A Chembur teacher has helped police for 25 years with sketches of accused, including three of the five involved in last week’s gang-rape

In Nitin Yadav’s stash of art supplies is this anomaly: a magnifying glass. It’s always in his bag in case he has to draw a face based on tiny stills from CCTV footage. It was his sketches that helped the police nab three of the five men accused of gang-raping a 22-year-old photojournalist here last week.

The police had called up Mr. Yadav at 2 a.m., asking for help in the case. Initially, his wife hesitated because he had had a harrowing time only two days earlier. He was called to sketch a gun-toting person who had threatened a politician in the area. “It was a high-profile case and slightly scary, which is why I didn’t want him to go,” his wife Vaishali said.

A drawing teacher at the Chembur Education Society, Mr. Yadav has been helping the police for the past 25 years. By now, he has a thick portfolio of sketches of old and recent criminals. He doesn’t quite remember his first assignment but says his sketches have helped to trace at least 150 criminals so far. Once, he sketched a man accused of raping an eight-year-old girl at Chembur, solely based on descriptions given by children.

How does he get it accurate? “When I started, I relied only on descriptions from people. It used to take me two-and-a-half hours to draw a sketch. Now, after all my experience, I have been able to prepare a book of prototypes of heads, noses, hairstyles, chin, forehead and other parts. When people describe others, I ask them to point to an image that is closest to that of the accused,” he explains. Almost nobody can describe eyes, which is why he often fits them in randomly, based on the character that has emerged through the sketch.

Sometimes, his work results in a brush with danger. “I got a call from someone who claimed to be Bharat Nepali’s gang when I was helping the police with the murder of advocate Shahid Azmi. He threatened me with dire consequences if I continued,” he recalls.

Mr. Yadav wanted to join the police force but circumstances veered him to a career in art. “My father encouraged me. He would put all my drawings in a folder and show them proudly to his friends and relatives.” But his father, a mill worker who participated in strikes, didn’t have the means of funding his education. Mr. Yadav turned to painting hoardings, walls of political offices and number plates for rickshaws. When he had enough money, he got himself an Art Teachers Diploma and an Art Masters Degree from J.J. School of Art.

He doesn’t take money from the police. “My salary when I started teaching was Rs.3,200 a month. Now I get Rs.40,000, thanks to the Sixth Pay Commission,” he says. He and his wife take drawing classes at home for Rs.100. Does this job disturb him in any way? “I am not disturbed but I have hundreds of images of criminals ingrained in my mind, and I wonder how people can be so brutal.”