By Focusing on Police, ‘Delhi Crime’ Misses Important Aspects of the 2012 Gangrape

The 2012 Jyoti Singh gangrape and murder case has left a deep impact on India. It’s not surprising, then, that the dramatisation of the events in Richie Mehta’s Netflix show Delhi Crime sends chills down the viewer’s spine.

The show chooses to present the violence from the perspective of the Delhi police. Writer and director Mehta seems to believe that not enough credit was given to them for a job well done.

The Singh case from December 16, 2012 is striking for a number of reasons. One of those is that a police service – otherwise criticised for corruption and inefficiency – booked six men for the crime within a record five days. While they do deserve fair praise, Mehta has gone overboard in the series.

The focus on the police also means that other notable aspects of the case escape the show’s narrative – the media attention it got, the public protests and conversations that were triggered, and so on. In Mehta’s series, though, the police-centric perspective bags at least 60% of the attention.

A crime like never before?

The narrative of Delhi Crime insists on exceptionalising this case, in sync with the larger popular narrative. The show establishes this right away, with DCP Chaturvedi’s repeated pronouncement: “Iss ladki ke saath jo hua hai, maine pehele kabhi nahi dekha (What happened to this girl, I have never seen before). This crime is not only heinous, it is insanity.” Later in the series too, this view is reiterated.

What was it about the Singh case, that made it so exceptional? How gruesome it was? Unfortunately, this wasn’t the first time India had witnessed such brutality. The cases of Surekha and Priyanka Bhotmange, Soni Sori, and others may not have got the same kind of popular attention, but the violence these women suffered was no different.

Scholars have also pointed out that calling an event like this an anomaly erases the endless number of cases of sexual violence against women from marginalised communities. What was extraordinary about the 2012 case was the massive national outcry it invoked.

The protests that were

Mehta has been given a lot of credit for his research for the show.

He is said to have put in four years of research to get the small details right. But somehow, the public protests seem to have escaped him. Instead of justified public anger that was triggered by years of violence against women, Delhi Crime portrays the protests as some sort of extracurricular activity for students (“Students ko extracurricular activity mil gayi”) or as an unruly mob attacking police officers at India Gate.

What happened, in fact, was that after the news broke, people flooded the streets of Delhi with candlelight vigils and protests. For more than a week, thousands of citizens – with different beliefs and ideologies – came out to make their voices heard and express their anger.

The protestors’ anger and questions were directed at society, the state and law and order agencies – including the police which are often accused of perpetuating patriarchy. In Delhi Crime, the police is conveniently distanced from these uncomfortable questions.

The composition of the protests was also quite diverse. Groups of Bodos, Dalits, and Kashmiris joined the demonstrations. The issue of custodial rape and rape by the army in conflict zones was also raised.

These together came to be known as the largest horizontal leaderless protest movement in the country in recent times. It brought to light the institutional failure in dealing with rape cases across the country.

Media’s role

The media is largely demonised in Delhi Crime. It is shown to have a personal vendetta against the police, hellbent on depicting them in a bad light and impeding their investigation.

In fact, the media’s constant coverage, which lasted more than a month, helped keep the matter alive and sustain pressure on the government.

Delhi Crime’s media is only shown hounding the other victim for an interview in another desperate bid to shoot up their TRPs. In a phone call to DCP Chaturvedi, a journalist explicitly says that the media is out to get them solely for the purpose of tarnishing their image. This is caricature, not drama.

Admittedly, it is difficult to look beyond the gory details of the incident and the brilliant performances delivered by cast of Shefali Shah, Rajesh Tailang, Rasika Dugal, Adil Hussain and others. However, the show overlooks important aspects that were responsible for making the incident what it is today, rendering the dramatisation incomplete – and perhaps even mischaracterised.

Riya Bhardwaj is doing her postgraduation in women’s studies at TISS Mumbai