Content Warning: This article contains descriptions of sexual assault & violent acts.
Netflix's new drama Delhi Crime is based on the harrowing, real-life rape and murder of 23-year-old Jyoti Singh (whom the press called Nirbhaya, or "the fearless one") on December 16, 2012. Singh and a friend had been out at the movies before hopping on a bus. There, six men, including the bus driver, beat Singh's friend before sadistically raping and torturing her for nearly an hour. After the attack, the men dumped the battered pair on the side of the road to fend for themselves.
The seven-part series, directed by Richie Mehta, follows the horrific aftermath of the assault and Singh's subsequent death through the eyes of a team of South Delhi police officers led by Deputy Commissioner of Police Vartika Chaturvedi (Shefali Shah). In the show, Chaturvedi is depicted as a strong, independent, and diligent officer who stops at nothing to get justice for Singh. But how much of the character was based on reality? A lot, according to Shah.
In an interview with Scroll.in, Shah confirmed that her character was largely modeled after former Deputy Commissioner of Police Chhaya Sharma, whom she consulted with on the role.
"It was so enriching for me to meet someone like her. She was someone who chose to fight for Nirbhaya and all the women," Shah said. "I had the honor of interacting with her, understanding how [the investigative process] works and what was going on in her mind. All of that went into creating Vartika. I then added my interpretation to it."
Shah added that it was important to her to portray Chaturvedi and, in turn, Sharma, as realistically as possible. "It's commendable how they handled [the case]. How inspiring is that," she added. "So if I could stand in those shoes, I find myself lucky."
Sharma and her team were responsible for catching the six rapists and putting them behind bars. Their work helped the criminal justice system fast-track the case and sentence four of the men to death. (One of the men died by suicide and the other, a minor, was sentenced to three years at a reform house by the Juvenile Justice Board.) The Supreme Court upheld the death penalty sentence in 2017 and refused to grant the men clemency in 2018. Sharma celebrated the hearing during an on-camera interview with Times Now.
"It was a great team effort that we all put in at that point in time, and every judicial scrutiny that this case went through, we were credited with a good investigation," she said. "In fact, last time we got comments from the Supreme Court, which were encouraging. In one sense, yes, we feel that all our hard work has paid off, and the team's efforts have paid off."
During the interview, Sharma also recalled that it was always important to her to vindicate Singh, whom she said "was a very brave girl."
Officials ordered Sharma's transfer from South Delhi to Mizoram just four months after Singh's horrendous rape and murder. The decision, according to The Daily Mail, seemed to have stemmed from public outrage that the case hadn't moved quickly enough.
Despite the transfer, Sharma spoke fondly of her time in South Delhi and about being a woman in law enforcement to the Millennium Post. "Each moment of pain and pleasure is cherished, close to my heart, as all my work was done passionately," she said.
She also called the Nirbhaya case the "most satisfying work of my career."
If you have experienced sexual violence and are in need of crisis support, please call the RAINN Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).