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RD Sir Podcast edited audio

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In this podcast episode, the hosts interview Dr. Rahul Das, a former crime journalist who is now a professor. Dr. Das shares his experiences covering major crimes in India, including the Tandoor murder case, the Lajpat Nagar terror attack, the Nithari case, and the Delhi gang-rape case. He discusses the challenges faced by crime journalists and the importance of addressing violence against women. Dr. Das also comments on the punishment given to the perpetrators and suggests considering changes in the law for heinous crimes committed by minors. He expresses his belief that law enforcement agencies are doing their best to seek justice for victims. Hi guys, welcome to a new episode of the Mahindra University podcast club. I'm your host Mihika with my partner in crime Vinothna and today we will be delving into the dark corners of the criminal world. The life of a crime journalist is not easy. The profession is filled with tension, adrenaline and the pursuit of truth in the face of danger. Today with us we have the very revered and acclaimed Dr. Rahul Das who has been a crime journalist. Currently he is a professor at Mahindra University. Welcome sir. I still remember the day when he entered the class with the brightest smile and loudest voice and the way he began with the interaction with each and every student. I can't even begin with his work, the way he, he just is so good at it. Oh my god. Okay, we get it. He's quite a favorite. But sir, why don't you tell us more about your journey. How did you even end up being a crime journalist? Yeah, so thank you at the outset to Mihika and Vinothna for this wonderful podcast and also to the backroom people. They're doing an excellent job here. So I did my graduation in journalism from Delhi University. Having done that, I was just 20 when I started working full time. I joined Eveninga, which is a kind of a newspaper which is run on the basis of the crime stories. Those days, crime was a big seller and it continues to be so even today. This is the most important part that we need to understand. And what we realize is this. The year was 1994. So we are in 2024. It's been 30 years now. The first case which I majorly remember is the year 1995. I was a young crime reporter at that time. The Tandoor murder case took place. There's a young politician who's alleged to have killed his wife and chopped off her body and stuffed it into a tandoor at a hotel. Two patrolling policemen noticed that and they decided that something was wrong because the tandoor was still on at an odd hour at night. They were alerted and ultimately the manager at the hotel was arrested. A little later, the man who had committed the crime, he had fled but he later was also arrested. It was a long case. There was a second autopsy also because the first autopsy showed that she probably died of asphyxiation. I don't remember the exact detail. But the second autopsy of course showed that she was shot twice. One in the head and the other in the neck. So we realized that the crime story was pretty big and it was a major sensational crime. A year later, still in the 90s, in the year 1996, there was a major terror attack in Lajpat Nagar. It's a bustling area in Delhi. There, 13 people were killed if I remember correctly. So I remember that day because it was just ahead of my master's exam. And me being me, I had thought I'll prepare in the last minute. However, that did not happen. Unfortunately, I got very busy with tracking the bomb blast and what had happened there. The mangled remains, I still vividly remember the Delhi police were tracking. And ultimately, of course, they tracked it down to some Kashmiri terror organization. So all in all, the 90s was like that. Then we moved on to the year 2006. That's the time when in Noida, which is abutting Delhi, it's a township in Uttar Pradesh, the Nitari case took place. It's a small, it's an urban village in Noida. There, for two years, parents have been saying that their daughters are missing, we cannot find them. But the police have not taken action. Ultimately, two of the fathers, they reached out to an RWA president and I remember talking to him. So then they said that we know where the remains are. So they went there and they realized that there were some remains in an area. The police got into action. Then, you know, after two years of waiting, it was unfortunate that that happened. So ultimately, the story unraveled that there is this house, there's a flat, a house, it's a big house in Noida, in Nitari, and the servant perhaps was involved. There were allegations against the house owner, which ultimately could not be proved. He was arrested at some one point of time. It could not be proved. The skeletal remains were brought out and it was very stark and brutal. And you cannot believe, you know, of children. At one estimate, at least a dozen young girls had gone missing, you know, and their body parts were disposed of in the drains and so on and so forth. So that was quite dramatic. Two years after that, in the year 2008, a short distance away from Nitari, there is a gated community where there is a young girl called Arushi. She was found dead by her parents in a room and it was a bit of a whodunit because nobody knew exactly what had happened. Then there was, you know, for two days there was an allegation that Hemraj, the servant, had killed this girl. But after two days, the body was, Hemraj's own body was found on the terrace. So I remember because by that time when Hemraj's body was found, the final rites of Arushi had already been done. So the parents were taking the ashes, you know, for the final rites. And then they had to call back because the body had been found. So the mother stayed back in the car because it is not proper to carry back the ashes back into the house. But the father went in. He found it difficult to identify because the heap the body had putrified. So it was quite difficult, you know. But the end result was this that there were some allegations of the parents. Then there was a theory by another CBI team saying that maybe there were three people who were involved in this attack and they had killed this girl and they had also killed Hemraj, the servant. Thereafter, the theory went back to the involvement of the parents. Ultimately the parents were arrested and they were sent to prison. But they were out later on because the evidence was not that strong. Then from 2008 if you move four years down the line, in 2012 there is the Delhi gang-rape, you know, of this young woman whom we called Nirbhaya. And there is a reason why I am taking this particular crime incident and bringing it to focus. Because it was brutal. It was savage what happened to her. She and her friend had got on to a bus and they were going home. But the bus, you know, they got into argument and finally the young woman was sexually assaulted brutally. And, you know, it was a very serious case. And then later on they were thrown off the bus, both of them. She was in a terrible physical state. She was rushed to a hospital. And then despite the best efforts she could not be saved, you know. The reason why I am bringing this particular 2012 Delhi gang-rape into focus is because it brought together the civil society. There were lots of protest marches in Delhi at India Gate which is at the heart of Delhi. And the people were aghast with what had happened. You know, it put a huge question mark on violence against women. And it also showed that, and it also brought into focus that safety of women needed to be addressed, you know. The good part is, I don't know whether to call it good or not, the Delhi police was quite efficient. I mean, they tracked down, they perpetrated the crime, they were very quick in fact. They realized that based on the evidence given by the young man who was with the woman, they had some idea of the bus. And then they knew who was the driver, they got hold of the driver, some of them had fled, but they managed to get hold of them. So, in total there were six people. One of whom was a minor. So, the rest five, then they were jailed, they were sent to Tihar jail. Of them, the one man, I think his name is Ram Singh, he committed suicide. Or he was killed, whatever happens, he died in prison. The other four, so, eight years after this whole brutal incident, he was, they were hanged. They were hanged for their crime. So, that was the reason why, in this particular case, it culminated in the hanging of the perpetrators. The boy who was involved, nothing because he was in the juvenile justice act, comes into effect and so on and so forth. The other point, why I took all these crime incidents, because all of them, all of them led to movies or web series. And that was the take-off, right? Yeah. So, this would be. I mean, like, for the 2012 was Gangreve case, the minor, like, he was just a year younger, he was 17. That's right. I mean, I really don't think if he had the mental, like, the capacity to do that crime. Yeah. Just because of that age, just setting him free, and the others were hanged. Like, do you think, is that fair? Yeah, so, there are two things there. One, I feel very strongly that even though he was a year shy of being called a major, the punishment against him should have been much stronger. That's my personal opinion. However, a law is law. And we need to respect that. And this is something with the policy makers and the legislative, as in, the parliament needs to decide whether for such kind of heinous crimes, there can be considered, you know, maybe lowering the age, so that they can be dealt as a delt. So, here, law is one thing, and policy making is another thing. So, we need to, you know, bridge that gap, perhaps. Yeah. Sir, so, I am sure there are many cases as such, like Narendra and all. Yeah. So, in the recent times, there are many too. So, what do you think about the action which the law is taking right now? So, like, do you think they are doing justice to the people who are the victims? Yeah. So, law, as they say, is blind. As in, it only accepts evidence. And justice, yes, it certainly does. And I would not run down the police or the CBI and so on and so forth, the law enforcement agencies. Their job is quite tough. It is not easy at all. And they get bombarded by pressure from all sides. However, let me put it this way, many of these officers I have known, some of them I have known personally, and they are quite good. And they understand. And they deal with the pressure in the best way possible. And they are well-intentioned. They want to get to the bottom of it. And they are very keen that justice is done. Sometimes they are unable to gather evidence. And it is not in their hands. However, in the last 20-30 years, scientific improvement has improved the evidence gathering. So, that has been a marked improvement. And that has led to better justice, you know, for the victims. So, that's where it's at right now. No, like, even for the Nirbhaya case, justice was served recently. The case is like, it has been quite a while. So, this delay happens at what point? Like, we knew who the accused were. The case was going on. Why did it get delayed? It is not exactly delayed. Let me explain to you the process. Then you will better understand it. So, there is a trial process, right? Everybody is given an opportunity to defend themselves, right? Now, even if there is fast track court, it still takes time. And there is a judge who has to sit and decide and take a call. And again, evidence comes into play, right? Sometimes the evidence is available, but partially it is available. And it is not enough. So, you have to give the benefit of doubt, correct? Now, once a decision is taken by a lower judge, it goes to a higher judge, as in the high court. It might move, the case might move there. So, again, the process is followed. Then it goes to the Supreme Court. So, we have a process in place. So that, you know why this process is there? So that no innocent person gets, you know, wrongly accused, you know. So, everybody gets an opportunity. And you must have realized that the Supreme Court sometimes turns down what the high court has even decided. Because in the wisdom they realize that maybe there is something not right. We may not agree with it. But they are learned people. And I respect the judiciary for what they are, who they are. And they are quite capable people. Right? I mean, to describe these cases, spine chilling to say the least. Yeah. So, sir, you have seen these criminals up close. Yes. How would you describe their behavior? Okay. So, this is a very interesting question that you pose to me. Because I have had the opportunity to look at criminals, even those who have been involved in heinous crimes up close, when they are produced in court and so on and so forth. So, when you look at them, they are like any other ordinary person. And that's the trouble. Only when you start reading about the and looking at the case file and the chart sheet, then you realize what all is the deviousness of the mind. And that's where it comes into play. So, it's very ordinary. Right? And suddenly you realize that, oh my God, what did they do and why did they do it. And that's how you understand that it is not written on somebody that you are a criminal minded or something. They may be regular people. But again, let me do a bifurcation. One is the violence involved. Right? The other are scamsters. So, scamsters, you will find them very smooth talking. Very good. I mean, you will be mighty impressed with what they are saying. But they are criminals. 100% criminals. They are out to get your money. That is why you should be doubly careful. So, when I have seen all these people, I realized that those who are smooth talking, you know, they are far more dangerous. Because you do not know what they are going to do. Unlike the more rustic kind of people and, you know, you suspect maybe he could have, you know. Right? So, that's where it starts. No, so, like, is there an ounce of guilt or they are like, yeah, I did it and they are okay with it. Like, loosely. In some of them I have felt that they had guilt, you know, what they did because they didn't realize the consequences of their action and they also did not realize that they are going to be caught by the police. In some I felt that they did not feel that they have done anything wrong and they are quite fine in fact being in prison also. And when they are, you know, when you go to court, you realize that there is always a police constable who is holding the hand of the accused and being walked to the courtroom. When we get little opportunity, when they are waiting outside, you get some opportunity to talk to them. Some of them just smile and they are not really bothered with what's happening. So, it's shocking in fact. Initially it was more shocking for me because I was still in my early 20s. After some time you really are not too bothered about that. But initially, yes, I was slightly taken aback by that kind of, you know, nature, yes. Sir, so, I am sure you are surrounded with so much negativity while dealing with all this talking and cases. Correct, right. So, how did you detach yourself from it and did it hold any impact in your mental health ever? So, there are two parts to this question. First, was I able to detach myself? No, not completely. Howsoever good you may become, when you go to a, say, the home of a murder victim and you see those families, you know, the grief and the shock and the anguish and anger, you know, you are a human being after all. It does, you know, it impacts you. But you are a journalist also. So, you are, as a journalist, it should not be impacting you. So, you do your job and you go back home. However, having said that, somehow it keeps on lingering. I will give that example, you know, I will take the example of Arushi and I will take the example of this Nirupaya girl. There were many times we used to have a discussion among ourselves that what was the fault of the girl, you know, Nirupaya? What was the fault of Arushi? We don't know. We don't even know what happened. So, that comes and keeps on happening. And how did I overcome it? You cannot really hopefully overcome that. It becomes a part of you. I will give you a small example. There was a point of time in my career when I was a health reporter. And I am not comfortable, you know, seeing all that in a hospital and all that. I am not very comfortable. But that was my job. I would go to hospitals. I had to go to the mortuary also. And then initially I used to, you know, feel quite a discomfort. But later on you become used to it. By default. I am sure it must be difficult because, you know, we watch these web series based on these cases. Post that we feel so gloomy and depressed. And you have seen these things live. So, I understand. But sir, another thing is that these cases are so controversial. A lot of powerful people are also often involved. Has there ever been a point where they have told you that no, don't report this or any censorship? Or you have a freedom in that aspect that you can report whatever? Yeah. So, there is, largely there was freedom. Let me put it this way. When we were covering it, there was largely freedom. The top editors were quite supportive. But I will tell you one example which I have not cited as of now. So, there was a scam. There was a money scam carried out by a company. And I have come to know about it. So, I wanted to publish a story. So, when you do a story, you have to take the other side of the story. To balance it out. So, that their version is given. Right? Now, when we did that, we realized that in the evening, my editor got a call from them, from the company. But fortunately for me, my editor was very firm. He dealt with it. He said quite truthfully that we have your version also. So, we will publish both sides of the story. Which is a very good way of doing journalism. So, yes, there were attempts. But if you are very clear on what you do and you are being very fair in what you do, then I don't think there is a problem. Largely. So, you are saying that you haven't ever faced any sorts of threats or intimidation from them. And if you did, then how did you even deal with them? So, here, to call it a threat, I am not sure whether I can call it a threat or not. However, there was some concern, you know, raised about the, raised about what we are writing about and all that. But because the stories have been vetted by the senior members of the editorial team and the editor-in-chief was personally involved in the entire process. So, I had the complete backing of these, the top editorial management. Right? So, I never, it never got to me that, but they would let me know. This is what has happened and these are the concerns. And they would ask me if there are concerns, how do we deal with it? How do we respond to that? To which the responses would be given. So, we will factor it into our story itself. Okay, but the story was never compromised. No, it was not. As of now, I do not recall a single story of mine was compromised because of that. Okay. We did go ahead and publish it. That's really a plan. That's a relief actually. Yeah, yeah. But you have to, you have to, let me tell you, you have to be very firm in that. That you are quite clear. Because sometimes the overseers are not to publish a story as much as in, if you don't publish it, you stand to gain. See, if you, the story never appears. So, there is no interjection or a mail saying that this is a problem with the copy. Because the story never appears. Now, unfortunately, that's a possibility that the story has never appeared. In my case, I was quite upfront about it. As I keep on telling you in the class, you maintain transparency, there will be problems. But you will get over it. Okay. So, last year, I am sure you must have heard of this web series called Scope. Yes. It was based on the life of the crime journalist Jigna Gora. Yes. It also gave us a deeper insight of like how this fraternity of crime journalism and journalists, how does it even work? Yes. So, how did you like the web series? Did you watch it? Yeah. So, I think, not just Scope, the other web series and movies that take off from the real-life time incidents are quite watchable. One, because they are based on crime. And crime is a major draw for readers and viewers both. Yes. Let us understand that, right? Now, once we have understood that, the second part is that how faithfully it converted the actual reality into a movie form or a web series form. Largely, it was correct. That is my understanding. Largely, it was correct and it was quite well done, in fact. Some of them are quite slick, the way they are done. Another one which I remember is a movie called Kalwaar, I think. Yeah. It was in the RTE. Yeah. So, it was Irfan… Irfan Khan played the CBI officer. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Great acting from him and Irfan Khan, I really admire him for his acting ability. He is a great actor. So, and it was very sensitively handled. It was not brash or anything. It was quite sensitively handled. So, when you look at these cases and the way the cinematographers and the film producers or the actors have worked on it, it is very heartening. Sometimes, they take creative liberties. I thank you. Those are okay because that is part and parcel of the entertainment sector. But on the whole, yes, I remember Spook and I have seen that myself and I think it largely follows what happened to Digna Ward. And my sympathies are there with her, of course. Yeah, yeah. I mean, she recently participated in Big Boss also. Yes, yes. So, that case again, because of the series only, it came in light again. Yeah, yeah. So, yeah. So, I admire her for what she did. Yeah, yeah. So, we know how in the whole series, they show that journalists are very cold or like show that they are really rivalry to get that scoop. So, do you think journalists in real are also like that? Yes and no. Yes, because every journalist survives on the scoop that they are able to produce, right? Because the editors expect scoops. And scoops are what the readers and the viewers want, right? So, there is constant pressure to provide scoops. Especially the big scoops, which can be earth shattering in the sense that it will set the day's narrative. So, those are the big scoops, right? I will give you one example. I used to work for the Mid-Day newspaper and I came to know that the Pakistan High Commissioner had been transferred out. But I was a rookie crime reporter. You know, I was just a year or two into service and I had no idea about external affairs and all those things. But I came to know through my sources that this is going to happen. So, we published that. And it was a confirmed story from my side. I cross checked and I published it. Interestingly, none of the mainstream papers had it. Nobody had it. So, the next day, this was the lead story of all the major papers because it was a big story. Because Pakistan and India, they have a strong relationship. And this, you know, affects the bilateral ties, why it happened and so on and so forth. So, many of the senior people from other organizations, they got in touch with me. We did not have mobile phones in those days. There was 95, 96, I don't remember correctly. So, they got in touch with me. They wanted to know more. I gave whatever was available to me. And later on, I, of course, my hater, Mr. John Dayal, he was very kind enough to, you know, he was very appreciative and all that. So, sometimes, even though you are a crime reporter, you end up doing stories which are not related to you because you are on the ground. And as one of my chief of bureaus then, and a very senior journalist, Mr. Rizvi used to say, call it harkat mein barkat. So, you keep on moving around, you will get something or the other. So, sometimes, a spook comes to you by default. Even though you are not really looking for it, it just walks into your hand and… So, you cover it. Yeah, you cover it. And I covered it and was mighty happy about it. So, it was a leaf story in my newspaper and next day morning, I realized that this will be everywhere. Yeah, yeah, go ahead. So, I mean, you are friends, otherwise, like when the journalist… Yeah, yeah, yeah. So, like crime reporters, there is a very tight knit group. We are friends otherwise. How does it work? I will tell you a little incident. So, there is a… So, you cannot be everywhere, right? And Delhi is a big, big, big area to cover. So, you have friends, right? And somebody will come to know about some incident, right? So, you cannot be there at the same time in two places. So, you are somewhere else. You reach out to them and they will share with you the details, which is truth. There is no problem with that. There is absolute honesty. However, if there is a spook, you keep that to yourself. Let me share. This is what it is. And you share it with others also. Whosoever calls you, you are very honest about it. In fact, I will tell you, when I was working with Midday, there was a rival paper called Evening News. And you will not believe this. We are rivals. But they will just call us. RD, mereko batao. And I will tell them that this is what has happened. These are the details of the case and so and so. However, we will not share spooks. Spook has to go as a spook. And we carry the violence. So, there is a respect for that. They respect that. I mean, you have your own sources also. Of course. Of course. It is quite thrilling. The sources can be tough to make. But once you have developed the faith of an officer, he or she will continue to provide you stories. Whatever they say. But the first time, it is quite challenging. Later on, it works well. It works both sides also. Sometimes the plants show you also. Yeah, yeah. So, they just want to test the waters. So, you have to be very careful. So, everything that comes your way, you must not accept it in brutality. You take it with a pinch of salt. Yeah. Yeah. You do your own due diligence and that's how it works. So, my final question to you. So, you said it was so thrilling and you have spoken about all these cases so enthusiastically. Yes. Anything you miss about those days? Two things I miss about those days. First is the energy on the field. That is riveting actually. You know, you are always on the toes and you want to go ahead and do stuff which is going to hit the headlines tomorrow. So, there is a certain energy on the ground which cannot be replicated. The second thing which I miss is that, you know, whenever you do a great story, there is an adrenaline rush. For every scoop you feel, I have done it boss and tomorrow the world will read about it or the world will see it depending on what platform you have chosen. And then, of course, when you see a byline in print or when you speak out on a television or digital platform, that matters. So, I keep on telling people, the byline has to be earned. It must not be diluted by doing regular stories. You should work on it. And so that whenever people read your byline, they feel that, wow, I am reading Meeka's story or Vimutana's story. I am sure there is something quite interesting in the following pages or in the rest of the program. So, build your byline. Build your name. You know, that is frightfully important. So, this leads me to a curiosity that what made you jump from the whole crime journalist career to a professor at Mahindra University? Yeah. So, when you are a crime journalist, it is the initial phase of your career. Right? It is not the rest of your career. There are lots of other exciting things in journalism which you continue to do. As a reporter, you are on the field and there are human interest stories to be done, political stories to be done, legislative stories and so on and so forth. Then at some stage you evolve further. And you take on maybe a desk job or become an editor and so on and so forth. Editor as in, not the editor-in-chief, but editor as in an assistant editor or assistant editor or senior editor who looks after the overall flow of a copy. So, there is a transition in that. Some people continue to stick as reporters and they join the bureau then. And then they of course go on to head media establishments. But in my case, I made a switch from, for about 14-15 years I was a reporter full-time. And then I joined the desk at a place called IANS, the Indo-Asian News Service. And thereafter, I decided that after about 25 years of service as a full-time journalist, I decided that it is now perhaps time for me to share what I have learned, what I have gleaned from the ground with the younger generation of students and so on and so forth. That's why I moved from there to, previously I was working at Benedict University and then last year I joined. So, it's been 30 years now as a full-time professional. Full 30 years. I mean this, 1994 I started and this is 2024. Full 30 years as a professional. 30 years, long time. Yeah. Indeed it is so. So, I think with this we conclude today's episode. Thank you. Thank you so much sir for being with us and talking with us. It was so much fun. Yeah. And giving us a glimpse of the criminal journalist world. Yeah. Yeah. So, that's it from our side guys. If you want to watch anything else, do give us that recommendation and we might just feature your chosen guests in our next podcast. For further episodes, do watch out this space. As of now, this is us. Signing off.

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