I confess that I never followed the Aarushi case. I stopped watching television many years ago.
I also had no idea that Avirook was writing a book on it. I have known him from our school days.
I chanced upon a tweet last week on it and promptly downloaded it on my Kindle one evening. I finished it in three hours straight. I was upset at the end of it. Appalled even, at how something like this could happen.
We are all entitled to our choices and beliefs. I personally think the Talwars are innocent, and no one can take that away from me. Right or wrong as I may be.
Out of the blue, Avirook called and we chatted about it. And suddenly, I was consumed by it. And then just the other day, he popped by my office and we discussed it even further. With even greater remorse.
I do not know what will happen to the Talwars. What I do know is that it can happen to any of us. Actually, all of us. So I decided to ask him questions that I didn't hear anyone else asking him.
I stopped consuming media in copious doses purely because I believe that largely journalism has lost both its vigour and rigour. In these times, the rewards for rigour are sparse, in almost every profession. Plus, journalism to a large measure has become an arena of agendas. A stadium in which stances play their own games.
In this book, I sensed a relentless search for the truth; the meticulousness of it all is majestic.
This book is not a judgement. Far from that. This book is evidence. It's you and I who are the judges.
1. Why this book?
I take that as a personal question because it grew to become the most important piece of work that I have done. For the last few years it was pretty much all that I could talk about, even think about. The idea of miscarriage of justice is one with universal appeal, but for most of us it is an abstraction. As this case played out before me, I began to see what injustice is, in the harsh light of reality. It was happening every day. Day after day. I had to write about it.
I had one great advantage: the story was such that it wrote itself. I also realised that it was a much more important story than just a supposedly juicy murder trial or mystery, if you will. It was our story as much as it was Aarushi or Hemraj's or the Talwars'. It tells us things about who we are, the kind of country we live in, the institutions we believe in, in ways that we might have neglected to notice--or turned away from. So it had to be told. That's why this book.
2. You told me that "you and I are responsible for the Talwars being in jail," please elaborate.
Think about the state players in this case, and examine the roles they played. These are all people whose salaries come from our taxes, every Indian pays to keep them in their jobs. Given that, can we not ask the following questions: Do we pay our policemen to bungle and malign? Do we pay for the CBI so that it can twist, manipulate and break laws to 'crack' cases? Are we paying our forensic scientists some kind of rent for their imagination? Do we pay our public prosecutor--remember that this is a crime against the state, so he represents each one of 'us' against the Talwars--to use the language of the gutter in the courtroom? To feed to the media, in that same courtroom, things that were nowhere on the record? Such as: after the murders, the Talwars drank and watched pornography all night. (The PP was telling attentive reporters this in court. They took notes. The defence objected. Incredible, but true). Do we pay our judges so that they can invent evidence to suit the state's view?
"Are we paying our forensic scientists some kind of rent for their imagination?"
We have some skin in this game, I'm afraid. The Talwars were wrongly convicted by those who represent 'us'. And this makes me sad.
3. A controversial judgement such as this cannot happen without political prejudice. So what took them to jail and why can't they be freed?
Prejudice, certainly. How 'political' it was, I cannot say. What I understood is that in this very, very polarising case (do a dipstick survey in any drawing room), people who were charged with getting to the bottom of the matter tended to take default positions. For instance, when the incident took place, the Mayawati government in Uttar Pradesh (NOIDA, where the Talwars lived, is a Delhi suburb but a part UP) was already under pressure from the UPA government at the Centre over law and order issues. So the chief minister took a position that defended all the actions of her police force, and the centre trashed what the UP police had done. What suffered as a result was the most important thing in a murder case: the investigation.
Playing a role that went well beyond mere observation and reportage was the media. This continued through the investigation and the trial and it had to have had its effect. One of India's top legal minds, Rajeev Dhavan, plucked out a quote from the influential early 20th century American jurist Bernardo Cardozo to explain the effect events surrounding them have on judges: "The great tides and currents which engulf the rest of men do not turn aside in their course and pass the judges by".
The question of freeing the Talwars is, for now, up to the Allahabad High Court. That honourable court may decide to overturn the lower court's conviction. Or it may not. This will depend, at least in part, on the "great tides and currents" that Cardozo spoke of.
4. Do you think the Talwars will submit a copy of your book in their next appeal?
I do not know whether they will. What I do know, and their counsel has gone public with this, is that there is new material in the book that deserves attention. So they are likely to draw on what has been published to make their case stronger in appeal. The most important being the fact that the judgement was written before allowing the defence a chance to make its final arguments.
5. Why is the very media that sensationalised this case turning a deaf ear to the book?
I do not think it has turned a deaf ear. Yes, there are some issues: a number of media outlets/houses took a strong position throughout and this book does pose a challenge to those positions. But I think it has generated a fair amount of buzz, and brought the conversation about not just the Talwars, but our society and institutions back into currency. One can always ask for more, but as an author I am grateful for any and all the interest Aarushi has generated. The book is critical of many institutions (not through opinion, but relying on evidence) and what I want to make clear is that it isn't a war cry of some sort, calling for the destruction of these institutions. What Aarushi asks of each of us is that we reflect on parts of ourselves that we had been neglecting--either because we didn't see them or because we didn't want to look. The media, like the other institutions, will treat the book on merit. And this is good enough for me.
6. What do you see as a natural conclusion to the book?
I wish I could say. What I can say for certain is that the Aarushi story is still being written.