Authenticity and the South Asian political novel

Amitava Kumar in the Boston Review:

Amitava In May this year, a fourteen-year-old girl named Aarushi Talwar was found murdered in her parents’ house outside Delhi. The teen’s parents were both dentists. The main suspect in the killing was the servant employed by the Talwars, a forty-five-year-old Nepalese migrant named Hemraj. Most servants in a large city like Delhi are the poor who have arrived from impoverished eastern states, mostly Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, and Orissa.

In India, even an ordinary middle-class person can employ domestic help. You provide a poor young man or woman space to sleep, leftover food, and old clothes, and you are likely to get away with paying as little as fifty dollars a month. A hundred maximum.

Delhi is a city of seventeen million people, and six were robbed or murdered by their servants last year. This is not a very high number, but a large part of the urban middle-class mythology is built around the fear of being robbed, and even killed, by domestic servants. As it turned out, in the Aarushi murder case, the police had been inept. They had simply concluded that Hemraj was guilty because he was missing. Not only were no photographs taken of the crime scene, but even the trail of blood leading to a staircase was not investigated. A day later, a retired police officer broke the lock on the door leading to the terrace above and found the servant’s corpse already decomposing in the heat. The search for a new suspect was underway.

The case took a sensational turn when the police arrested Aarushi’s father. There was no clear evidence to suggest that the dentist had committed the murders, but the police provided the media with lurid speculations. There were stories about the father’s alleged affair with a fellow doctor. The police said that the daughter had come to know of this and confronted him. Officers also openly alleged that Aarushi was involved in a relationship with Hemraj, and the enraged doctor killed the ill-suited lovers.

None of this turned out to be based in fact.

More here.