Readers Write In #73: Delhi Crime : a Netflix crime drama series on the 2012 Delhi gang rape

Posted on March 31, 2019

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You would think that there would be nothing revelatory in a crime series on the Nirbhaya case, when one has read about it so much during the time when it happened. But as shown in movies like “Atonement”, any story can entirely change when the perspective changes. The newspapers then had mostly reported about police ineptitude and apathy.  What we see in the  “Delhi Crime” is something totally different. This is a story told from the view point of the police, as they try to track the culprits behind the most heinous crime in recent memory, and it is a credit to the director and writer Richie Mehta that despite us knowing the entire plot, it  plays out as suspenseful and engrossing as any fictitious thriller. The two lead characters, DCP Vartika Chaturvedi (played by Shefali Shah) and her assistant Bhupendra Singh (played by Rajesh Tailang) and the rest of the cast live their roles, and their team soon haves you rooting for them. Despite being understaffed and underpaid, they put in unpaid overtime hours to try and catch the culprits, under tremendous political and media pressure. Their story is personalised by glimpses into their family, and phone calls from home, with one wife asking about a back pain that is being neglected, and another complains about a son who is failing his exams.

One of the early opening scenes of “Delhi Crime” is a conversation between the DCP, her husband and her teenaged daughter, with the latter wanting to migrate to Canada, because she feels New Delhi is a bad place to live in for a girl. And soon afterwards, as if in justification of her views, this crime is committed. The description of the extent of the injuries from the young doctor looking after the survivor, with a professionally dead pan expression, and later the dying declaration given by the survivor to the magistrate, again with a dead pan face and a heart wrenchingly emotionless voice, brought home once again all the horror one had felt while hearing about it when it happened, though thankfully never in the series do they actually picturize the act being committed.

There definitely seems to be a role for class and education based cultural dissonance, both in the commitment of the crime and in its interpretation. The perpetrators had only planned to rob the  couple, but seeing a young girl out at night with a male friend made them think she was ‘available’ according to the prime culprit. When she resisted and fought back, as any girl brought up to be fearless would, it angered them further and triggered them to cross all limits of barbarity. According to the detailed and lucid magistrate’s statement given  by the survivor, while  piercing her insides repeatedly with the hooked iron rod, they were heard to say, “Girls like this should be killed.” There also seems to be class based prejudice in the reaction of the police, with the DCP’s assistant having a tendency to look for guilt in the male survivor, considering his behaviour that night as suspect, while the DCP herself views him as a victim. I was reminded of the reports of another case that garnered a lot of media attention, the  Arushi case, where police officers apparently interpreted what was quite obviously harmless facebook chat and banter amongst  upper middle class early teens as immoral behaviour, and hence judged the entire family. This was so obviously due to a cultural and class divide.

The reason why the Nirbhaya case brought about such collective outrage from the middle classes, apart from the inhuman nature of the crime, was probably because having taken place as early as about 9 30 pm, in public transport, to a middle class couple returning after a movie at a mall, smack in the middle of a busy city, there was a feeling of “it might have happened to us or someone we know” and a feeling that this might have been prevented. I had another reason for the crime to hit home. I lived in New Delhi from the age of just before my thirteenth birthday to almost upto my eighteenth birthday, and even back in the eighties, it was the worst place conceivable for a young girl. We used to live very close to the place where they boarded that bus, and I had to walk by Munirka daily, to and from school. Nowhere else since or before have I experienced the exhibitionism I have seen while walking to school, nor the horrific groping that goes on in the crowded DTC buses. I had heard later from friends that things had become worse since. Fortunately, the unprecedented outrage following the crime was channelled into changes like amendments to laws on rape, fast track courts, and making stalking, voyeurism, and categorising unwanted sexual advances and touches as specific offences while it wasn’t so earlier. So perhaps all that anger and those protests were not completely in vain.

(by Aparna Namboodiripad, who writes here as ‘tonks’)