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Delhi Crime on Netflix: Nirbhaya and our sentiments revisited

When you go out to vote in the next few weeks do remember that time and place and thank Delhi Crime for jolting our feeble memories.

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It took some deliberation to decide whether to watch Delhi Crime on Netflix, or not.

Within fifteen minutes of the first episode itself, the 7-part series draws you in with its taut, gripping cinematography and well etched characters. Where the city of Delhi, gritty, shorn of gloss, in all its ugliness and the sub-Saharan villages of neighboring states add their own pathos to the grim imagery.

So, did I want to pick at a scab not quite dry and crusty? Was I prepared to revisit a gruesome violation of a young woman out on an evening of mundane, everyday entertainment with a friend that ended in a spine-chilling crime changing the way forever, we looked at our city, our laws, our leaders, our media and our own personal safety?

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We are so unused to cinema that captures a recent, life turning event that was I willing to risk latent emotions rise back and overwhelm?

On and off, our unreal films have come up with the occasional gem where we’ve had a glimpse of the reality of other lives and a slice of it raw and ungarnished. But these stories of men, women, children in an existence not wished on anyone, amidst squalor, crumbling shanties, garbage, stray dogs and cattle have been few and far between.

Delhi Crime also brought up close the state of our policing. More so, the serving men and women who deliver, despite the shameful budget constraints, in terribly shabby working & living conditions in metropolises teaming with millions or the back of beyond of nowhere.

Validated, of course, by our own personal, nearly always, nerve-racking experiences, in falling apart police stations, among charpoys, drying uniforms & underwear… God forbid having to get an FIR for nothing more than lost documents or a stolen wallet.

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A marathon seven hours later (with a break for lunch and walk) not surprisingly brought up emotional exhaustion that one had thought was long cast aside or suppressed too deeply. There had been, after all, violent rapes before this one. In a country of a billion people, a horror story is always around the corner.

The most recent one before Nirbhaya, in fact, was of a girl gang raped with a broken beer bottle, who had naturally not survived the ordeal. So why did we then not react the way we did to this one?

I would think we were at that moment in December 2012 when a cauldron of rage was on a slow simmer for much beyond its time and the brutal rape of Jyoti Singh only helped it bubble over. It was as if we had been violated too and the scream that we had pushed down for too long in the pit of our stomach had found its way out and they couldn’t be contained.

It was yet again another instance when we as citizens of this country, already beaten and battered by open, in your face corruption, strutting, inept politicians, an obviously & shamefully weak Prime Minister denying culpability but nevertheless enabling rampant dacoity – were subjected to a violence brought into our homes via the media and that made us fearful for our children and ourselves.

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Our media stars had recently been exposed to be manipulative and dirty when the Radia tapes had exploded in our face and left us gasping. For a country that had seen everything shamefully possible, there was even a Cabinet Minister scavenging a few lakhs here and there on wheelchairs.

You only had to be among a few people sitting in a well-anointed drawing room or on a dusty, noisy construction site and the talk almost always veered to terror attacks, corruption and scams of the government in office. It was a deplorable, depressing time indeed, where our collective pride and dignity was at its lowest.

With Nirbhaya every bit of information, every rumour was dissected and discussed. We were glued to our TVs, poring over newspapers as her story became ours and personal.

Subsequently, Jyoti Singh being suddenly airlifted in the middle of the night for Singapore and then her return in death in the early hours of the morning to an almost clandestine cremation was the final straw of this saga.

Not one national leader spoke on the matter. Not one thought our feelings worth assuring.

From then Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit’s memoir, Citizen Delhi:

While people of all ages took to the streets and held candlelight vigils, their anger and anguish palpable in their eyes, our government appeared non-responsive. Even as I quietly reached out to Nirbhaya’s family to extend them every possible help, my statement that law and order did not fall within our government’s jurisdiction was viewed as being an insensitive attempt at passing the buck

What should have been a moment for me to take charge of the situation was reduced to a moment of extreme frustration for the simple reason that law and order in Delhi was the Centre’s responsibility.

The Centre’s unresponsive stance immediately after the incident seemed deliberate as it shifted the focus entirely on the Delhi government.

At that juncture, like many other issues, this tragedy, too, was politicised for leverage and many a tear were shed over the plight of the women. However, that empathy for women has never found a corresponding echo in political parties when it comes to the underrepresentation of women in Parliament.

In an interview to ThePrint given later, the then CM had this to say-

I knew that the people who came to my house did so because they saw me
as the face of Delhi. What should have been a moment for me to take charge of the situation was reduced to a moment of extreme frustration for the simple reason that law and order in Delhi was the Centre’s responsibility. Had the Union Home Ministry responded with urgency and addressed the Delhi police, the people would have realised whose call it was to initiate action and would have seen the concern expressed by the government. The Centre’s unresponsive stance immediately after the incident seemed deliberate as it shifted the focus entirely on the Delhi government.

Further, in that interview, she says,

On 29 December, Nirbhaya lost the battle for her life. For the family the loss of a dear one is irreparable. Our government extended its sympathy in the way it could, by providing financial support and helping her brother realise his ambition to be a pilot. I continue to be in touch with them.

In November 2017 this gesture of help was appropriated by Rahul Gandhi.

After watching Delhi Crime, three questions were triggered by revisiting Nirbhaya –

-Were there any ‘This is not my India’ articles, posts and tweets in December 2012?

-Was there a baying and clamour for Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan Singh or the youth icon Rahul Gandhi to speak on a matter that had shaken our collective conscience? And did they pay heed?

-Was Manmohan Singh asked to step down or for that matter, the Home Minister?

When you go out to vote in the next few weeks do remember that time and place and thank Delhi Crime for jolting our feeble memories.

PS: It is indeed intriguing that in a crime-drama based on police files and on very recent true events, the protagonist of the Delhi CM is played by a male actor. Though Nirbhaya was definitely not Sheila Dikshit’s shining moment she was very much in the chair then.
So why this one odd, very obvious ‘creative’ liberty and why the innuendo on her offspring?

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