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Sunday, June 29, 2008

Arushi murder case and the role of the media and the police

The Aarushi/Hemraj twin murder case refuses to die out unlike most sensationalist crime stories do. As of now I have been trying to restrain myself from commenting on the episode but shoddy investigation by the police and insensitivity of the media compels one to speak out. From the time the crime was discovered to this day, this double murder case and the subsequent investigation has been telecast more like a reality show than a news report. Gruesome murders of a 14 year old daughter and domestic servant of a urban doctor couple are themselves horrifying enough to catch the media's attention, the ensuing mystery regarding the identity and motive of the killer(s) made sure that news reports pertaining to this case continued to grab headlines . If the police bungled up with the investigation, the ever enthusiastic media tried to compensate it by going over-board. One has to admit the fact that without media's unblinking gaze on it, the case record would have been lying in a dusty shelf of some nondescript police station. But it is also a fact that the media sensationalized the ghastly incidence to such an extent that the demarcation between news reporting and reality show stands blurred. In fact, news channels reporting on Arushi murder case can now claim to have a higher TRP than some of the most popular daily soaps. It has been observed that Hindi soap operas thrive by playing up taboo topics for the titillation of a class torn between conservative paradigm and forces of globalism.

In Aarushi/Hemraj murder case the media made every effort to highlight the elements of illicit relationships, adultery, fornication, mystery and honour killing in a bid to challenge the popularity of daily soaps ( Ironically, a popular daily soap has actually included a plot identical to Arushi murder case) . With new revelations being churned out by the investigative agencies on a daily basis this macabre reality show/soap opera is being beamed incessantly into our drawing rooms for more than a month creating a record of sorts. As far as I can remember no other incidence has been able to keep media's spotlight on itself for such a long period of time. In this war of TRPs a section of the media was willing to stoop such a base level that it actually went ahead and reported unverified information casting aspersions on the character of the dead girl. The civil society needs to question if the media and all agencies involved should be allowed to get away after besmirching our memory of a 14 year old who cannot even defend herself from the accusations hurled at her.

This is not the first time that the media has been criticized for unprofessionalism, lately the Indian media has transformed into what I call, "reality circus of cheap thrills, sleaze and superstition". But in Arushi murder case it is the police and not the media that has transformed these gruesome murders into a hugely popular soap opera. Had the police swung into action the moment it was informed of Arushi's murder, this case might not have become so complicated. The fact that the body of Hemraj was found on the terrace 24 hours after Arushi's body had been discovered indicates that the police were simply uninterested in tracking the murderer. It is quite apparent from the media reports that there were enough evidences indicating foul play but conspicuously enough the police just couldn't see them.

Well, this is not an isolated case of police inaction, thousands of criminal cases all over the country suffer similar fate. At times when criminal investigations are not influenced by monetary incentives or political pressures they are left to die a lingering death purely because of the apathetic attitude of the police. However, the Indian police is not that inefficient when it comes to using force on the ordinary people. In a recent article in the Times of India, Santosh Desai, points out that identity of the Indian police revolves around the brute force that it loves to exercise, it is simply incapable of something as intricate as investigation. It should also be noted that despite the rate of convictions in criminal cases being abysmal, jails in India are over-crowded. This situation arises largely because when it comes to nabbing a person and sending him/her jail all that is required is brute force but investigation requires the use of reason and logic which the police either lack or unwilling to apply. It is not surprising to note that whenever there is a public demand for a proper investigation of a crime, the Central Bureau of Investigation has to be brought in. As of yet the CBI has been pretty efficient but this is not why the CBI was created and it cannot take up each and every case.

It is time that the Indian police are reminded that if the civil society grants them the power to use force and coercion it is solely for the safety and welfare of the society. If it casts aspersions on the character of a dead teenager instead of nabbing her killer it only proves Desai's contention that the Indian police is just a desensitized, coercive and brutal agent of the state. As the crime rate continues to rise, reforms and sensitization of the force should be the first step forward.

Update
After 5 long years, the CBI court has indicted Rajesh and Nupur Talwar in the murder of their only daughter. It is ironic that when the CBI sought closure of the case because of lack of evidence against Rajesh Talwar, it was the father and mother of the dead girl who asked for the investigation to be reopened to bring out the truth. Further, it has been alleged that the investigation has been far from being fair, the court passes judgement relying upon facts and evidences presented to it by the prosecution as well as the defence. In this instance the investigation should have been as thorough as possible simply for the fact that both the allegations were shocking to the core. If indeed the doctor couple killed their only daughter for the sake of "honor" it would be shocking but what if they didn't ?

It would be far more than "shocking" if the investigators and media had been erroneously accusing the parents. Having lost their only daughter in a gruesome murder would be devastating enough for any parent but casting aspersion on their moral character as well as of their murdered daughter and then accusing them of murdering her would be far too torturous to describe. Were the investigative agencies sensitive enough to keep this in consideration or acting as per their own prejudice, partly based on media reports ?  Here is a report which addresses these questions in depth (the journalist herself may currently be involved in a controversy but that has nothing to do with the report)
 http://www.tehelka.com/framed-the-aarushi-hemraj-murder-case-an-investigation/
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