By Shree Paradkar
The double murder in a New Delhi suburb made headlines around the world. In May 2008, 13-year-old Aarushi Talwar was found dead in her room one morning with her throat slit. After a domestic servant who was the prime suspect was also found murdered, Aarushi's dentist parents, Rajesh and Nupur, were charged. Despite contentious evidence and what appeared to be confessions by others to the crime, the couple were found guilty in November 2013 and sentenced to life in prison. Now, in a Star Dispatches ebook, Toronto Star journalist Shree Paradkar chronicles the farcical investigation and trial that led to the Talwars' sentence. Betrayed: My Cousin’s Wrongful Conviction for the Murder of Her Daughter, Aarushi is a stinging indictment of India’s law-enforcement and legal systems and a heartbreaking portrayal of a couple who, instead of being able to grieve their daughter's death, have been tormented in its wake.
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Betrayed: My Cousinís Wrongful Conviction for the Murder of Her Daughter, Aarushi
In an “honour killing,” the honour comes from the act of murder. This is rooted in the notion that a family member, usually female, brings dishonour to the clan by an act of wantonness. She is either involved with a man outside the community whom she wants to marry or is accused of premarital or extramarital sex. The dishonour comes from gossip that hurts the chances of women in the extended family getting married. More fundamentally, the woman’s alleged action challenges the authority of the men in the family by suggesting they lack full control.
The men, sometimes with support of other women in the family, restore the clan’s honour by “cleansing” the family of this blot — by plotting and carrying out the murder of the wayward female. “This is the extent to which we will go to restore our honour in your eyes,” the killing tells others in that society. “This makes us worthy of keeping it.”
In India, this primitive and heinous moral code still exists mostly in the north, including Punjab. But in cosmopolitan circles across India, to be labelled an honour killer is the social equivalent of being labelled a pedophile in the West. It is so abhorrent that the accusation is as good as a conviction.
However, for a vast majority of Indians — who would never kill for honour — family reputation is still vested in a woman’s chastity. While premarital sex would not incite murder, it would invite parental wrath. For mainstream, moderate Indians, the notion that some parents might, in a sudden fit of rage, murder their child over inappropriate sexual relations is conceivable. The idea of having a calm chat with a daughter about her crush on a boy or the possibility she had sex is incomprehensible.
The game of cricket, money, dreams, earthquakes and religious riots — Aarushi Talwar, almost 14, was lost in the world of Chetan Bhagat’s bestselling novel The 3 Mistakes of My Life the night she lost her life. The only child of two dentists loved to read.
She was found dead the next morning, May 16, 2008, on her bed in the New Delhi suburb of Noida, her body covered with her white flannel blanket. There was blood on the pillow, blood on the walls, blood on the floor. A camouflage-print school bag covered her face and the cuts on her head from three blows. Her throat had been slit. A day later, the family’s 45-year-old live-in cook, Hemraj Banjade, would also be found dead, on the house’s rooftop terrace.
One week later, my family and I turned on our television in Toronto and, along with millions in India, watched a packed press conference in which police declared Aarushi’s 44-year-old father, Rajesh Talwar, the murderer.
The facts, as presented by Inspector General Gurdarshan Singh, were these: Rajesh was being unfaithful with another dentist. “His extramarital affair was known to both the girl and Hemraj. The two used to discuss this and had become close. Dr. Rajesh could not tolerate this even though his character was not good . . . He killed her in a fit of rage even though his character was just as poor as his daughter’s.”
Sex. Illicit relationships. Murder. Indian media, which combine a British tabloid sensibility with U.S. cable’s cutthroat competitiveness, snapped up the story and fed it to a gossip-hungry audience, catapulting the crime to the top of the news cycle and making Aarushi a household name. By 2013, the crime was among the Top 10 most-Googled stories in India.
The rest of the world paid attention, too. “India’s JonBenet Ramsey case?” asked a Time magazine headline.
Five and a half years later, in November 2013, a trial court judge took two minutes to read out a verdict that capped a case involving three sets of investigators, two sets of suspects, 15 months of trial and countless fumbles.
Guilty, he said, convicting both of Aarushi’s parents of murder and sentencing them to life in prison. “The parents . . . have been freaks in the history of mankind where the father and mother became the killer of their own progeny,” the judge wrote in a 210- page judgment.
“We are deeply disappointed, hurt and anguished for being convicted for a crime that we have not committed,” the couple said in a statement. “We refuse to feel defeated and will continue to fight for justice.”