Recently, the web series Delhi Crime won the Best Drama Series category at the International Emmy Awards 2020. Though this should be an occasion to celebrate, it is probably also an opportune moment to reflect on what the series does, naturalises, contests and reinforces by way of its narrative and characterisation.
The narrative represents a missed opportunity as it fails to go beyond the binaries of crime and justice, offender and victim, man and woman, state and individual. In fact, it does not give any room to any legal discourse and thus reinforces and reaffirms the misogynist and patriarchal ideologies that construct ‘woman’ around her body and confine her identity and existence to her body alone. This is additionally reiterated through the paranoia of the protagonist DCP Vartika Chaturvedi’s daughter whose only pretext to relocate to another country rests on her insecurity in her own country, her vulnerability largely about her body.
The series locates the crime in individual perpetrators and fails to problematise it by questioning social mores or the mesh of hegemonic ideologies that perpetrate this kind of a mindset which resorts to sexual violence and treats women’s bodies as sites of projection of personal anxiety. The narrative fails to complicate the nature of sexual violence and the multiple versions of justice that this complexity allows which needn’t be straitjacketed in the rigid framework of law.
The narrative moreover is from the perspective of the police force, a state machinery and is almost like a biopic focusing on the professional and personal stress of the DCP who is also a woman, establishing the binary of the criminal and the victim through the juxtaposition of the chase of the rapists and deterioration of the girl who is raped. The DCP is an upholder of the dignity of the state and its apparatus (the police force) and all her actions are invested in sustaining this dignity of the police force which is under public scrutiny and targeted by the press and public alike. She is more committed to her duty towards the legal system as an instrument of the state than the larger ethical debate surrounding rape, which could have been given visibility.
The series rightly categorises itself as a crime thriller, because that is precisely what it is. It fails to bring forth or introduce a feminist agenda or any of the arguments and concerns feminists have been agitating and debating about for so long. Thus this is yet another narrative that is surreptitiously feminist. The raped girl is objectified and reduced to the state of a victim who can barely speak. There is no access to her for the audience beyond the trauma surrounding her and her mutilated body. Her parents are appropriately represented as grieving and forlorn and acquiescing in the face of the state and the hospital authorities.
There is even an insinuation about the victim’s promiscuity as her intimacy in the bus with the boy she was travelling, is reiterated by the police and the offenders, paradoxically placing them on the same side and the girl on the other. She obviously does not get visibility or the opportunity to articulate. The audience gets to know about her through the snippets people contribute. Her pain is magnified while her subjectivity invisibilised. Even as she is taken to the hospital in a terribly mutilated state, the only thing she manages to utter is her concern for her parents when they see her.
Public discourse is reduced to sensational sloganeering and protest outside the temporary headquarters of the police station. The events that lead to the rape moreover condense it to the binary of consent/no consent as voiced by the key offender who rapes and mutilates the girl. The premise of his argument rests on the consenting woman who allowed access to her boyfriend thereby tempting the offender who is antagonised because of absence of consent in his case and therefore brutalises and mutilates her. This relegates the narrative to the constricted binary of accomplice/victim as recognised and acknowledged by legal discourse thus putting part of the burden of guilt on the couple and their inappropriate intimacy leading to titillation of the offender.
It further portrays the primary offender as mentally disturbed since the death of his wife without commenting on the ideological premise that prompted his crime or the justification he offers: how promiscuous women like her bring a bad name to the nation and are a threat to Indian culture.
The factual incident which led to a nationwide debate and uproar is undermined by a counter-factual narrative that finds supremacy over the factual narrative. The larger question of the ability of law to give justice or the viability of legal analysis to accommodate discussions and debates that do not conform to the binaries of promiscuous/innocent or accomplice/victim as the desired trajectory of feminist interaction with the law fails to find visibility in the series.
We find even the DCP, as an authority and official of the state, reasonably and relatively more empowered than the average woman submitting to the idea of the body as self, refusing to take up and confront a larger ethical issue of the woman’s self as being only her body which had scope of manifesting in an interaction with the daughter. The DCP is not merely affiliated to the State; she is the veritable embodiment of the State which is evident even as she tells her daughter over the phone that she is practically doing things singlehandedly. Also absent are actual voices of activists and the press. The ones that are allowed screen space are parodied representations.
We are made to identify more with the DCPs trauma than the survivor’s, in other words the state’s trauma, the trauma of the police force even as it is targeted and maligned by an infuriated populace and an opportunist politician from the opposition who is trying to derive political mileage from it by influencing the media and the NGOs to bring down the Commissioner of Police. In fact, this sub plot gains increasing strength and prominence in the course of the narrative. The debate seems to have re-centered around the alacrity and efficiency of the police force and larger musings over political opportunism of the stakeholders of this case.
The manhandling of the general populace by the police force is completely naturalised and overlooked even without the slightest critical comment. The series, despite the tremendous potential it had, is unfortunately reduced to a thriller by a categoric and discursive undermining of all other rapes committed previously as two police officers on the case contrast this with the others, inadvertently naturalising rape and expressing their surprise only at the extent of violence in this instance which earns it the status of being truly deviant and repulsive and unwittingly normalises rape as an occurrence or a given in any society.
Dr. Shyaonti Talwar is an academician, researcher and a writer whose areas of interest include art, culture, lifestyle, social inequality, literature, mythology and gender.
Featured image credit: Netflix