"Did you get any summons? Do you know what court summons are?" demanded the defence counsel at a Ghaziabad court at the start of the cross examination of Bharti Mandal, the part-time maid of Rajesh and Nupur Talwar, in the Aarushi Hemraj double murder case on Tuesday afternoon.
A teenager, Aarushi Talwar was found dead, her throat slit with clinical precision, which has been documented in the public prosecutor CBI's files, on night between the 15th and 16th of May in 2008.
A housemaid at Talwar residence in Noida, Bharti was the first person to have knocked the doors (or ring the doorbell as the defence counsel puts it) of the Talwar residence on the morning of May 16, 2008.
The defence counsel led by Manoj Sisodia put forth the questions to the key witness sternly, "Did you tell the CBI (which is investigating the murder case) that you have been living in a jhuggi (slum) in Noida for the past 8-10 years?"
"What did you say was the name of your husband is? Bhim Mandal?"
The defence counsel repeated the questions, uttering each word slowly. But Bharti, who said she belonged to Malda in West Bengal, never quivered or hesitated to answer the questions in court.
And even though she couldn't speak Hindi fluently, she said confidently, "I came to live in a jhuggi in Noida only a year prior to the murder."
"My husbands name is Vishnu Mandal, and though he is also known as Vishu Mandal, I have never told anything else to the CBI," she said.
The defence prosecutor expectedly turned prickly about the statements it said she made to the CBI during investigations. But Bharti denied in the court on Tuesday recording any statements before the CBI. In fact, she stood by all her statements made before the court on Monday.
On the morning of May 16, 2008, when Bharti pressed the doorbell, she could push open the first door of the entrance, but the second wooden door was still locked. Bharti said she stated this for the first time only, and before the court.
She had said in court on Monday that she tried to push open the wooden (the second door) to enter the house, but she could not open it.
Bharti also stated in court today, "Aunty (Nupur Talwar) told me that the door will open only when Hemraj returns after fetching milk. Till then, you sit outside." She said that she had never told this to the CBI before.
By stating that she is recording her statements for the first time and was doing so before the court, she made it hard for the defence to argue that she is toeing to a specific argument put forth by the CBI.
She established that she is an independent witness, and is making a statement before the court, something that she has never done before the CBI, the public prosecutor argued.
After the murder was discovered, Bharti offered to call for help, do her duties in the house, none of which she claimed she had told to the CBI before.
Bharti used to reach the Talwar residence at 6 am every morning. And she said that the couple was usually asleep at that time. Hemraj used to open the door.
She said she used to collect the bucket and broom for cleaning, which were usually kept near the stairs. In fact, she answered rather bluntly on Tuesday in court on being insistently asked where exactly the bucket and broom were placed.
"I had been working in the household for only seven days, and I didn't go on work on May 15. How do you expect me to remember where exactly where the bucket placed?"
She also said emphatically that she never climbed up the jina leading up to Hemraj's room.
Bharti later identified the blue gown that Nupur Talwar wore, and the clothes her husband Rajesh Talwar wore on that morning.
The defence tried to impress in the cross examination that what Bharti stated in court today (and yesterday) were very different from CBI's recorded statement.
The defence moved an application with the presiding Judge Justice Shyam Lal, after it noticed that Bharti followed woman CBI personnel during the lunch hours.
"The CBI is tutoring her," claimed defence counsel Manoj Shisodia. "Why else would she be taken out of the court during the lunch hours while the cross examination is in process?"
They further stated that since the statement she made before the court does not comply with CBI's recorded statements under Section 161, "she is not testable."
The public prosecutor Saini, however, dismissed the charges and said, "Bharti has made a stand before the court."
"On the basis of the evidence before it, if the court finds a case for prosecution, then it will be examined before as per the facts and circumstances, and not on the basis of what was recorded under Section 161."
"Bharti has given her statements before the court and she stood by it today. And that is most important," he concluded.