GIST: "It was 3 a.m. on Thursday, when I woke up, too nervous to go back to sleep. On the other side of the world, millions of people shared my anticipation, awaiting an Indian High Court judgment of an appeal by two people convicted for murder. A little before 6 a.m., my phone began buzzing like a string of firecrackers on silent mode. When I finally dared to pick it up, I scanned the notifications for one nugget of information: convictions overturned. Oh sweet relief. Vindication. Now was the time to let the tears flow, but they've stubbornly held back so far, damn them. Four years ago, when I was a digital editor at the Star, I had shared a story of the pain and betrayal that followed the sensational 2008 murder of Aarushi Talwar and the live–in cook Hemraj Banjade in India. Aarushi’s parents – Nupur and Rajesh Talwar – were eventually convicted in 2013, when the judge called them, “freaks in the history of mankind.” Nupur is my cousin — our mothers are sisters. In Indian relationships, a cousin is like a sibling, which made her daughter my niece. The whole story had begun with what should have been a pretty straightforward case of murder. There were two crime scenes that were rich with evidence including a bloodied shoe print, a bloodied handprint on a wall, and 22 fingerprints. However, the continuous bungling by various investigators — none of those prints were identified, for instance — created not just twists and turns but explosive craters in a case that held a nation in thrall as the media breathlessly chased every morsel of gossip, innuendo and information. The scandalous narrative spun by the police in the early days was the one that stuck until the end: A pretty 13-year-old was doing something “objectionable, though not compromising” with the 45-year-old cook, an enraged father approached stealthily with a golf club that accidently hit the girl, he killed the cook, then finished off the job by slashing his daughter’s throat with his dental scalpel. The parents, both dentists then tried to cover up the crime with medical precision. They dragged the man’s body upstairs to a terrace, and wiped out every trace of his blood. The next day, they showed no grief, no remorse. No sign of the cook in the child’s room — neither blood, nor hair nor semen. Nor was his blood on her parents’ clothes. Her blood, meanwhile, was splashed up on her bedroom walls, the bed, the floors, and their clothes from holding her body when they found her. There was no credible murder weapon. The motive, which alternated between honour killing (premeditated) and fit of rage (spontaneous), was never established. Meanwhile, there were partially drunk bottles of wine, beer and pop in the cook’s room that suggested the presence of outsiders there. I won’t rehash the story as you can read it at or read the best-selling book titled Aarushi or watch the film Talvar on Netflix. But it now has visible Canadian markings on it. When I first wrote it, I expected it to have the distant appeal of a foreign news story, but I had underestimated the cultural linkages between India and Canada. I had also overlooked the universality of human connection. My editor Lynn McAuley did not, and she guided my work, helped sew it up and play it big, as we say in the newsroom. My inbox was flooded for months. Photographer Spencer Wynn who came with me to India to capture the story visually told me working on it was a highlight of his career. A couple of years later, quite by coincidence, Cameron Bailey, the artistic director of the Toronto International Film Festival, went movie spotting with an eye out for strong independent work by women and brought Talvar to premiere at the festival. The indomitable Win Wahrer of Innocence Canada, formerly the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted, once introduced me to John Artis, the man who spent 14 years in a U.S. prison with boxer Rubin "Hurricane" Carter for murders they did not commit. “Dream, hope, never give up,” Artis told me. Another time when I was looking for an independent forensic expert, Harold Levy, a retired investigative Star reporter and former defence lawyer, swung into action and used his unique skills to identify and track a man down — while he was on vacation in Romania. On Thursday, there were various nationalities among the Indians whooping with joy, sending congratulations, acknowledging the end of a miserable ordeal that will allow us to begin the process of grieving. These have been a long and exhausting 9 years, felt most intensely by the couple at the epicentre of a tragedy but also by those caught in the aftershock.
It will take my cousin and her husband time to feel their way back to freedom. When they last had any semblance of normalcy, Facebook was nascent, there was no Twitter, and digital cameras were still a thing. Obama was America’s new president, the Arab Spring had not happened, and “occupy” was a word without political meaning. Also, the horrific Delhi gang rape that sparked a new conversation around rape culture had yet to take place. In those days, when people nudged and winked about the fabricated story of Aarushi and Hemraj’s “affair” — they tittered at her character, oblivious that they maligned him as a rapist, too. Hemraj is often the overlooked victim of this tragedy. I believe this is partly a class issue — he comes from a poor background, partly a geographical issue — his family lives in neighbouring Nepal, but also partly a news relevance issue — his family members weren’t being prosecuted. In my family, the nightmare never ends. Rajesh once told me he is haunted by that fateful night in May 2008 and he plays it in his head over and over again. In one scene, he’s asleep, he hears a sound, goes out, confronts the men in the living room. In another he’s about to sleep, then gets up to lock all the doors to the house — including Hemraj’s — before going back to bed. In a third, he’s asleep. He wakes up and realizes it is all a nightmare, that his Aaru is safe and sound. Sometimes the guilt of not being able to protect their daughter, of being asleep while she was killed next door, gets too much to bear for the couple. Nupur’s parents are in their 70s and 80s. That they’ve withstood this ordeal despite serious personal illnesses is proof of the power of love. My aunt who took care of granddaughter Aarushi had lost her cheer. “I was supposed to go first, I’m oldest,” she once said to me, weeping over the phone. We speak in Marathi, our mother tongue. “Instead, my Aarushi is gone, then my daughter has been taken away.” Some semblance of order will be restored when my cousin and her husband walk out of prison soon. Thursday was the first time in years I heard a smile in my aunt's voice. I let that sound wash over me, comfort me as it closed the thousands of kilometres between us. “They’re coming home!” she said. “Our Rajesh, our Nupa will be home for Diwali.” It will take time to sink in, but Thursday’s judgment liberates me, too. It feels like a boulder is starting to roll off me. It will perhaps help me relearn feeling pleasure without that awful guilt, that warning voice in my head, “Are you forgetting her?” accompanied by an image of my cousin caged behind bars. I don’t know what the future holds. The real killers are still at large. The prosecutors could appeal this decision at the Supreme Court, although I hope they don’t. Nupur and Rajesh have been traumatized enough. This ordeal has taunted their sorrow, prodded their pain and left them with searing scars. What they need now is the space to grieve their loss before they can move on with their lives.Once safely ensconced in their families, they need to be left alone."

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