Authors: Avirook Sen
Tags: #Non-Fiction, #True Crime, #Essays, #India
He smiled and said, ‘I wanted to help. There is work to be done. This jail itself, there are 3400 prisoners, but the capacity is 1700. We have to do something about conditions. There are so many undertrials also.’
About then, a young inmate in the standard bright yellow uniform brought tea for us. He had committed a crime and fled when he was 16. He was caught after he turned 18, but there was no clarity as to how he should be tried: as a juvenile or as an adult. He had spent about nine years in Dasna.
The two inmates sitting by my side were different, but they had experienced two ends of the spectrum of the conditions in Dasna in the year they had been inside. Nupur Talwar lived in a rectangular ward with about 50 other women. Their mattresses lined tight against each other on either side, with a space down the middle filled with footwear, the women in her ward had a personal space that measured about 6 feet by 3 feet. Of this, a foot or so at the head was where personal belongings were stacked. Nupur told me her feet extended out on to the corridor of footwear when she slept. At night, if inmates turned in their sleep and disturbed a neighbour because a leg had crossed an invisible boundary, there were vicious fights.
Nupur Talwar tried to escape the atmosphere of the ward as often as possible. The jailor had given her work at the quaintly named ‘English Office’. This is where jail correspondence, a fair amount of it in English, was supposed to be handled by staff. But not many staff knew the language. Nupur was glad to go there and work. It allowed her to step out of her ward and, on most days, meet Rajesh.
He had set up his dental chair and was seeing all manner of patients. During our meeting, a lady guard walked over, making Nupur nervous. She thought there was a reprimand in store—we had long crossed visiting hours. But the guard just wanted to check with Rajesh about when she should come in for her root canal.
Rajesh’s ward was far more comfortable than Nupur’s. There were just over a dozen inmates in the same kind of space. This was because Mr Khushwaha, or ‘Mantriji’, the former Uttar Pradesh minister accused in the medical equipment scam, was housed there whenever he had appearances in Ghaziabad. (His base jail, if you will, was Lucknow.)
Mantriji’s visits were eagerly awaited by all inmates of the ward, especially Rajesh Talwar. The minister had taken a liking to the dentist, and shared with Rajesh the home-cooked food that was brought for him daily. Mantriji had a supporter who lived very close to the jail who brought fresh food.
Sometimes, Rajesh’s man Friday, Vikas Sethi, bought vegetables and delivered them to this man so these could be cooked and sent to the minister and Rajesh.
The shopping was done in a small market a few hundred metres from the jail. It existed just for the inmates. It was a place where you could find essentials that met jail specifications: sealed packets of condiments or snacks, basic clothing, fruits, vegetables. Also some contraband, such as cigarettes that might be smuggled in. The market’s timings matched the jail’s visiting hours. By about four in the afternoon, the sellers prepared to head home.
In September, at his little clinic in the jail, Rajesh Talwar had received a patient who made him awkward. It was Bachu Singh, the policeman who claimed he couldn’t smell during the trial, and who had some trouble explaining what seemed like obvious forgeries in documents he had written. Rajesh had never acknowledged him when he passed Bachu Singh in the premises, but the policeman turned up at his clinic for treatment anyway. Rajesh gritted his teeth and did what he had to as a dentist.
They ran into each other again shortly after Rajesh read about Kaul’s death. This time, Rajesh stopped Bachu Singh and relayed the news. Bachu Singh was surprised, but went on to tell Rajesh of his harrowing experiences with the CBI man. Of being summoned ‘200 times’ to the CBI office. Of being pressured into doing things he should not have done.
‘Why don’t you speak the truth now?’ Rajesh asked. Bachu Singh promised he would. But Rajesh heard little from him thereafter.
In earlier portions of this book, I’ve given examples of Nupur Talwar’s toughness under pressure. I hold these to be true in their contexts. But a year in jail changes things. The Nupur Talwar I saw in November did not have the bearing of the woman I had seen striding into court, the policemen making way for her. She had, instead, the sharp movements of a bird on constant alert for approaching predators. She saw her work at the ‘English Office’ as a privilege granted to her. She was wary of bending any rules, and deferential to the lowest authority, lest what little she had to look forward to be taken away. Rajesh was more settled, telling her constantly that it was all right. That nothing was going to happen.
The news on the day that I visited wasn’t good. Their appeal in Allahabad had been put off indefinitely, their application joining a long waiting list, rather than being treated with urgency, as the same court had instructed earlier in the year. There was no telling when they would be heard. In Allahabad, there are appeals pending from the 1980s.
It was well past six in the evening. As I headed for the exit, Nupur scurried back to her ward clutching a plastic bag of precious supplies, as if committing a felony. I left the jail after a guard checked the entry stamp on my palm with just a little less courtesy than a nightclub bouncer letting you in. Outside, the shopkeepers of the inmates’ market had all gone home.
A Note on Sources
This book has been investigated and reported over a two-and-a-half-year period. It began with my reporting on the trial which I attended every day. Alongside this I have had extensive interviews (both on and off the record) with most people central to the case. An abridged list includes Rajesh Talwar, Nupur Talwar, Shyam Lal, A.G.L. Kaul, R.K. Saini, Tanveer Ahmed Mir, Satyaketu Singh, Arvind Jaitley, Arun Kumar, Vijay Shanker, K.K. Gautam, Bharti Mandal, Kalpana Mandal, Amit Jogi, Dr Sushil Choudhry, Dr M.S. Dahiya, Dr S.L. Vaya, Dr C.N. Bhattacharya, Group Capt. (retd) Bhalachandra Chitnis, Lata Chitnis, Dr Dinesh Talwar, Dr Vandana Talwar, Fiza Jha, Vidushi Durrani and Manini Mathur.
I have relied on the following documents:
Information gleaned from media reports has, to the best of my knowledge, been acknowledged directly in the text.
There are many people I have to thank for helping me with this book. Rajesh Talwar provided the first pile of documents that I went through. In the Ghaziabad trial court, the Talwars’ lawyers Satyaketu Singh and Manoj Sisodia did their best to answer every question I had, as indeed did the CBI’s counsel R.K. Saini and Inspector Arvind Jaitley.
Tanveer Ahmed Mir, Shivek Trehan and Dhruv Gupta, all of whom represented the defence, were patient in explaining many points of law. Dr Dinesh Talwar’s unflagging energy in seeking justice for his brother was inspiring.
There were several current and former officials who were generous with their time, and added immense value to this book by offering their perspective, and allowing access to documents. Dr S.L. Vaya, who headed forensics at the Gandhinagar Forensic Science Laboratory, and her colleague Dr Amita Shukla provided critical inputs. Former CBI director Vijay Shanker and Arun Kumar, now additional director general of the CRPF, threw light on a number of aspects of the investigation that were in the shadow. Neeraj Kumar, who served in the CBI and was commissioner of police, Delhi, offered insights on policing and the functioning of the CBI that were invaluable.
This book took shape only after a year and a half of reporting on the case for the
and Sify.com and I must thank Meenal Baghel and Sarita Ravindranath for allowing me both space and freedom.
Chiki Sarkar, my editor at Penguin, offered constant support, but also asked the kind of questions one dreads as a writer. This is a good thing. Without Chiki’s interventions, this would not have been half the book it is. My copyeditor Jaishree Ram Mohan felt the book as much as I did, and I was often touched by her commitment to it. Dr Neeru Kanwar’s insights into human nature also greatly benefited the book.
The final thing to have happened before this book went to press was the lawyers’ read. As a part of this I was ambushed into meeting the legal and literary man Rajeev Dhavan. This book may never have been published had he not gone through the manuscript and seen some merit in it.
Last, and very much the most, I would like to thank my friend and fellow traveller Aditya Sinha. Aditya spent weeks with me on the manuscript.
Thank you, everyone.
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First published by Penguin Books India 2015
Copyright © Avirook Sen 2015
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This digital edition published in 2015.
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