The Desi Crime Podcast: Unveiling South Asia’s Dark Secrets with Aishwarya and Aryaan

Hosted by Aishwarya Singh and Aryaan Misra, The Desi Crime Podcast delves into the most gripping true crime stories from South Asia and its diaspora. Aishwarya, originally from India, has traveled extensively and settled in the USA in 2019. Her passion for true crime and love for storytelling found a perfect outlet in this podcast. Aryaan, embodying a blend of gym-bro enthusiasm and poetic sensitivity, co-hosts the show, driven by a shared interest in crime and narrative.

The podcast was born out of Aishwarya and Aryaan’s realization of a void in the true crime genre within the South Asian context. During their college days in Michigan, they noted the lack of such content and decided to fill the gap, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic brought them back to India with ample time to pursue this passion.

With a meticulous research process, the hosts ensure that each episode is well-documented, empathetic, and engaging. They aim to raise awareness about crime issues while highlighting the cultural context of each story. The podcast’s future looks bright with plans to expand into video content and potential collaborations with OTT platforms for more extensive storytelling projects.

Question 1: What inspired you to launch The Desi Crime Podcasts?

Answer 1: What inspired the launch of the Desi Crime Podcast was the coming together of many coincidental factors. One of them was that I, Aishwarya, have always been a huge true crime fanatic. I witnessed firsthand the boom in the West of true crime podcasts, podcasts in general, and investigative podcasts. From that boom, I found content that I personally consumed on a daily basis. So, when Aaryan and I were just two broke college students in the middle of nowhere in Michigan, USA, I would constantly pester Aaryan to listen to some of my favorite podcasts. “Why don’t you listen to any podcasts from India?” There was a split-second silence between the two of us. We spent the rest of the night doing our own research and realized that there were none in the genre of true crime coming out of India or South Asia at large. That’s where we identified this void in the market for a country that has historically loved true crime, whether it be Crime Patrol, Saavdhan India. We’ve always loved the genre, yet in the podcasting space, there was nothing offering that content to people. Shortly after that, COVID hit, college shut down, and we went back to India with nothing to do. That’s when we started the Desi Crime Podcast. It was the perfect coming together of my passion for true crime, Indian stories that needed to be told, and Aaryan and my collective passion for storytelling and debating, having been debaters and orators back in high school.

Question 2: Could you please provide some insight into your research process for each episode? How do you choose the stories to cover?

Answer: It’s a long process and perhaps the most important part of creating and putting an episode out there because that’s really the part where we can truly do justice to the victim’s story is in the research. We are very particular about the kind of sources we use, obviously first looking for primary sources, then for secondary ones. Those could be in the form of a book written by someone associated with the case, firsthand interviews online, of course. It could be in the form of research conducted by professors related to a case. For example, the Nepalese Royal Family Massacre had a very influential professor in London who had done a huge research paper on it, which was deeply helpful. All of these sources are very important. Court documents, although rarer to find in India and not as easily accessible, are very important when we do find them. When that doesn’t work, we see if we can reach out to people associated with the case, whether it be a police officer, a victim’s family member, or the victim themselves. We can see if we can find their social media platforms, their email IDs, and reach out to them for the purpose of our research. The research takes a long time. It’s anywhere from a five to seven-day process for any individual case because we try to do a thorough job with the facts.

Unfortunately, in India, even news channels will differ in terms of the facts that they give us and the narrative they weave. So it’s important to get in touch with these primary sources and be able to tell that story properly. How we choose to cover certain stories over others, any individual case needs to meet a certain number of criteria. One of them is that it needs to be South Asian in nature. That could be based out of South Asia or the South Asian diaspora outside of South Asia settled in the West.

These cases need to have a story to tell, which is an unfortunate reality that at the end of the day, these stories need to be entertaining because if you want to do service to the victim’s story, the story needs to reach a larger audience, and to reach a larger audience, it needs to be engaging enough. There needs to be a story to tell in any case that can be weaved into a very interesting narrative for any individual episode. Then we try to play around with which South Asian country we’re covering just so we can have a healthy mix of the area that we’re trying to represent. We try to make sure that we cover different kinds of crimes. So not just sticking to the quintessential serial killer, but talking about financial crime, dating app crime that’s more and more common now, honor killing, crimes related to ragging, and disappearances. We try to have a mix of different genres of crime when we pick a story.

Question 3: Have you ever come across any unexpected or particularly difficult aspects while researching or recording an episode? How did you navigate them?

Answer: An unexpected or difficult problem that we’ve run into while researching an episode has always been the dearth of information regarding cases. In India and South Asia at large, unlike in the West, we don’t have proper online databases that put together comprehensive information on a case. We don’t have access to public records properly. It’s incredibly hard, pretty much impossible for 97 percent of the cases, I would say, to find the FIR report or a court document of the final verdict. It’s very, very hard for cases, even though it may be a very prominent case, if it’s just a little bit old, you’ll have a really hard time finding those primary source documents. That’s always a huge pain because without those, you’re relying on journalistic fervor and rigor at the time of the crime taking place. As we know, journalistic rigor ebbs and flows based on how much limelight a crime gets. So back in the 1970s, a case may not have made waves the way it then went on to after a movie was made or whatever. Sources from the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s are incredibly hard to reach. If India is tough, countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal are also incredibly hard to find proper documented databases with resources online to do proper research for these cases.

Question 4: How do you maintain empathy and humanity for the perpetrators, despite the heinous nature of their crimes?

Answer: One of the byproducts of covering over 120 true crime cases over the last four years is that we’ve been forced to dive deep into the brain of the criminal. When you dive deep into the brain of the criminal, you realize they weren’t born criminals. Criminality is something they have acquired over the years as human beings. These weren’t kids that were always destined to be criminals. There were things that happened in their past that made them who they are now. You realize that evil is not something that is innate to humanity, but evil is something that is cultured. Evil is something that is developed as the person grows up. You can empathize with them more because you can then see that the criminal was either subject to sexual assault, a horrible childhood, or poverty, none of which justifies the criminal’s actions, but merely explains it. One of the things that we at Desi Crime are very explicit about maintaining is that justification is not the same as explanation, and there’s a key difference that sometimes people miss. So, despite the heinous crimes that certain perpetrators commit, it is our responsibility to tell those stories in as honest a light as we can without trying to villainize the villain more than they already have been.

Question 5: How do you hope The Desi Crime Podcasts will affect your listeners’ awareness of crime issues and understanding of the cultural context?

Answer: The first impact that we at Desi Crime are mindful of is the impact on the victim and the victim’s family. When we covered cases like the Uphaar fire tragedy or the Yvonne Johnson case in Sri Lanka, family members of the victims reached out to us, thanking and appreciating the coverage we did. It’s because we ensure that we are mainstreaming the narrative of the victim before anybody else’s, before the clicks, before any other priority. That’s the first layer of impact that we’re mindful of. The second is the awareness that is raised within our listener group. Crimes in the Indian subcontinent and South Asia are so different from those in the West because they are undergirded by some kind of social evil or social phenomena. My hope for Desi Crime is to treat it as a way to spread social messaging regarding these crimes and social evils without lecturing the audience. Now, I’ll give you a small example. Nobody would like to be lectured about honor killings and female violence. That lecture would be boring, and nobody would tune into it. But if I pick a crime case of an honor killing, say Qandeel Baloch or the Kohistan case—cases that we’ve covered on our show before—if I pick one story and through that story, I tell the story of what honor killings are, what female violence in Pakistan looks like, what female violence in rural India looks like, then people will tune in for the story and go back with the social messaging. That’s how we hope to treat Desi Crime.

Question 6: How do you see the future of The Desi Crime Podcasts? Are there any plans to expand the podcast or take it in new directions?

Answer: The advent of podcasting in India last year saw the rise of interview-style podcasts, you know, bros talking about how to make your biceps bigger and how to get more productive, really rummage through the internet. That forced us to pivot our strategy from an audio-only podcast to an audio and video podcast. One of the priorities going forward is to have video be a big component of what we do. Our YouTube is a rapidly growing medium as well, about to touch 100K subscribers, and our videos are at 250K views.

That’s because India, as much as I would hate to accept it, is a video-first economy. Unlike the West, where audio podcasts are multi-million dollar industries, in India, audio podcasting doesn’t cut it. You need to have the video element.

Another venture we are looking at is working with OTT platforms and developing these episodes that we’ve already covered into bigger, more ambitious OTT projects like feature films and web series.So that’s the direction I see for Desi Studios and Desi Crime in the next couple of years.

 

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