The Aarushi Talwar-Hemraj double murder is a total indictment of our criminal investigation and justice delivery systems. The Talwars were given the benefit of doubt by the Allahabad high court nine years after the painful events in which their teenaged daughter and domestic help were found murdered at their Noida home. The amazing twists and turns in the case brought about by multiple investigations by the police and the CBI, the trial in the CBI special court in which the prosecution view was accepted and life sentences awarded to the dentist couple, and the denouement in the high court — if indeed it’s that — helped make this a national cause célèbre. There were other suspects, shoddy crime scene handling and sufficient legal incompetence to leave a bewildering trail in a criminal trial with a limited number of suspects that spawned a book and a film. And yet at the end, no one is any wiser about who did it.
This whodunit may not have foxed Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot, but it certainly flummoxed our crack CBI investigators, whose record in convictions is dubious enough for the court not to accept their conclusions to the extent of fixing criminality in a murder case. It appears grandstanding added so much drama that the criminal and legal minds involved got carried away in their zeal to somehow nail the case, forgetting the vital need to prove guilt beyond all reasonable doubt. The height of folly was evident in two CBI teams involved in the investigation coming up with two different sets of suspects and convicts. The delays inbuilt into our justice delivery system have ensured the coldest possible trail is now left for the case to be pursued in the highest court. The feeling is inescapable that the system is inadequate to handle the complexities of criminal investigation and jurisprudence.
There are important lessons to be drawn. First, a public outcry alone shouldn’t impel a need for judicial conclusion that will not stand the time-honoured test of facts in trying to arrive at the truth. Second, the legal system must find ways to deal with things speedily but in a thorough manner as to ensure that the innocent are not held guilty or the guilty allowed escape routes because of its sheer inertia in handling its tasks. Third, social evils do exist and crimes of passion, family honour, etc are still a part of life. Finally, a case like the Aarushi murder is a blot on the nation. Shocking levels of investigative incompetence should not be allowed to preclude the delivery of justice. To have a case in which neither the guilt nor innocence of the convicts is established is indeed a curious one.