How TV News Destroyed the Aarushi-Hemraj Case

Senior journalist Gaurav Kalra lamented media’s  handling of the Aarushi-Hemraj case, in a letter to Avirook Sen.

Updated
India
3 min read
File picture of Aarushi’s parents Rajesh Talwar (R) and Nupur being taken to a court in 2013.
i

On 12 October, the Allahabad High Court delivered its verdict in the case, acquitting the Talwars of murder charges. This article was first published on 5 August, 2015 and is being republished from The Quint’s archives in light of the verdict.

Senior journalist Gaurav Kalra who was then Sports Editor at CNN-IBN recalls the hysterical over-the-top coverage of the Aarushi-Hemraj murders and wonders whether the media was instrumental in painting Nupur Talwar as a villain. Kalra wrote down his thoughts in an e-mail to Avirook Sen, author of ‘Aarushi’. It is reproduced here with his permission.

Hi Avirook,

Though we have never met, I felt compelled to write to you after reading “Aarushi.” The book is an absolute masterpiece. I read it over two days and finished at 2 am the day before. It has haunted me since, not just because I am a father, but because two people are in jail, having lost their only child and being convicted of doing it themselves.

If they haven’t, as you establish, I can’t imagine a greater injustice.Just thought I would share some observations with you. Sorry, I know this is uninvited.

‘I Was Deeply Uncomfortable With the Coverage’

At the time the incident happened, I was with CNN-IBN as Sports Editor. Although I was never directly involved with the story given my beat was completely separate, I remember feeling deeply uncomfortable with the coverage - not just on our own channel but in the media space in general. I can now piece together a lot of the threads after reading your book.

I remember so much was heard and discussed in the newsroom at the time, courtesy of dubious “sources” that I can now identify, courtesy the book! Again, I was never involved with the discussions among the relevant teams on the strategy towards the story, so this is more an observation, rather than an insider view.

I think the story/narrative changed when Nupur [Talwar] decided to give NDTV an exclusive interview. I felt a lot of editors, especially on Hindi channels, felt slighted and made it their agenda to destroy the Talwars. I remember one very senior editorial figure saying on a show, “There has to be something wrong in a house where a 14-year-old is killed”. The implication was somehow a murder is something a family brings upon itself by its own actions.
Fiza Jha (L) and Aarushi Talwar (R). This picture was taken by Fiza Jha at the dance class that the two of them attended together. (Photo: Fiza Jha)
Fiza Jha (L) and Aarushi Talwar (R). This picture was taken by Fiza Jha at the dance class that the two of them attended together. (Photo: Fiza Jha)

I was troubled also about a survey that CNN-IBN did as one of many “specials” on the subject, as if the majority opinion says they did it, then it must be so!
‘Nupur’s Stoic Demeanour Didn’t Sit Well With TV Channels’

Also, and I know you mention this, but Nupur being as stoic as she was didn’t sit well with the kind of narrative channels like to push. If you see news TV, there’s a lot of over the top wailing/howling when a tragedy happens. It builds well into the storytelling TV likes.

Nupur was easy to paint as a villain. If you don’t break down every time your dead child is mentioned, what kind of a mother are you? You must have killed her.

‘Competitive Reporting Was At Its Worst’

There was also the bit, and this is simply logistical but important, about the incident having taken place in Noida. Since most of news TV is based there, it was very convenient to put resources into the story.

So several reporters were sent, all eager to please the bosses, all eager to rise in the company on the back of this story. Hence we saw “competitive” reporting at its worst, it was simply a sitting duck story. I used to live nearby and would often pass the area, it was forever clogged with OB vans.

I know most of this is well known, yet to now read the book I realised how terribly it has affected a family, and not just Nupur and Rajesh. I wonder what Kaul’s motivation was? What drove him to get them at all costs? He seems like a wretched guy.Sorry, just realised this has gone on too long. I only wanted to let you know that you have done something extremely important.

I don’t work in News TV anymore and obviously my understanding of the story is limited, as I was never directly involved. But as a journalist, your book has a valuable lesson for us in the profession - clearly, well after a story fades, it can leave such a deep impact on people, and so it is bounden upon us to report responsibly.

Best wishes.

(This letter has been edited slightly to leave out personal details.)

Published: 
Stay Updated

Subscribe To Our Daily Newsletter And Get News Delivered Straight To Your Inbox.

Join over 120,000 subscribers!