People believe in what they want to believe in. If objectivity is hard, it is unlikely that it will be used as a tool. “Objectivity” is more likely to be used a weapon, to obscure the truth. People are very “objective” when they speak about the judgment in the Aarushi Talwar murder case on Twitter. They often say something along these lines, “Oh, we Indians are very emotional. We cannot imagine parents murdering their child.” “But, why is it hard to believe that middle-class people can murder their children—if they can rape women and beat their wives?” “Parents can murder their children. People can be really brutal. Go group hug.” It is a bitter pill they are willing to swallow.
But, some are more “objective” than others. At the outset, they claim that it would be unfair of them to take a position in this matter. “But”, they say, “I think justice has been done. There is enough evidence to think that the parents, Rajesh and Nupur Talwar, did it.” Now that they have claimed neutral ground, they do not have to get off their high horse to reveal their biases. If you are “objective” by definition, the biases can be smuggled in through the backdoor. It is possible to have it both ways. “But” is, indeed, the greatest weasel word.
Now, there might be great value in such statements if the only reason people are unable to accept the judgment is the blind belief that middle class parents can do no wrong. But, if no one knows the truth, there is no need to yawn, and “admit” the possibility that middle class parents can murder their children. A bit of healthy skepticism is in order. But, one thing we know is that the unparalleled decline of violence in the past hundred years coincided with modernity and affluence. If people think that these are evils of modernity, there is no evidence to support that view.
It is true that an outsider can never be fully sure that the parents are telling the whole truth. But, is that a reason to think that the parents murdered her? When there is enough evidence that the CBI and the judge lied and changed their statements an indefinite number of times, there should be a strong presumption in favor of the view that the judgment is unjust and unfair. If anything, it is clear that the police and the courts cannot be trusted.
I am surprised that many people take the view that the middle class is biased in favor of people like them seriously. This is a view that deserves no serious attention. It cannot withstand serious examination. I suspect that this view gained currency for a very simple reason. If this is the only bias a middle class intellectual is expected to have, it is easy for someone who marches to a different tune to pose as an iconoclast, as someone who bucks the trend—-Even if it is true that almost everyone else of his milieu does the same. I think this is common sense, but there are some reliable sets of data we have. For instance, there is no evidence that personal income influences the beliefs of people. It is no longer a conjecture, or hypothesis.
It is such dishonesty that prevent people from seeing the huge role their social class and personality style must have played in all this. Once people accept the view that the middle class has a my side bias, it is easier to conclude that there can be only one explanation for the public outrage against them: “This is perhaps the only explanation that makes sense.” Otherwise, why should all these people accept this without a protest?
One criticism, of course, is that it is often forgotten that the male servant Hemraj too was murdered the same night. But, the murder of a pretty young girl evokes more curiosity in people than the murder of a forty five year old male servant. Why is this complex? Curiosity and my side bias are two different things. When people are blinded by envy and ignorance, they do not know how to make such distinctions. I noticed that one thing that angered people was that on the day of the murder, the parents accused Hemraj of murdering Aarushi. But, this is a very normal reaction, and did not have anything much to do with the fact that he was a servant. This is just indicative. People are just too insecure that they want to bring in politics into everything.
If you read these passages in Patrick French’s essay on the case, it is obvious there is a very serious communication barrier:
“The cops thought we were an “immoral” family because Aarushi made 300 calls a month to her friends and went on Orkut and Facebook. These people are backward. They are not fit to do their job. They said I did an honour killing because she was having an inter-caste relationship with the servant. My wife and I had an inter-community marriage, so how on earth would I think of doing what they call an honour killing? I told them Aarushi was reading two books, Shantaram and Chetan Bhagat’s 3 Mistakes of My Life. So the police say, “Hah, you’re saying she was reading this book because she has made three mistakes in her life? What are the three mistakes?” She had joined the “I Decide” club at school, and the last project she did was on addiction—in fact she won the first prize for her effort, but was not there to see it. She had looked up addiction on the internet, so the Noida police then say on television: “We think there was some addiction in the family. She may have had a drug addiction, or she may have thought members of her family needed help with it.” I told them, go to her school and look at her project or talk to her teachers.”
“The CBI say to me, “What is a sleepover? Were there adults involved?” I had to explain what a sleepover was—chatting, music, raiding the fridge while we stay in the next room. I explained that the kids would say, “Go from here”, in the way kids do, and again the police were saying to me, “Why would you have to go, why would your daughter not want you there?” They wanted to know why Aarushi had deleted some of the pictures on her new camera. “Who has deleted these images? Why has she done this?” I had to explain, that is just how kids are, they take some pictures of themselves, they delete the ones they don’t like.”
“They found an email she had sent me a year before,’ said her father, ‘apologizing and saying she had just wanted to try out something with her friends. So the police take it and flash it on TV. All the channels are asking, “What was Aarushi going to try out? Why did she say it wouldn’t happen again? Why does a daughter send an email to a father?” Well, she didn’t send emails to me, it just happened one evening when she was twelve years old, and Aarushi wanted to go to the cinema in the mall to watch Namaste London with a group of friends—just the girls together. We didn’t want her going without an adult, but in the end we gave our consent and dropped her off and collected her from the cinema. It was peer pressure that made us agree, because her friends were allowed to go. Aarushi knew we weren’t happy about it and that’s why she sent me the email.”
It also clear that the communication problem lies on the other side of the ledger. A large majority of people are just hooligans who do not really care whether something is true or not. The problem with the government is that it gives such people a free rein. That is why it is scary. That is why it is a nightmare.
This is by no means a one-off case, or an unusual situation. Communication and coordination problems are bound to happen whenever two people talk to each other. Here, we are so easily able to see on which side of the ledger the problems lie. The assumptions of the investigators sounds silly to any sane person of my generation, to anyone who understand the concept of a fiction work, to anyone who has been on the internet for long. People are fooling themselves if they think that the people who hold such naïve beliefs will not fail in more substantive ways. While you claim that it is okay to send someone to the gallows because we do not know what really happened, remember: When people are crazy, it need not always be glaringly obvious, like it is here.