their testimony.
It’s hard to really point out if the police was feeding the media wrong information, or being influenced by the media’s quick, baseless theories?
What if it had been me instead of Aarushi?
I have often wondered about this over the years. Would my life, how I carried myself, my hobbies, my friends, also be analyzed the same way? Would my family life also have been scrutinized like that? Would my diary, too, have been read and misunderstood, would my texts and emails have been misconstrued, would a fight with my parents over something petty have been seen as a possible motive for murder? How difficult then, would my parents’ fight for justice have been? It’s terrifying to think of it.
Debauched Parents and Daughter Make For More Salacious Copy
As an outsider, if it bothered me so much, I cannot even fathom the emotional and psychological state of Aarushi’s parents.
The girl I read about on the news, and the parents she had, were not real people, they were fictional characters created out of some collective imagination.
It has always puzzled me why people preferred to believe that the parents were guilty. I say ‘preferred’, because that’s exactly what it was, right? Was it because the narrative of a father killing his daughter is far juicier and sensational than the domestic help murdering her? Is it because a sexually perverse angle of a daughter and her debauched parents makes for a much more salacious copy?
Talwars – Guilty Till Proven Innocent
If and when the innocence of the Talwars gets proven, what we did to them as a country, as a society will also be out. We ruined them. The Talwars lost their reason to live – Aarushi – but we as a people killed them, stripping them of their dignity forever.
The whole basis of the conviction is that Aarushi was having an affair with Hemraj. However, there was no evidence to this sweeping claim. The issue of understanding Aarushi, her lifestyle, her relationship with her parents is key to the context to the case. How could the police, CBI and the judiciary correctly judge anything without understanding the context of their lives?
- Avirook’s book (Aarushi) addresses that. When he interviewed me for the book a couple of years ago, I remember him asking me what it meant for us to have boyfriends at the time? Was a 14 year old girl having a boyfriend indicative of her sexual activity? No, I had said. For us, having a boyfriend then meant someone we spoke to on the phone, went to the movies with along with our friends, someone we had a crush on and our friends teased us about. We were innocent children, and her parents knowing that she had a boyfriend did not mean that they condoned ‘her looseness’, but it meant that they knew exactly what their daughter was up to. She was a growing healthy girl, who was in a co-ed school, she had lots of friends who were girls and she had friends who were boys.
- Aarushi was not a suppressed, rebellious or secretive child. She had a healthy, open relationship with her parents. Her parents knew she was at the age when she would start to go out for movies and a few, select parties. It is very important to note that neither Aarushi, nor any of her peers were even remotely sexually active at this age. We were children, we did not even think about these things. The boys we were friends with, were mostly met in school or tuitions, and the conversations always revolved around pop culture, academics, or other friends.
- The Talwar’s lifestyle and character was questioned without really understanding their cultural context. This family was extremely normal by the standards of an urban middle class home. It was very similar to my family, or those of our friends and other classmates, or other families of students who go to schools like DPS Noida. For a senior police commissioner to go on air at a press conference and call this fourteen year old girl ‘loose’ was unprofessional; for hundreds of media channels and news publications to question her character without checking their facts was insensitive and unethical.
- Statements may have been changed later, points of views may have evolved, apologies may also have been made, but the damage was already done. Her reputation was already ruined and this narrative had already been written.
The Talwars Were a Gentle Family
This was a family of doctors, a liberal family. Not a rich family, but a middle-class hardworking family who had done well enough for themselves to be content.
The Talwars were very gentle and tolerant people. And Aarushi was a really happy girl. She was the simple, kind, peaceful and content one among all of us. I can vouch for this, because I was perpetually in my teenage funk, fighting with my mother, crying about boys, fighting with people at school.
Aarushi was the one who everyone wanted to be friends with; she was pretty, fun, kind, friendly, popular, smart and had a very positive and peaceful aura to her; she had really nice parents, she had it all. The theory of honour killing, which is the basis for suspecting the parents, makes absolutely no sense, and also has never had any evidence to back it with. But it’s such a strong allegation, that it makes imaginations run wild.
This case needed a fair investigation. A proper investigation. By the police, by the CBI. How was it supposed to make sense when no evidence was properly recorded and preserved in the first place? And later evidence cooked up to prove the ridiculous theories of the CBI?
It is a breath of fresh air to see Avirook’s book and the response it has garnered. The book has made people question the system with some degree of outrage, and forced them to look for answers once more. I think Avirook Sen’s book is extremely important because it takes an investigative, objective and critical look at the manner of functioning of the three institutions in relation to this case. He has extensively interviewed the judge, CBI officials, key witnesses and attended trial proceedings, and looked hard at the evidence placed on record in the court before arriving at any conclusions.
There are so many families whom this horrifying case has haunted; and so many children who were teenagers then, who have grown up with this sordid story. I urge those who ever had any interest in the case, to read the book and dispel their doubts, and join in, asking important questions and demanding answers.
(Fiza Jha is a student of design at the Srishti School of Art Design and Technology, Bangalore)
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