A Sketchy Business

The trials of drawing suspects for police investigations

01 September 2016
Rajesh Kumar, who earns a living making drawings on commission, has completed eight sketches of suspects for the Delhi police.
shahid tantray for the caravan
Rajesh Kumar, who earns a living making drawings on commission, has completed eight sketches of suspects for the Delhi police.
shahid tantray for the caravan

About two years ago, Rajesh Kumar, a 43-year-old artist who earns a living by making drawings on commission, received a phone call from a Delhi police station. “The police were investigating the rape case of a minor girl and they wanted my help,” he told me last month, when I met him in his tiny studio in Sarojini Nagar. Rajesh sketched as he spoke, putting the finishing touches on a charcoal drawing of Barack Obama. The officer on the phone, he remembered, had “kept on asking me about my experience in the field of sketching, and also said that I will get a prize if they catch the man.”

A few days after that call, Rajesh went to Delhi’s AIIMS hospital. A woman constable accompanied him to a ward where the victim—a ten-year-old girl—was recovering. Rajesh asked the girl about the alleged rapist’s appearance, trying to gather enough detail to sketch his face. “Till the time the lady constable was there, the child did not say much,” he said. But after the constable left the ward, she began to open up. “Whatever she told me, I drew that,” he said. “After every stroke of the pencil, I would show it to her.” He finished the drawing in half an hour.

A month after Rajesh completed the sketch at AIIMS, the police called him again. “They seemed very pleased,” he said. “I was told that the man had been caught, and they will felicitate me.”

Basit Malik is an independent journalist based in Delhi.

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