Thursday, September 4, 2008

ARUSHI MURDER CASE: THE CBI GOOFS UP TOO!

100 days after it took charge of investigations into the sensation Arushi Hemraj murder case, India’s premier investigative agency, the CBI, has serious egg on its face.

To briefly recapitulate, 14 year old Arushi Talwar of NOIDA was murdered on May 15, 2008 in her bedroom. A couple of days later, the body of her domestic help, Hemraj, was also recovered from the terrace of the flat. Both had been killed on the same day. Both were hit by a blunt weapon and also had their throats slit.

Initially, the NOIDA police which was investigating the case had confidently claimed that Arushi was murdered by her own father, Dr Rajesh Talwar, who had also killed Hemraj. It also claimed that he had confessed. Subsequently, however, it back tracked completely saying that no evidence had been found against him. There was then much criticism of the manner in which senior police officers had quite insensitively handled the issue and blamed Dr Talwar. As a result, all senior officers involved in the investigation were summarily transferred and the case was handed over to the CBI.

The CBI began investigations with much fanfare in a seemingly professional manner. It soon arrested Krishna, Dr Talwar’s assistant, and Rajkumar, servant of Dr Durrani, friend of the Talwars. Later, Vijay Mandal, the servant of a neighbour was also arrested. They were subjected to polygraph tests and narco analysis, during which Krishna and Rajkumar ‘confessed’ that they had committed both the murders along with Mandal.

The CBI also seized a blood-stained shirt from the room of Rajkumar and gave the impression that he was wearing that shirt at the time of the crime. But, despite all the tests and the confessions, it could not trace either the murder weapon or the mobile phones of Arushi and Hemraj which were allegedly taken by Rajkumar and Krishna respectively and destroyed. Simultaneously, the CBI all but absolved Dr Talwar of any involvement in the twin murders, as a result of which he was released from custody on July 12, 2008.

With gaping holes still visible in the CBI’s theory, the Joint Director in charge of the investigations, Arun Kumar, announced at a press conference on July 11 that the case had been solved. Much in a manner reminiscent of the infamous press conference of the NOIDA police, he exonerated Dr Talwar with the same confidence that the Meerut Range IG had found him guilty, and declared that the three guys mentioned above were the real killers. A few days later, the retiring Director of CBI also claimed that the case had been fully solved.

Even at that time, I had serious doubts about the CBI’s claims because a few vital pieces of the puzzle were just not falling into place. But, I gave the CBI the benefit of doubt much against my elementary commonsense, on the ground that despite these odd pieces, the CBI must have got it right enough to make the claim.

Today, the CBI’s case has manifestly begun to fall apart. Today, a local Ghaziabad court granted bail to Vijay Mandal on the ground that the CBI did not have any proof to name him as an accused. A couple of days back, the agency had admitted that it had made no progress in terms of material evidence. All that it had after months of investigation were the confessions made during narco analysis which are not admissible as evidence. So, it was trying to get one of the accused to turn approver. It has obviously failed to do that too.

The main points which bothered me then and still do, are:

Nothing heard by the Talwars. The CBI had stated on July 11 that they had physically opened the door to Arushi’s room and found that nothing could be heard from her parents’ bedroom with the AC running. It was also mentioned that upon being assaulted by the accused, Arushi tried to shout, but she had a bad throat. The trespass into Arushi’s bedroom was not done by an individual making a careful entry. Four men under the influence of liquor entered her room in the still of the night, manifestly with the intention of sexually exploiting her. In her room, they even had a fight, due to which, as per the CBI, Hemraj left the room in a huff. Whether the other three did assault her sexually or not before or after hitting her with a blunt weapon is not clear. But, it needs no intelligence to understand that four hot-headed drunk men would have made enough of a racket in Arushi’s room for quite a while. Dr and Mrs Talwar were not sedated. It is really difficult to believe that they just did not hear the commotion, if not the muted cry from the bad throat of Arushi. Yet, the CBI chose not to subject Dr Talwar to a narco test. That too despite one of his polygraph tests not yielding a satisfactory result.

Blood stains on Rajkumar’s shirt. The CBI has obviously not found incriminating bloodstains on Rajkumar’s shirt that they had sent for analysis. The question is: what about the shirts of Krishna and Mandal? Krishna was, as per his relatives, sleeping with them in a small room all through the night. If he did manage to quietly slip out, how come when he came back, he changed his clothes and hid those that were bloodstained, yet undiscovered, without anyone getting to know about it? What about Mandal’s ‘murder’ clothes? Where are the clothes that Dr Talwar was wearing that night?

Destruction of all forensic evidence. No incriminating forensic evidence at all was found by either the police or the CBI from Arushi’s bedroom and the terrace where Hemraj was killed. Were three drunk guys having no criminal background so smart that they destroyed it all after committing the crime? Were Dr and Mrs Talwar so foolish and ignorant that they allowed all and sundry to enter Arushi’s room the day after the murder and destroy such evidence?

Where are the mobiles and the murder weapon? This question was relevant on July 11. But the CBI chose to ignore it then. It is unanswered even today, despite the ‘confessions’ and ‘leads’ obtained during the narco tests. Without them, the CBI will look as foolish as the NOIDA police did earlier, and has no case.

In the next couple of weeks, both Krishna an Rajkumar will have to be released if the CBI is not able to file a charge sheet against them. As things stand now, it is highly unlikely that it will be able to do so. It is indeed amazing that both the NOIDA police and the CBI have failed to solve this case, which actually should have been among the easiest to solve. Both have goofed up thoroughly, and both have been overly confident about their investigations and claims.

The fact that both investigative agencies have egg on their face points to three main possibilities. First, the real culprits are really smart guys who know what it takes to be a step ahead of the police. Two, some police officials were paid off during the initial investigations by somebody, a fact alluded to by UP police itself. Three, there is a serious professionalism deficit in the police and the CBI.

One also cannot shake the feeling that the whole case stinks. And that stench emanates from the integrity of the investigators, be it NOIDA police or the CBI.

Unfortunately, there is no agency beyond the CBI to look into every aspect of this sensational case. Even if there was one, the result might not have been very different. Unless the professional, motivational and integrity levels of individuals who man these organisations are addressed holistically and brought up to minimum acceptable levels, things are going to be just as they are. And, time and again ordinary killers are going to be made to look better than the tough, smart and thorough professionals that the investigators should be, but are not.

This post was also published in Bloggers' Park Mumbai Mirror and Bangalore Mirror.