Netflix's latest show is only loosely based on the official case files of the Nirbhaya rape case, and takes some surprising liberties with the roles and characters of key players.
On a scorching afternoon, with the sun beating down on the backs of Delhiites, the divider outside the Delhi Aerocity Metro Station in Mahipalpur is a chill-out spot. People of all ages are scattered across the grass, taking a break or just watching the world go by. Our work there, however, was far from casual. Patriot was there to talk to a man named Rajkumar, a 55-year-old military veteran, who recounted to us his version of one of the incidents that left our nation scarred.
The Netflix series Delhi Crime claims to be based on the case files from Delhi Police, with admitted dramatisation for “cinematic effect”. It offers a glimpse into the difficulties faced by the Delhi Police and the obstacles they faced in the race to nab the culprits.
As DCP Chhaya Sharma said, “It was a humungous team effort and much beyond the five days of the manhunt for all of us to get justice and follow due process of law.” Given that the series tried to showcase the reality of the cops and the hate they received at the time, a few key details seem to have slipped off the storyboard.
Rajkumar (First respondent)
On the day of the gang-rape and assault six years ago, ex-serviceman Rajkumar, the first person to find Jyoti Singh and her friend Awindra Pandey on the side of the road in Mahipalpur, tells us what he experienced in the 45-50 minutes that he was there, and the consequent concerns he had to face. As we spoke with him, just a little distance away from the spot where he had found them lying in a ditch on the side of the road, Rajkumar recounted the details of the incident in shockingly vivid details, and the transgressions of certain people involved in the process.
Rajkumar is a father of three and is currently working at Indraprastha Gas Ltd on contract after having quit the patrolling force post the incident. He has lived in Delhi for 35 years and hails from Bulandshahr, UP. He says he remembers his fallen fellow soldiers and friends clear as day but when he saw the state the young girl was in, he couldn’t stomach the cruelty of it. “Yeh usse bhi khatarnak thhi, darindgi thi (What they had done was even worse, it was savagery),” he keeps repeating.
On the night of December 16, 2012, Rajkumar says he was on patrolling duty on his bike, and was passing under the Mahipalpur flyover at around 10.05 pm, when he heard distressed cries of “Bachao (Help)!” On getting closer he was able to only see the boy (Pandey), stripped down to nothing, shouting and trying to catch someone’s attention from the side of the road.
A few steps closer, and he realised the boy was not alone, nor was he mad, as Rajkumar had initially suspected. In the ditch with him was a near unconscious girl (Singh), badly injured, also with no clothes on her back, bleeding all over. He quickly brought the girl a jersey and the boy a jacket. He arranged for a sheet to be brought from Airport Hotel Delhi 37, ripped it in half, and helped the victims get dressed. He tied it around Pandey’s waist like a lungi, and tried to wrap Singh up as she lay on the ground.
It was not until he tried to turn her around and wrap her up that he realised how heavily she was bleeding. He says he remembers this as the moment when he really understood how heinous a crime had been committed. It was obvious this was an emergency, and they needed immediate medical attention.
Rajkumar alleges that the first PCR van rolled up at around 10:08 pm, and stopped at the end of the flyover. The cops made the excuse that they never got a call for such a crime and drove away.
The next PCR arrived at about 10.22 pm. And as Rajkumar tells it, one of the cops in the PCR began questioning him about all the blood on his hands, and started asking for his name, number and details. Rajkumar refused to divulge anything until the police actually started to help the victims. However, the cop who had arrived would not let up with the “rude questioning”.
All the while, Rajkumar was trying to phone an ambulance. By this time a sizeable crowd of at least 30-40 people had gathered around the spot, and were curiously watching.
In the commotion, Rajkumar already had an idea of what had transpired, as Awindra was lucid enough to relate the incident, albeit extremely shaken. “I asked her what her name was,” he says. “She responded but that was all she could muster. She was slipping into unconsciousness.” Rajkumar later revealed that he did not mention her name to anyone else who asked, out of respect—be it the media or anyone else.
Finally, at approximately 10.32 pm, another PCR arrived, which picked up the victims and drove them to Safdarjung Hospital, where they were treated.
It wasn’t over for our “first respondent” yet. Two days later, he was summoned to meet the DCP at the time, who was taking charge of the investigation, Inspector Chhaya Sharma. He alleges that he was asked to keep the fact that two PCRs had noticeably delayed the process, under wraps. He was told that the risk of some of the more powerful police inspectors losing their job or coming under question was too high. He was threatened on occasion, and even bribes were attempted. All of which he refused.
Rajkumar turned down money and political positions—requesting only a steady job. He had begun to sense that his days in the patrolling force were now numbered. As he said, he felt that people had realised that he would definitely not lie, and had grown weary of how he may become an inconvenient variable in the narrative.
Even today, six years later, he is approached on and off about the case. He seems to have no idea of the Netflix series Delhi Crime. The conversation with him, as well as Jyoti’s mother Asha Devi, cemented the belief that a show on Netflix does not make a difference to their reality. It is not bringing justice or speeding up any of the legal processes. Rajkumar is still in contact with Jyoti’s mother. And was not surprised to know that the detail of two PCR vans refusing to pick up the victims had been omitted.
He admits wearily that for a person in his position, self-preservation is also important. “I cannot risk being jobless or being constantly under threat,” he says. Even today he confesses that he is afraid of the repercussions, should he be tracked down by someone and confronted about having divulged this information. He also fears for his current job.
Anil Sharma (SHO)
Inspector Anil Sharma, Station House Officer at the Lodhi Colony Police Station, has a squeaky clean record, and a seemingly untarnished reputation. He has caught 700 history-sheeters. Inspector Anil Sharma was Station House Officer (SHO) of the Vasant Vihar Police Station at the time of the crime. He affirms that he is saddened and offended by the portrayal of certain characters in the series.
While the makers of the show do not hesitate to justify that liberties were taken with the story for dramatic effect, the fact is that the characters shown are real living people, with their own personal lives and professional reputations—and the world is seeing them in a bad light.
The show portrayed the SHO of the Vasant Vihar Police Station as a slightly lazy and entitled law enforcement officer named SHO Vinod Sharawat. Shefali Shah’s character, the DCP of the South District, is shown as being constantly annoyed with his incompetence and laziness. Anil Sharma says that this could not be further from the truth. Sharma was actively involved in the investigation and has been following up on the court proceedings till date. He holds Jyoti’s mother in very high regard, as she does him. The two are still in touch, so much so that Asha Devi is familiar with his family.
He regretfully recalls how it wasn’t just the character of the SHO that was marred, but his family and work ethic as well. “They didn’t just insult me, but my family as well. Even my men, who worked very hard during the investigation.” He divulges that he shared a perfectly healthy work relationship with the DCP, and to the best of his knowledge, she never held any such grudge against him. In the series, the SHO was shown to also have a dysfunctional marriage and was unable to control and manage his station, be it in terms of amenities or his constables.
“There isn’t a single stain on any of my inspectors from Vasant Vihar police station,” he insists, going on to say that the makers “forgot their limit” when attempting to “add masala” to the storyline.
To top it off, he has previously been SHO at five different police stations and won multiple accolades for the same.
Asha Devi (Jyoti’s mother)
Sitting in her home in Dwarka, Asha Devi, mother of Jyoti Singh, is searching for ways to start the conversation. “Jo hua woh toh sab ko hi pata hain. Ab toh hum akele hi case lad rahe hain (Everyone knows what happened. Now it’s only us who are fighting the case),” says Devi, gaining composure as she recalls the incident.
“Ever since the Supreme Court gave the judgment, everyone is silent, if I will also become silent then they will forget that they need to hang these culprits also,” says Devi.
One of the walls of the room has a huge poster which shows its origination, Nirbhaya Jyoti Trust, which is in remembrance of the 2012 incident.
As questions were asked about the show, Devi is irritable by the sole fact of its existence. “It seems like they just want to encash on our plight. What will they achieve with this? Will it bring justice to my daughter? Will it fast track the death row? Will they (the culprits) be hanged faster?” asks Devi. The room is bombarded with questions, which to her remain unanswered.
Devi says she hasn’t watched the series and “doesn’t want to”. Because of the very fact that it will make her recall the tragedy which shook her to the core in December 2012. She says the director (Richie Mehta) “came to meet us two years ago with a document. He wanted our support, but we declined to sign it.” “We raised the concern of them (culprits) not been hanged yet, so how will you do it? They said it (the series) will not affect that (the hanging) because our name is not in it. He also told me that the series is based on the investigation of the police.”
When Patriot told her about several discrepancies in the show and how the portrayal of Inspector Anil Sharma is shown in a bad light, her reply was “I’m assuming they would’ve met these people in person. How can they (the makers) show real life characters in a bad light just to earn money? How can you show someone’s pain?” she asks.
She gives an example of the situation of crime in the capital, “The society is in such a bad state. What do they want to show by showing one case?” It’s again because of the fact that she doesn’t believe that “any series, documentary, book or film will do anything for the case.” She also discourages any sort of depiction of the incident in any form of media.
As Patriot continued speaking with her, she abruptly asked if the details of the crime had been explicitly shown, caution lacing her voice. We quickly had to assure her that that wasn’t the case. “Truth should be asked from that person (referring to Rajkumar) as to how bad was her condition,” she tells us. “Truth is in many things, but all we want now is that the culprits are hanged as soon as possible.”
She also points out the laxity in which the police took Jyoti to Safdarjung Hospital. “Where is Mahipalpur flyover and where is Safdarjung Hospital? That girl was taken to the hospital in that condition. So many hospitals come in between this stretch,” she says. Nonetheless, she feels that “it doesn’t matter if it’s a man or a woman. If such a situation happens again, they should first take the victim to the nearest hospital and police station. First, save the life.”
Devi says that she has questioned this issue before also, “in front of the police and during interviews”. “Nahi toh yeh the ki hamare thane ka nahi hain unke thane ka nahi hai. Itne mein toh log khatm ho jaenge (It was like this doesn’t belong to this police station or that police station. People will die in the meantime),” she adds.
Adding to this, she also mentions that the former Commissioner of Police, Delhi Neeraj Kumar also spoke of a change where the victim is now admitted to the nearest hospital (government or private) first.
“Yeh log toh film bana banake hi (she pauses) … dukhi toh hum hote hain sunke. Uss baar bhi koi utha toh film banwa diya, iss baar bhi koi utha toh film banwa diya. Main toh ye bhi nahi keh sakti ki mat dikhao, lekin mera ismein koi samarthan nahi hai (These people by just making a film …We do get sad hearing about it. At that time also someone made a film, and this time too. I cannot even say that don’t show it, but I haven’t given my support to it).”
When she was told that Sharma’s character in the show is shown in such a bad light, that it makes the viewers believe that Sharma carried a laid-back attitude while the investigation was on, she opposed the notion. However, she says that he has been in constant touch with the family, even after seven years past the case.
“Even when I need help for someone else and the case falls under his area. He helps and he gives the case his time,” she tells. She asserted that the relation between her and Sharma is good. “We even met many times in the hospital too. She recalls how Sharma always used to be present and has given the family a ride to their home when the family used to go for the proceedings in the High Court.
Neeraj Kumar (ex-Commissioner)
Another character in the series who is seen facing the wrath of the Delhi government and the public is former Commissioner of Police—Neeraj Kumar. Kumar is the story consultant on the show.
In a conversation with Patriot, Kumar spoke of the ideation of the series and how he was the one who set the ball rolling for Mehta. “He’s a family friend and was looking for ideas. So I suggested to him that he make a series on this case,” says Kumar.
He also talks about how there was no producer on the show at first. Kumar claims that he had been kept out of the loop by and large, while also admitting that when he was allowed one reading; however, he couldn’t get after two pages because he “didn’t find it exciting enough”. Since he is the story consultant, Patriot asked him about the reason why Sharma’s character has been shaped and portrayed in such a bad way. He said, “We didn’t have any conversation about him.” He quips, “I was not consulted even for my own role.”
His role too, he claims, “is a bit of a caricature”. He alleges that Sharma’s role was fabricated and fictionalised while saying that the basic thread was the same, but the details of the case were dramatised excessively. “It is highly fictionalised, they took a lot of liberties,” says Sharma. And asserts that he would appreciate anyone who might want to call the makers out as having created defamatory content.
He also speaks of a conversation with Mehta, where he was questioned by Kumar over the dramatisation of the content, and Kumar told Patriot that the director was apologetic while also adding that such things have to be done to make it cinematic.
Benita Mary Jaiker (IPS trainee stationed with family)
Amongst the characters which are shown in a positive light and as efficient police officers is Neeti Singh (Rasika Dugal) whose character is based on Benita Mary Jaiker, who was an IPS trainee when the incident took place and was stationed with the family at the hospital 24×7. Currently, she is the DCP of Southwest district in Delhi.
In the series, it is shown that Vartika Chaturvedi (Shefali Shah) told her to be with the family because she is the same age as their hospitalised daughter. When she was asked about the character based on her, she simply stated, “I am nobody to comment on the show. It is purely a work of art.”
DCP Jaiker confirmed that she was approached by the makers of the show. Though she refused to comment on the show, she says she has “no issues with it”.
In the show, it is shown that Neeti Singh (DCP Jaiker’s character) stayed with the family of Jyoti Singh in Safdarjung Hospital. In reality, it was much more. Asha Devi told Patriot that she accompanied her and the rest of the family for Jyoti’s treatment in Singapore also. DCP Jaiker refused to comment on the time she spent in the hospital.
Awindra Pandey (key witness)
Pandey too feels wronged and is taking matters into his own hands, to sue the makers of the show. He started watching the show on Friday when it released and completed it on Sunday. He admits that he was hurt by the way they showed his character, and even more so because he wasn’t once consulted for it.
He was shocked by how some key facts were warped even though the show claims to be based on case files. And he was offended by how far the excuse of “cinematic effect” had been stretched.
Pandey recalls the events of that day starting from Select City Mall a little differently than the way they were represented in the series. As told to Patriot by Pandey, his home was near the mall, and after watching a movie, he decided to make sure Jyoti got home to Dwarka before 9.30 pm. There weren’t very many buses so they decided to take an auto to Munirka, and then take a bus thereon. As they waited, it was Jyoti who suggested they don’t take the DTC 764 because it was crowded. Instead, they took the other white bus, with “YADAV” printed across the side. The young conductor was trying to catch their attention and get them to board the bus. When they finally did, there were six others in the bus, five men, and one slightly younger boy.
As soon as they boarded, they were told to hand over their money. When they got defensive, the six men got violent, took their money and started hitting Pandey. They also locked the doors and blacked out the lights. When Jyoti tried to step in to help, was when things escalated to terrible heights. They dragged her to the back of the bus and sexually assaulted her repeatedly, while keeping a watch on Pandey. They held down his limbs and hit him over the head with a rod. He says that he was more conscious than Jyoti when they were thrown out of the bus, naked and injured, by the side of the Mahipalpur flyover. When he saw the bus doing an about turn to try and finish them off for good, he rolled their bodies over into the ditch.
In the series they showed Pandey’s character in quite an unfavourable light, calling into question his ethics and intentions. In the show, the character named Akash was walking about just fine during the time that he was asked to stay at the police station. Pandey clarifies that he was in a wheelchair during that time, and had not seen his family for a while. “When my father finally arrived and put his hand on my head, I breathed in relief,” he says.
He also mentions that it took a while for the hospital staff to attend to him—so much so that there was a delay in informing his family of the incident. He borrowed a phone from one of the hospital workers and made the call. It was only when his relatives arrived that he was given proper medical attention.
Moreover, his interviews came out in the news three weeks after the incident. And says that he did so, as he did not want people to stop talking about it. He was the main complainant. In the show, Akash’s character seemed to be in a hurry to go public with his story even before the culprits had been nabbed.
“Why would I do that?” he asks. He did not want to impede the investigation in any way. And most importantly, he says, “She was my friend, and I visited her in her hospital as well. We even tried to have pleasant times together in the hospital despite the terrifying circumstances. We tried to never bring up the pain.”
His biggest concern is that Netflix is a globally famous streaming website. So it stands to reason that a series on an incident as severe as this will be taken seriously by the audience. “If they have inaccuracies when the story is reaching so many people, they will believe those details to be true. Children who were not old enough then will see the show now, and will probably believe some fictionalised facts to be true,” he worries.
The show received much attention pre-release and sparked off many conversations—so if it is only loosely “based on case files from the Delhi Police”, then audiences have been misled. And as confirmed by some of the key players in the case, a good few of them were not even consulted for the script, let alone informed. Each and every one of them agrees that “dramatising for cinematic effect” and “fictionalising” is all well and good—so long as it is done responsibly. Taking the examples of very real people, and turning them into questionable characters in a series, while leaving them to deal with the consequences of the same in the aftermath, was probably not the best way to go about making this seven-episode series.
Which begs the question, that if the idea of making the series was to expose a truth that was previously hidden from the public: Why the dubious execution?
The series Delhi Crime in itself is beautifully shot with exemplary camera work and a hard-hitting script that made everyone’s blood run cold. Feeling almost like an actual person alongside all of the characters, moving, sitting, running and listening to them like you were right there in the room. One only wishes that a few people’s honesty and hard work had not been thoughtlessly flouted, while some others were glorified for their undoubtedly brave services.