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“People Ask Me How I Sleep At Night After Talking About Murder & Rape Every Day”

  • IWB Post
  •  June 18, 2019

“Don’t go out after sunset, it’s not safe for a girl.” How many times have you heard this from parents, well-meaning relatives, and nosy strangers? And how many times have you wanted to tell them that you can take care of yourself, thank you very much?

As a woman, you’re constantly reminded to avoid danger and stay safe. So what happens when a girl ignores all this advice and intentionally dives into the world of crime on a daily basis as part of her job?

Nitisha Kashyap, 29, started her career covering page 3 parties and Bollywood press conferences. But, much like Konkona Sensharma’s character from the film Page 3, it wasn’t enough for her. Six years later, she is the principal correspondent for CNN News18 and is one of the leading crime reporters in Delhi. But she’s just getting started.

Excerpts from an interview:

Why did you want to cover crime, and how did you get your big break?

I wanted to cover crime because crime and its motive fascinate me. It tells you a lot about society. When I was transferred to Delhi while working for an entertainment supplement of The Times of India, I started writing soft stories about paramilitary forces and the Delhi Police. Then, I got to know about a vacancy in the city team of TOI. The editor sent me to cover a couple of crime stories to see if an entertainment reporter can go to remote areas and get a story from there. I passed the test and started covering crime.

One of my first stories went on the front page – it was a road rage incident from south Delhi, where the Mercedes GM was beaten up so badly that he went into a coma. This story was followed up the next morning by all channels and newspapers. That was exciting and encouraged me to believe that an entertainment reporter can, in fact, cover crime.

Nitisha

How was it moving from a smaller city to Delhi, which is supposed to be super unsafe for women?

I started my career from Bhopal. After a year-and-a-half, I was transferred to Delhi. Two months later, the Nirbhaya gang-rape happened. I was shocked, depressed, and outraged because of the incident. My parents, who were in Mumbai at the time, were never in favour of me shifting to Delhi because Mumbai is supposed to be safer. In the last six years, I have faced two untoward incidents in Delhi – my chain was snatched outside my colony and my house was robbed. Both cases remain unsolved till date.

In the beginning, I used to be scared of going to different areas in Delhi. I would try to reach home by 8pm. I remember crying on an assignment once because I got late and was worried about reaching home safely. I wasn’t aware of Delhi and its roads then. I am geographically sounder now. I know the roads, the crime rates in particular areas, and who to call in case of an emergency. That’s why I am probably more confident now.

Are people surprised when they find out you’re a crime reporter?

Relatives and friends who are not in the media are definitely surprised. Some raise their eyebrows, while some say that “it must be exciting.” Recently, a friend asked me how I am able to sleep at night after talking about the gory details of a murder or rape every single day. That’s a valid question, but I am just doing my job. Some people say, “Sitting with cops every day has changed you. You are blunt and rude.” But that’s not true. Not all cops are like that. Moreover, my bluntness and rudeness could be a defence mechanism that I have adopted to survive the sexism I face.

And, how often do you face sexism within your industry?

This beat is dominated by male reporters. Some are nice and try their best to not make assumptions based on my gender, but I can count them on one hand. Some believe that if you get an exclusive, it’s not the result of your hard work. It’s assumed that because you are a woman, a male officer gave the information ‘just’ to you. Or the female officer was comfortable sharing it with you. Even when we are talking to victims, male colleagues would say that you got it first because you are a female. It’s difficult for them to believe that we can work without their assistance, that too with compassion.

Wow, that’s ridiculous! What has been the high point of your career so far?

Once, while covering a double gang-rape on a highway in Bulandshahr, I did a status check of 100 (the police emergency number) and the women’s helpline. Neither was working. It was my ground report to which the Samajwadi Party (which was the ruling party in UP at the time) spokesperson reacted and promised action. I also got a message from the UP Police, saying that they will have a better system in place. A couple of months later, the UP Police launched their ‘Dial 100’ project. It’s a big hit. My story had an impact, that too for the betterment of the system, and not just for the channel or its TRP.

Nitisha

Have you ever been scared on the job?

When I was working in a newspaper, I once had to interview a man accused of raping a medical student at Khooni Darwaza in Delhi (the 2002 case). He was out on parole. I went to his house but couldn’t meet him that day. It was not the man who scared me, but the locality. The area didn’t come under ‘safe localities’ in the police dictionary either, and I had gone there by myself. I visited the place again in the evening. I was made to sit in a room with the accused, his mother, and three of his friends. It was dark and I was scared. I secretly took their picture and sent it to a friend, saying, “If something happens to me, find them.” I was probably being over-cautious. I interviewed the man and ran to my office. When the district DCP got to know about this, he cautioned me not to go to that area alone and take the beat constable next time. But the story was done and I never went there again.

But how do you prevent yourself from becoming hopeless and cynical after covering crime on a daily basis?

That is difficult. Some cases make me crazy cynical. There have been days when I have dreamt of the case or the victim in my sleep. I try to write about my feelings in my diary because we are not allowed to put our feelings on air or in the newspaper. Sometimes it helps, sometimes it doesn’t.

I remember covering an incident once where a paedophile had sexually assaulted a few girls of a particular area. I met one of those girls. She was traumatised and wasn’t talking to anyone other than her parents. In another rape case, when I met the survivor and her parents, I was told that she had opted to work from home for a few days. She was feeling so unsafe in her own house that she had started locking her room’s door at night, which wasn’t the case before.

How do I stop myself from wanting to kill such criminals? The feeling is instinctive and when you speak to survivors, you feel even more outraged. But we can’t take the law into our own hands. So, I pray for maximum punishment for the criminals and speedy justice for the victims.

This article was first published on January 15, 2018.

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