The officer who led the crusade to seize the perpetrators in the infamous Nirbhaya gang-rape case, Chhaya Sharma spent a large part of her career being invisible from the media glare. For two decades now Sharma has served in various crime-ridden jurisdictions and her responses show the kind of humility and modesty she emulates. It was only because of the way Sharma, the former Deputy Commissioner of Police (South), handled the gang rape case that the parents of the victim could hope to get justice, now that the convicts are behind bars. However, when she joined the service, not many women were a part of it and not many girls were even encouraged to harbour the dream that she managed to achieve. She is currently serving as the Director Inspector General (DIG) of National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) In this interview, she bares it all about her thoughts on various issues, the journey so far and the case that made global headlines.
When was the first time you decided to become an IPS officer and sit for the exam?
I started preparing for the IPS exam in 1996 and gave two attempts in 1997 and 1998. I cleared the 1998 attempt and joined IPS in 1999. My father was the main inspiration for me to take the UPSE exam and become a civil servant to serve the society and the nation.
How challenging is the training program and is it different for men and women?
The training for an IPS officer is equally challenging for both men and women as both are put to strict physical training and are skilled in law, forensic sciences, criminology, and other skills like swimming, shooting, parade, rock climbing, etc. Both genders face the same training so practically there is no difference.
I feel that as a woman, someone’s daughter and someone’s mother, I needed to catch the culprits before they disappeared into oblivion. It was a huge responsibility as they needed to be found as if a needle from a haystack and in a time-bound manner which was tight.
You have cracked one of the most-talked-about cases in recent history, what does this mean to you?
When I cracked the case it was more about getting justice for the victim and her parents and as a matter of habit, I worked diligently on the case. However, I feel that as a woman, someone’s daughter and someone’s mother, I needed to catch the culprits before they disappeared into oblivion. It was a huge responsibility as they needed to be found as if a needle from a haystack and in a time-bound manner which was tight.
I worked intensively with all my teams to not only crack it, as it was a blind case, wherein perpetrators and victims were unknown to each other, but the initial golden hours were very critical to trace the accused and keep the team motivated throughout the manhunt.
What are your thoughts on police officers being criticized for corruption widely? How much of that is true?
There are some black sheep in every department but that cannot be the criteria for being judgmental about the entire force. Many of us do our duties diligently and sincerely for the sake of helping the public in need or victims of crime without any expectation from them. Such a dedicated lot must be encouraged and if the public judges them like the black sheep, it also hurts their morale.
Did media recognition change your outlook towards your work in any way?
No, my interaction with media was only for a professional purpose. It cannot be a motivating or inspiring thing for me. Many times, the contentment and inspiration come from bringing relief to the victim/their families. Over a span of almost 20 years, my attitude to work has been defined by the spirit of public service, nothing more.
What has been your mantra over the years doing the kind of work that you do, dealing with all kinds of criminals?
Be a good and empathetic listener to the victim/victim’s family. Be strict, yet sensitive with the staff you're dealing with. Be strictly professional when making tough calls and stricter for due process of law despite the difficulty in my ways. Lead by personal example and show of courage in difficult times.
What is your perspective on the death penalty as a punishment for rapists?
Personally, I feel capital punishment must be given for rarest of rare cases. It should be an exemplary punishment and to exhibit the state's response to rapists. However, the final call lies with the Hon’ble Supreme Court.
How did you perceive the job of an IPS officer when you were training for it and was it accurate after you joined?
I just loved wearing my khaki uniform, so the pride and discipline it evoked in me was an exceptional feeling while I was undergoing my training.
My opinion about it changed during training as I realized that it’s not like what they show in films but more starkly real that day in and day out a police officer faces challenges and sees the underbelly of the society like no ordinary citizen does. So as a working police officer one needs to be more humble, sensitive, smart and empathetic than the perception of a tough police officer anyone carries. Tough experiences in police made me more tenacious and focused and I've learned that the victim should always be the main character of your story - rest is all incidental.
Personally, I feel capital punishment must be given for rarest of rare cases. It should be an exemplary punishment and to exhibit the state's response to rapists. However, the final call lies with the Hon’ble Supreme Court
How has your family dealt with your job when you have to be out at odd timings and do they feel scared for your safety?
They are very bold too. My upbringing has been that of a tomboy and my father used to say “peet ke aana par ansoo le kar mat aana”. I was trained in martial arts too at school level and was very outgoing.
My husband is also a very bold police officer and has always supported and encouraged me in my endeavours. He understands my roles, responsibilities well so it’s very encouraging for me.
I have always had a good set of staff support who have always been loyal and protective so it gives me and my family more strength.
Do you think Delhi deserves the title of rape capital in India or is it that because reportage of crime is maximum here, and the city is bearing the brunt of it?
No. More than 80 percent of rapes are by acquaintances or known people. Reporting is free and has risen up after 2012. Most cases are quickly solved by Delhi Police which is one of the most outstandingly professional forces to work in.
How have you dealt with sexism in your service?
Work harder and this becomes a non-issue for self and others. Those having a biased view should be proved wrong again and again by showing guts and professionalism. For that, I never had to emulate machoism to show my strength. Inner steel is more important and women have lots of it.
Supportive family and husband ensure a balanced Emotional Quotient for me, so it is easier to handle such issues which soon become a non-issue.