Trigger warning: Rape, Assault, Abuse
Recently, Netflix released a seven-episode series based on the aftermath of the 2012 gang rape called Delhi Crime. The show is directed by Richie Mehta and features Shefali Shah, Rasika Dugal, and Adil Hussain. It has been garnering largely positive reviews from critics and viewers alike. This will not be one of those reviews.
In December 2012, six men violently gang-raped and tortured 23-year old Jyoti Singh Pandey and beat up her male friend on a moving bus in New Delhi. The attack triggered widespread protests across the country and Delhi began to be called the ‘Rape Capital’ of India. There exist multiple dramatised retellings of this incident. In cinema, a BBC documentary, India’s Daughter (2015) and a film called The Anatomy of Violence (2016) was released. These two films try to delve into the prevalent rape culture in India and its connections to caste and class hierarchies. Another important question to ask then is “What does this show tell us that we don’t already know?”
In Comparison to India’s Daughter
India’s Daughter was banned by the Indian government and parliamentary affairs minister, M Venkaiah Naidu, said, “This is an international conspiracy to defame India. We will see how the film can be stopped abroad too.” Despite the ban, the film is available on Youtube and other streaming sites. I found the film extremely triggering but a sincere attempt to unpack the prevalent rape culture in India.
A controversial scene features Mukesh Singh, one of the six say, “When being raped, she shouldn’t fight back. She should just be silent and allow . Then they’d have dropped her off after ‘doing her’, and only hit the boy.” While it is horrifying to watch his lack of remorse, it is necessary to keep to the to analyse the misogynistic mentality that Indian society suffers from. As Urvashi Butalia puts it, “Rape is not something that occurs by itself. Let’s ask ourselves how we, our society, we as people, create and sustain the mindset that leads to rape, how we make our men so violent, how we insult our women so regularly.”
To answer my previous question, the show is rooted in trying to prove the competence of Delhi Police. As a review accurately says, “It uses taut cinematography to distract from its propagandistic storyline.” In my opinion, even the cinematography fails to make up for the obvious downplay of police inaction that happened in reality. It is a little known fact that the police commissioner himself asked Mehta to direct the film and provided access to police files.
The voiceover at the beginning of the show says that “prevention is nearly impossible” but the truth is that the crime could have been prevented if the police had stopped the bus as it was roaming in UNLICENSED HOURS AND TINTED WINDOWS.
The camera never follows the victims inside the bus and there are no visual re-enactments of rape but they frequently describe the victim’s medical injuries which are quite telling of the brutal violence she was subjected to. Especially because the plot never follows how the victim or her family is dealing with these injuries but only focuses on how DCP Vartika Chaturvedi (Shefali Shah) responds to them. A particularly distasteful scene shows the victim thanking the DCP for taking up the case, “I know who you are. I’m so happy you’re handling my case.” (Episode 5). The fact that the plot needs the victim’s gratefulness to move forward is a gross stroke to Delhi Police’s ego.
Even as propaganda, the creator can definitely take points from Namo TV as there are frequent mentions of a similar ‘beer bottle rape case‘ that did not get the same coverage. Police officers often say that this case is requiring efficient work only because the DCP is overseeing it herself. “Madam is taking this case quite personally. Hmm, we all have that one case at some point.” (Episode 1)
There is no trigger warning before any episode and Netflix, like most video streaming sites, has an auto play feature where the trailer/next episode starts playing automatically. This makes the show extremely triggering and emotionally taxing to watch.
The voiceover at the beginning of the show says that “prevention is nearly impossible” but the truth is that the crime could have been prevented if the police had stopped the bus as it was roaming in unlicensed hours and tinted windows. Ramadhar Singh, the man who was assaulted and robbed in the same bus earlier that night approached the Hauz Khas police station that very night — only to be turned away by the officials on duty. In Delhi Crime, it is claimed that he did not approach the police, which is untrue and gives the Delhi Police a clean chit.
In the series, the protests are said to be orchestrated by politicians or students ‘for their extra-curricular activity’. In reality, the Delhi Police used water cannons and lathi charge to dispel a peaceful protest.
The widespread protests against the police were powerful and put pressure on the police to arrest the suspects in time. In the series, the protests are said to be orchestrated by politicians or students ‘for their extra-curricular activity’. In reality, the Delhi Police used water cannons and lathi charge to dispel a peaceful protest. The show merely portrays the helpless officials doing their duty against violent protests, which is wildly inaccurate. The entire narrative portrays the media, the politicians, and the public as bad and only police as good. The only inefficient character is the SHO who is in the process of suing the director. As Huffington Post puts it, “The only people the show humanises are the police.”
The male victim is shown to be an attention seeker, a womaniser and a coward. Bhupinder goes on a rant against him for getting intimate with the victim on the bus, “Every child knows you don’t do those things on a bus.” Not only are these allegations fake, Bhupinder’s rage reeks of the same victim-blaming that Mukesh Singh took to an extreme. The DCP sits quietly and does not correct him. Another officer implies that only lower class men commit rape which ignores the fact that they are just easier to put in a cell. This reminds one of a study by a local newsmagazine of the attitudes of high ranking police officers in Delhi about rape. Roughly 90 per cent of them felt the woman deserved it, that she asked for it, that she should not have been out alone, or should not have been dressed in a particular fashion.
There is no denying that the Delhi Police is overworked and underpaid which in turn manifests corruption. But to turn a tragedy into a tightly edited cop drama is not the solution. There are moments in the film that Mehta could have focused more on, especially those which highlight the massive class differences between highly ranking IPS officers versus inspectors and constables. There’s a scene between Rastogi and Bhupinder where he reminds her that they come from different worlds. Rastogi condescendingly replies, “But we’re both trying to protect our daughters” ignoring the fact while her daughter is gearing up to study in Canada, Bhupinder’s is just trying to find a family willing to marry her.
The Family’s Response
“Films, shows banane se kya ho raha hai? Kitni films ban chuki hai Nirbhaya pe…7 saal ho gaye par abhi tak meri beti ko nyay tak nahi mila (What’s the point of these films, shows? It has been 7 years and my daughter has still not got justice),” Badrinath Singh, the victim’s father told India Today. The family suffered a great loss and it’s terribly unkind to keep reminding them of the atrocity. Singh has claimed he would not see the show as “it’s hard to see these things again”. It is an inconsiderate move by the makers to create this series (despite the family’s permission) that has no agenda other than whitewashing Delhi police’s image.
Also read: What About Victims Who Aren’t ‘Good Girls’?
Filmmakers (and Netflix) must note that ‘crimes against women’ is not a film genre and our trauma is not for you to binge-watch. It is not for sale.
Featured Image Source: News18