They can sketch near-perfect portraits of men and women by listening to descriptions or looking at grainy video grabs. Their sketches have helped the Mumbai police nab several criminals and crack high-profile cases. But three leading police sketch artists say when their own lives come under threat from gangsters they had helped arrest — the cops turn a blind eye
Mohammed Siddiq Shaikh works in a textile mill in Mumbai. Nitin Mahadev Yadav teaches in a city school. And Naresh Korde is a priest in a rural temple near Ahmednagar.
What is common between all these men? All three are skilled artists whose brilliant and near-perfect sketches of wanted criminals have helped the city police nab several notorious rapists, murderers, extortionists and robbers over the past 20 years.
The trio has another thing in common — a common fear of impending death and a resultant anger directed at the city’s police force. Their logic is simple: their work helps the police and ensures citizens have less criminals-on-the-loose to worry about.
(Clockwise from top) Naresh Korde, Nitin Mahadev Yadav and Mohammed Siddiq Shaikh say they live in fear of goons who were caught and sent to jail, thanks to their sketches
Yet when angry gang members of relatives of those they have helped nab, come threatening them with dire consequences or even beat them up — the cops turn a blind eye. This is the story of the police sketch artists — unsung heroes who help the city become a safer place but have no one to protect them when revenge comes calling.
In God he trusts: Naresh Korde
A saffron shawl covers his upper body. The rudraksh garland and the red tilak on the forehead suit him too. It is impossible to believe that this man, now known as Maharaj or bua (Pandit in Marathi) in his village near Ahmednagar, was once the best sketch-artist of the Mumbai police, whose brilliant profile sketches of wanted criminals helped cops nab several baddies.
Naresh Korde now works as a temple priest. Pic/ Suresh KK
Shifting base from the city that gave him fame was not easy for 29-year-old Naresh Korde. The money wasn’t that good says Korde, but more importantly working for the police posed a serious threat to his life, forcing him to seek comfort in relative anonymity. His sketches were the reason several notorious murderers, rapists and robbers were identified and arrested by cops.
A sketch, which he had drawn of an accused and the real man
“Many gang members, who landed behind bars due to me, were out to get me. I was scared and ran away. I was depressed after leaving Mumbai. But I didn’t have a choice,” Korde told this correspondent, sitting in front of a temple at Ahmednagar. He now lives here with his wife, two kids and his aged father.
In 2010, Korde received threats from criminals who had earlier landed behind bars, thanks to his sketches and were out on bail. “There was an attempt to kill me on two occasions. Once in the middle of the night while I was walking near Masjid Bunder, someone shot at me.
I heard the sound of the bullet being fired but it missed me. On the second occasion, a bunch of criminals held me at gunpoint inside a local train. I was thrashed and a man placed a revolver on my forehead,” said Korde recalling the horrific incidents. That was the end of his career as a sketch artist, one that started in 1999, when he was just 14.
At an age when most kids are in school, the Ghatkopar police put Korde on the trail of a murderer. His first association with the police was when Korde helped cops by sketching a dead man whose face had been battered. With the help of his sketch the police identified the person and began investigating the case.
Talking about his lost glory, Korde says, “There is not a single blast in Mumbai where the cops have not taken my help. But I realised that my association with them was not worth the risk. I was paid just R500 per sketch and the money always arrived late.”
Now, he has turned to spirituality. “I bought a small piece of land in my village and constructed a temple of lord Shiva. My house is next to it,” he says. And Korde is in no hurry to head back to the police force in search of work either. “I take up whatever comes my way. The rest of the time I devote myself to God. I also spend some quality time with my family. Life is better now,” Korde signs off.
‘Cops mock me’: Nitin Mahadev Yadav
Korde is not the only sketch artist complaining about meagre pay and the lackadaisical attitude of the Mumbai police force.
Nitin Yadav, a schoolteacher, has drawn over 1,200 profile sketches. PIc/ Pradeep Dhivar
“Whenever I have informed cops about a threat call that I have received or a possible attack from a criminal or a gang member, cops have mocked me. Now I am submitting a formal complaint letter to the Kurla police station,” says Nitin Mahadev Yadav, 49, a Kurla-based school teacher whose sketches have helped cops nab many wanted men and women.
“I don’t feel as if I belong to the police force. After working selflessly for them for almost three decades, they should at least give me some security when I need it,” Yadav alleges. The drawing teacher at Chembur Education Society has been working for the force since he was 18 after his father, a mill worker, was rendered jobless.
“One day, I was roped in to make a sketch of a man who had killed his friend inside a hotel room. That was the first sketch I drew for the police. Ever since, cops have knocked on my door in the middle of the night or in the afternoon, seeking my help. I have never refused my services to them.
Even when I was diagnosed with cancer and was undergoing chemotherapy, I drew sketches for the Dadar and RCF police station officers. The only time I was rewarded was when I accurately drew the sketches of the accused in the Shakti Mills rape case last year,” says Yadav, who has drawn over 1,200 profile sketches for 47 police stations in the city.
When contacted, Director General of Maharastra Police, Sanjeev Dayal said, “We take sketch artists on a freelance basis and they are paid as per their job. If they are looking at it for future prospects then there is no such provision in
Nitin Yadav’s landmark sketches
>> Shooter who killed advocate Shahid Azmi in February 2010
>> Rapist who killed an eight year-old girl in Chembur in October 2012. The investigating officer was awarded the President’s Medal.
>> The burglar who raped a Spanish National in Bandra in November 2012
>> The man who threw acid on nursing student Preeti Rathi in May 2013
>> Some of the accused in the Shakti Mills rape case of August 2013
Catch 22: Mohammed Siddiq Shaikh
A textile artist from Sewree, Shaikh has been helping cops for the past 22 years. The only time he was rewarded was in 2013 when the then police commissioner Dr Satyapal Singh congratulated him for his accurate sketches of the Shakti Mills rapists.
Mohammed Siddiq Shaikh has sketched three of the accused in the Shakti Mills rape case. Pic/ Sayed Sameer Abedi
“That was the only time I was financially rewarded for my efforts. There have been instances when the police have not even bothered to give me credit for solving a case. Shouldn’t an officer tell his bosses that a sketch helped him identify and nab a criminal?” he asks.
Shaikh who lives with his wife, two sons and a daughter, pursues sketching as a hobby. He recalls receiving a death threat a decade ago. “I received a phone call and the person on the other end of the line threatened me with dire consequences if I continued helping the cops. I informed the cops and they gave me one constable as a sign of security,” he says.
Unlike his two colleagues though, Shaikh is still hopeful. “Threat is part and parcel of this job, I will have to live with it. But nothing can compete the satisfaction of a case being cracked because of my sketches. In 2006, my sketch helped cops crack the rape case of a six-year-old girl and nab the accused. There was a huge communication gap, as the victim was too young to tell us the exact facial appearance of the culprit.
Also, she couldn’t speak Hindi. Despite this, my sketch was 90 per cent accurate. When the accused was arrested, it was the most remarkable moment of my life. I thanked god for blessing me with this unique skill,” says Shaikh.
Siddiq’s landmark sketches
Solved a Rs 1.50 crore robbery case by sketching the wanted man
Sketched photographs of the accused in the July 2013 Shakti Mills rape case