“The casual manner with which she was treated and the devilish manner in which they played with her identity and dignity is humanly inconceivable. It sounds like a story from a different world where humanity has been treated with irreverence,” said the three-judge bench of the Supreme Court comprising of Justices Dipak Misra, R Banumathi and Ashok Bhushan, on July 9, 2018, upholding the death sentence awarded to the convicts in the Nirbhaya gang rape and murder case.
On December 16, 2012, a paramedic student was gang-raped and assaulted in a moving bus by six men. The bestiality perpetrated against the 23-year-old, who succumbed to her injuries in the hospital, led to an uproar across the nation and shook the collective conscience of all. While one of the rapists allegedly committed suicide in custody, one was tried by a juvenile justice board (who has now completed his three-year term). The other four men are serving the sentence in prison awaiting their fate.
Though it took only five days for the team of Delhi Police to nab the guilty, people’s anger and sentiments against the police ran high, post the gruesome attack.
With innumerable protests on streets across India, the media trials that drove the narrative of the country and the politicians demanding a quick result, how did the Delhi Police deal with the mounting pressure?
Richie Mehta’s 7-part web-series “Delhi Crime” on Netflix, showcases the horror of December 16 from the perspective of the Delhi Police. Capturing the detailed investigation, the series has actor Shefali Shah in the lead.
The inspiration of her character Vartika Chaturvedi, stems from IPS Chhaya Sharma, former DCP (South District) of Delhi Police who led the 41-member team that investigated the Nirbhaya crime.
The Better India spoke to Sharma from the 1999 IPS batch, and a graduate in Economics from Delhi University.
Almost seven years after the unfortunate incident that defined Delhi as the ‘Rape Capital of India,’ Sharma remembers every detail, right from meeting Nirbhaya for the first time, her team’s spirit and dedication, people’s faith in the judiciary to the relief and professional satisfaction she got post the SC verdict.
It was around two in the night when the phone rang to give vague details to Sharma about an assault on a man and woman in Munirka, a neighbourhood in South Delhi. There was something unnerving about the case, and she decided to deal with it personally.
After collecting all the information about the tragic incident at the Safdarjung Hospital, she wasted no time and registered an FIR. She delegated the work to her dedicated team and thus began the investigation.
Terming the case as a ‘blind case,’ Sharma said it was a race against time.
It was like looking for a needle in the haystack. Generally, the case is easy when the victim knows the perpetrator. In Nirbhaya’s case, they didn’t know each other, and we had only vague details like the colour of the bus, seats and curtains.
“Based on the male victim’s sketchy information, we acquired a list of 370 white buses registered with the RTO. With every team member finding clues, we got closer to solving the case,” she added.
Meanwhile, she was in constant touch with Nirbhaya and her family. Talking about her encounter with Nirbhaya, Sharma said, “After going through such a traumatic experience, it is not easy for the victim to narrate the incident. But Nirbhaya was the epitome of courage who remained calm and narrated the entire dreadful episode with confidence. We owed it to her.”
Amidst round the clock working hours, the pressure on the Delhi Police mounted to such an extent where peaceful demonstrations at India Gate turned into a battleground.
Did that affect their investigation in any way?
If the job is done right, everything else falls in place. We just did our investigation. We knew we weren’t answerable to anyone else except the Court of Law. Due process of law must be followed to get real justice for the victims, she said.
Thanking her team she further said, “Teamwork is the key to the success of my team. I believe I am as good as the teams that I lead.”
The journey to attain justice for Nirbhaya took six years of judicial proceedings, many countrywide protests, and the undying faith of Nirbhaya’s parents in India’s legal system.
While Sharma kept her professional life intact at each step, there were times when she faced emotional breakdowns.
I felt really, really depressed at times and on hearing the final verdict, I did become emotional considering the long run to justice through various judicial scrutiny, said Sharma who is currently serving as Deputy Inspector General at National Human Rights Commission.
So, has anything changed in terms of police force’s working methods post the Nirbhaya case?
“Yes, a lot. The approach towards treating a case, especially if it involves molestation, has changed. In the victim-centric approach, priority is given to teamwork, diligence and meticulous paperwork. These are and will always be parameters for good investigation.”
The victim-centric approach helped as more people came out to complain openly about minor sexual offences and rapes post the 2012 event, she added.
In the aftermath of the event, a change was also reflected in India’s legal course.
Under the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act of 2013, the definition of rape was expanded and oral sex as well as insertion of an object or any other body part into a woman’s vagina, urethra or anus was included in the act.
Giving rapists a sentence lesser than the minimum of seven years was abolished, and the possibility of the death sentence was added in case the offender has committed such a heinous crime in the past.
Fast-track courts were set up for rape cases. These courts are obligated to conduct trails on a day-to-day basis and not stretch them over several months. The trials must be completed within two months of the charge sheet.
The 2013 Act also brought relief to the acid attack survivors with the inclusion of special criminal provisions against the offender. It also made the provision of protecting the survivors of such attacks.
Apart from the cracking the Nirbhaya rape case, Sharma is also known for solving other crimes including the 2-year-old baby Falak case, the high-profile case of liquor baron Ponty Chadha and the Deepak Bharadwaj murder case.
We salute IPS Chhaya Sharma’s fierce attitude, resolute courage and the ability to remain unflappable under pressure. She reinstated the entire nation’s faith in the Police Force within five days!
You can read the full verdict on Nirbhaya Rape case here.
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(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)