I recently saw the movie Talvar, which is based on the headlines-grabbing double murder of a young girl, Aarushi, and the family's domestic helper, Hemraj, in 2008. The movie does an incredible job of depicting the various twists and turns that the case has taken over the last few years. Although the film evokes sympathy for Aarushi's parents, who are currently serving a life sentence for the murder of their daughter and Hemraj, it is left up to the audience to decide which version of events they believe. Regardless of whether the Talwars are guilty or not, I think we as a society owe them an apology.
I must admit that I did not follow the case very closely when it first hit the headlines, but it was apparent that many people quickly bought the police's initial theory that the crime was an "honour killing". What followed were several television debates on the character and lifestyle of Aarushi and her parents. All sorts of issues were raised including how active she was on social media, how many friends she had, whether or not she had a boyfriend and so on. A similar discourse took place on her parents and included speculations about their marital life, whether or not they threw "wife swapping parties" and how much they truly loved their daughter. In fact, on one television debate, social commentator and writer Shobha De even questioned whether Aarushi was the Talwar's real daughter or an adopted one.
"What if Aarushi was our daughter? Would we want her life and death to be speculated about in a salacious and denigrating manner...?"
Not many of these discussions focused on the hard forensic evidence which, as the movie shows, had been botched to a large extent. Everyone was too busy demonising the Talwars and assassinating the character of their teenage daughter. A few days after the murder, Mrs Talwar gave an interview to NDTV which was later used as evidence by people like Ms De and others to further prove their theory of the Talwars being cold-hearted, ruthless murderers. In a blog post published in 2013, "Aarushi's Monster Parents", Ms De wrote, "grieving parents behave in a different manner," noting that Mrs Talwar did not break down during her television interview. She went on to make several other subjective judgements about the Talwars in her blog, sharing her own experience of consoling grieving mothers to add credibility to her theory.
All these speculations would be fine if only they were not so insensitive to the Talwar family and. most importantly, to the people who had lost their lives -- Aarushi and Hemraj. Ms De's biography on a website describes her as an "opinion shaper and an authority on popular culture". Surely then, someone like her needs to be more responsible and sensitive when airing her views on national television. This is especially the case when most of the theories she puts forward are anything but fact-based. How does she know how all grieving parents behave? Is there any universal theory about this? How does she know that Mrs Talwar never cried when she was alone or in the privacy of her home? In fact, NDTV anchor Sonia Singh who interviewed Mrs. Talwar has confirmed repeatedly that she cried copiously when the cameras were off. But even if she did not cry, does that automatically make her a demonic murderer? How does Ms De know that "young Aarushi has taken many secrets to her grave" or the fact that there was a "devious master plan" developed by her parents?
"We must remember that this is not a suspense thriller. This is a real life story with real characters that we can damage irreversibly..."
Unfortunately, Ms De was not the only one who arrived at the conclusion first -- that the parents are guilty -- and then latched on to whatever piece of information they could, factual or not, to prove that their theory was the correct one. Yes, a court in Uttar Pradesh sentenced the Talwars to life imprisonment in 2013 but that is not the end of the legal road. They will appeal against the sentence. Therefore, before theorists pat themselves on the back for identifying the Talwars as guilty long ago, should they not wait for the entire legal process to be over? We extend this courtesy even to terrorists so why not to the Talwars?
Most importantly, we need to realise that while each one of has a right to express our point of view, we need to be responsible and sensitive in doing so. What if Aarushi was our daughter? Would we want her life and death to be speculated about in a salacious and denigrating manner in people's living rooms and television studios across the country? We must remember that this is not a suspense thriller. This is a real life story with real characters that we can damage irreversibly through what we say. We learn about these stories through our television sets or the newspapers but how we react to them is in our hands. It is no good blaming the media alone. We as a society must take responsibility.
Whether the Talwars are innocent or not, we must collectively reflect on all the mud-slinging and demonisation that we have engaged in. By doing so, we have not only done a huge disservice to the Talwar family but also to young Aarushi and Hemraj. I hope that justice eventually prevails in this instance but also that we as a society evolve to respond in a much more thoughtful manner when we learn about such cases through the media.