Acquittal of dentist for double murder puts India's criminal justice system under scrutiny

(Clockwise from left) Dr Rajesh Talwar and his wife Nupur were last Thursday acquitted of the double murder of their daughter Aarushi and domestic worker Hemraj Banjade, who were found dead in 2008.
Dr Rajesh Talwar (above) and his wife Nupur were last Thursday acquitted of the double murder of their daughter Aarushi and domestic worker Hemraj Banjade, who were found dead in 2008.PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
(Clockwise from left) Dr Rajesh Talwar and his wife Nupur were last Thursday acquitted of the double murder of their daughter Aarushi and domestic worker Hemraj Banjade, who were found dead in 2008.
Dr Rajesh Talwar and his wife Nupur (above) were last Thursday acquitted of the double murder of their daughter Aarushi and domestic worker Hemraj Banjade, who were found dead in 2008.PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
(Clockwise from left) Dr Rajesh Talwar and his wife Nupur were last Thursday acquitted of the double murder of their daughter Aarushi and domestic worker Hemraj Banjade, who were found dead in 2008.
Dr Rajesh Talwar and his wife Nupur were last Thursday acquitted of the double murder of their daughter Aarushi (above) and domestic worker Hemraj Banjade, who were found dead in 2008.PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
(Clockwise from left) Dr Rajesh Talwar and his wife Nupur were last Thursday acquitted of the double murder of their daughter Aarushi and domestic worker Hemraj Banjade, who were found dead in 2008.
Dr Rajesh Talwar and his wife Nupur were last Thursday acquitted of the double murder of their daughter Aarushi and domestic worker Hemraj Banjade (above), who were found dead in 2008.PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

The acquittal of an Indian dentist couple after four years in jail for the double murder of their teenage daughter and their domestic worker has turned the spotlight on the nation's criminal justice system.

The Allahabad High Court last Thursday acquitted Dr Rajesh Talwar, 53, and his wife Nupur, 51 - who were convicted by a district court in 2013 - of the murders.

Their 14-year-old daughter, Aarushi, was found with her throat slit in her bedroom on May 16, 2008, as her parents slept in the next room, while the body of the servant, 45-year-old Hemraj Banjade, was found two days later on the roof of their apartment complex.

The Allahabad High Court, in acquitting the couple, said it found evidence of witness tampering, mishandling of evidence and overreach by the lower court.

The appeal court concluded that key prosecution witness and domestic help Bharti Mandal, who testified that she could not open the door from outside the morning after the murders, was coached by federal investigators.

The court also said that crucial evidence, including a golf club which was allegedly used in the attack, was not preserved and that there was "not even an iota of evidence on record" that "Hemraj was assaulted in Aarushi's bedroom or of any sexual activity between them".

The prosecution had presented its case as an honour killing.

The appeal court further found that the lower or district court judge had just like a "film director... tried to thrust coherence amongst facts inalienably scattered here and there".

Criminal lawyer and parliamentarian Majeed Memon said the findings of the higher court were "disturbing" and the officials in charge of investigations needed to be investigated themselves.

"Two pertinent questions arise which lead us to conclude that this is a case of failure of justice. Firstly, if the parents are not responsible for killing young Aarushi and Hemraj, then where is the killer? Apparently the assailant or assailants are at large even after nine years," he said.

"Secondly, if Rajesh and Nupur Talwar have not committed the crime and are innocent, then why were they made to suffer incarceration for so long a period, shattering their career and lives. Our justice system does not have any answers to both these pertinent questions."

Before the murders turned them into household names, the Talwars were a normal middle class family.

The killing of their daughter - a week before her 15th birthday - was the beginning of one of the most sensational criminal cases in India, with every twist and turn covered extensively by the media.

The case went through three sets of state and federal investigators.

One set concluded the teenager found out that her father was having an affair and had been silenced. Another concluded that it was the handiwork of a disgruntled former servant, while the third said it was an instance of honour killing.

Prosecutors went with the honour killing motive and argued in court that Dr Rajesh Talwar killed his daughter in a rage when he found her in bed with Mr Hemraj and that his wife helped him conceal the crime.

They also argued that Aarushi's throat was slit by someone in a manner indicating medical skills, and that the two victims were hit with a golf club that was initially hidden by the Talwars.

As the case dragged on, those sympathetic to the couple held protests and set up an online campaign, including a Facebook page called Justice For Aarushi.

The Talwars are likely to be released from prison tomorrow and it is not known if prosecutors will appeal to the Supreme Court.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 15, 2017, with the headline 'Acquittal puts India's criminal justice system under scrutiny'. Print Edition | Subscribe