Talwars’ case shows how flawed criminal justice system is.
All that has followed in the Aarushi Talwar-Hemraj double-murder case since the murders themselves is rank callousness on the part of the state that turned a family’s devastating tragedy into a Kafkaesque circus. The Allahabad High Court, on Thursday, acquitted Aarushi’s parents, dentists Rajesh and Nupur Talwar, who had been convicted in 2013 by a trial court for the murders of Aarushi, and their servant, Hemraj. The High Court gave the Talwars the benefit of doubt as established by case law. That the trial court, the prosecution that relied on circumstantial evidence, the slapdash investigation by the police and the Central Bureau of Investigation and the salacious coverage of the case by the media that stoked a public trial didn’t give the Talwars this “benefit” reiterates how flawed India’s criminal justice system has become.
The High Court judges, Justices BL Narayana and AK Mishra, didn’t mince words in highlighting the mishandling of the case. They noted in the verdict that the “the trial judge is supposed to be fair and transparent and should act as a man of ordinary prudence and he should not stretch his imagination to infinity—rendering the whole exercise mockery of law”. The trial judge had cited Sections 106 and 114 of the Evidence Act to put the burden of proof on the Talwars. Section 106 says that when a fact is within the special knowledge of a person, the burden to prove that fact falls on him, and Section 114 gives a court the right of “presumption of certain facts” based on reasonable human conduct. However, the High Court ruled that “only when the prosecution’s case has been proved” is the burden of proof shifted to the accused, and that Section 106 didn’t relieve the prosecution of the need to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt. The Court noted that “suspicion… can’t be substitute for proof” and stated that prosecution had not been able to prove its case in the matter “beyond reasonable doubt”. The HC’s verdict, that the trial judge was “unmindful of the basic tenets of the law” in delivering his verdict should foster disquiet since the judiciary is widely seen to be the only near-completely independent pillar of government in India. The loss of crucial evidence despite the presence of the police at the scene of the crime, the outrageous briefing of the media by police leadership, the media’s peddling of prurient conjecture, the CBI’s troublingly inconclusive closure report and, eventually, the vigilante action by a member of the public—Rajesh Talwar was assaulted with a meat cleaver as an undertrial—all show how poorly crime and punishment continue to be handled in the country. The Talwars lost their daughter to a grisly murder, the opportunity to grieve for her to fighting bawdry reporting, and nine years of their lives trying to proving their innocence, the last four of which they spent incarcerated. Whether they are really innocent or not, the Indian criminal justice system stands indicted.