The first time there was any official reference to so-called “honour killing” in the Aarushi Talwar-Hemraj murder case was a week after the murders. At a specially convened press conference on May 23, 2008, Gurdarshan Singh, then Inspector General of Police (Meerut range) of Uttar Pradesh police, made outrageous allegations against Aarushi and her parents. Yet, he took pains to clarify a crucial detail about the circumstances in which her father Rajesh Talwar had, according to him, found Aarushi in her bedroom on the fateful night with domestic worker Hemraj. The two were allegedly “in an objectionable though not compromising position”. If Gurdarshan Singh was forced to qualify the alleged sexual activity, even as he vilified Aarushi, it was because of evidence on record: the post mortem report by government medical officer Sunil Dohre.

In the column pertaining to external examination of her genitals, all that Dohre wrote in his autopsy report dated May 16, 2008 was “NAD”, which is an abbreviation for “nothing abnormal detected”. And then, in the column related to internal examination of Aarushi’s genitals, he again wrote “NAD”. This indicates that the post mortem report, as the Allahabad high court held in its October 12, 2017 judgment, “does not contain even a faint indication that she was subjected to any kind of sexual assault”. Since Aarushi, a week shy of turning 14, was below the age of consent, there was anyway no question, legally speaking, of her engaging in consensual sex.

‘Grave and sudden provocation’

For whatever it was worth, in his justification for arresting her father on May 23, 2008, Gurdarshan Singh made out that the “honour-killing” had been provoked by what was merely an “objectionable” position as opposed to a “compromising” one. But when the Central Bureau of Investigation, which had taken over the case shortly thereafter, filed its final report after a prolonged investigation on December 29, 2010, it glossed over the distinction made by Gurdarshan Singh between those two words. Instead, while claiming that its investigation had “revealed several suspicious actions by the parents post-occurrence”, the CBI said that the Uttar Pradesh police too had suspected Rajesh Talwar to have killed Aarushi “due to grave and sudden provocation on finding his daughter in a compromising position with Hemraj”.

Thus, by turning “objectionable” into “compromising” in its final report, the CBI ascribed to the Uttar Pradesh police what they had expressly disclaimed. The CBI was emboldened to take such liberties with facts because it had by then recorded a fresh set of statements from Dohre which were, as the high court put it, “dramatically opposite” to his own autopsy report findings on Aarushi’s genitals. Recorded by a CBI team headed by Nilabh Kishore on September 30, 2009 and May 28, 2010, these two statements of Dohre were also contrary to the earlier three given by him to the previous CBI team, which was headed by Arun Kumar. Adding to the irony, Dohre was a member of the “expert committee of forensic science” which unanimously upheld his autopsy report in September 2008. The expert committee included senior doctors from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences.

The first CBI team recorded Dohre’s first statement on July 18, 2008 shortly after it had allowed Rajesh Talwar to be released on bail saying that, like the autopsy, the other scientific examination results “could not connect” him with the crime. In effect, the first CBI team buried the “honour killing” theory at that stage. But through his fourth statement, which was recorded by the second CBI team 16 months after his autopsy report, Dohre helped revive the “honour-killing” theory by coming up for the first time with details suggesting that Aarushi had been sexually active.

Far from reaffirming that nothing abnormal had been detected, Dohre apparently remembered on September 30, 2009 that the mouth of her vaginal cavity was “prominently wide open”, so much so that “the cervix and the entire vaginal canal was visible”. And then, in his fifth statement recorded after another eight months, Dohre added that the reason for her vaginal canal and cervix being visible was “manipulation with private parts of Aarushi after her death”.

‘The core of the prosecution case’

The high court noticed in its judgment that Dohre’s “material improvements” in his testimony were in keeping with the narrative constructed by the second CBI team: “the core of the prosecution case that the deceased was caught by Dr Rajesh Talwar in the midst of a sexual intercourse”. The high court also brushed aside his claim that he had not recorded any of those details in his autopsy report because they were his “subjective findings which have no place in forensic science”. Quoting a dictionary, the high court made it clear that Dohre’s material improvements were actually objective as they related to “externally verifiable phenomena”.

All the help that Dohre had rendered to revive the honour killing theory did not however stop the CBI from attacking his integrity when it was pushed to explain the radical change in his assessment of Aarushi. Making “a feeble attempt to justify the non-mention of the factum of rape” in the autopsy report, the CBI counsel, according to the high court, claimed that Dohre had been “influenced by his acquaintances who were close to Dr Rajesh Talwar”. Though the trial court had “conjectured and speculated” on the basis of this claim, the high court dismissed it saying that neither in his statements to the CBI nor in his testimony during the trial did Dohre depose that he had been “approached not to mention anything in his report about sexual activity”.

By nailing the evidence that had been trumped up so brazenly to cast aspersions on Aarushi, the high court finally caught the CBI in a position that is both “objectionable” and “compromising”. That CBI officers could get away with it for so long, that they had even persuaded the trial court to convict her parents on the basis of this honour killing theory, raises serious questions about the criminal justice system.