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My Experiments with Violence
After working with the underworld, ‘accidentally’ killing his wife and spending 16 years in prison,
ďBeing arrested was the first step towards my rebirth. wasnít just a soldier in the Singapore armed forces. I was also a foot soldier of Haji Mastanís flourishing smuggling syndicate of í80s. Once a month, I would smuggle gold biscuits, watches and diamonds from Singapore to Delhi by stuffing them inside refrigerators, TV sets and washing machines.
On a muggy afternoon in 1982, when I was in college, I came across Mastanís aides. For a decade, I smuggled for him regularly. With a network across continents, Mastan was indeed the godfather of Indiaís underworld. From Dawood Ibrahim to Chhota Rajan, every gangster worked under him. In mid í80s, I would meet Dawood and Rajan in a Dongri travel agency over a game of carom and drinks. But our interaction was limited.
Eventually, not smuggling but my tumultuous personal life pushed me to the depths of hell. On my fatherís insistence, I got married in Mumbai in 1985 and settled with my wife in Singapore. We had a daughter together. Six years later, my wife disappeared with her paramour and around Rs 2 crore of Mastanís money that I was keeping safe.
I was devastated but Mastan wasnít furious with me. Things go awry, you move on - he told me. Now I look back and laugh, but back then it was a matter of Ďprestigeí. I didnít care much for the money but was keen to avenge the betrayal. We tracked her to Mumbai and I met her at a Kurla hotel. She claimed her lover had cheated her and fled with the booty. I lost my cool. As I was trained in martial arts, I hit her on the neck and it snapped.
I didnít mean to kill her, but she died instantly. I immediately fled to my ancestral home in UP, crossed over to Nepal and was ready to fly away for good. But the flights were cancelled due to bad weather and I returned home. All day, on September 3, 1992, a stinging instinct kept asking me to leave, warning me of imminent danger. But it was as if I was waiting for the worst. In retrospect, I cherish that mistake.
My biggest regret has been the failure to find my daughter. She was two years old when I was jailed. One day, I hope to come across her.
The police swooped in the evening, arrested me and took me back to Mumbai. In a strange way, I felt relieved when I was arrested. I was so depressed that had I not been jailed, I would have slunk into deeper criminal activities.
To everybodyís shock, I accepted my guilt in court. However, my insistence on my act rising out of sudden and grave provocation didnít cut any ice. Both the Sessions and the High Court upheld my life sentence and I spent 16 years in Aurangabad, Nashik, Kolhapur, Arthur Road and Yerawada prisons.
Incarceration opened my eyes like never before. As a foreigner, I was entitled to better food and facilities; and being from the underworld only ensured I had a free run in terms of clothes, privacy and security. As I belonged to the Mastan cadre, I was friends with the Dawood and Rajan factions. Yet I couldnít stand the injustice against fellow prisoners. It unsettled me.
In 2001, I was shifted to Yerawada prison. The following year, I began reading books on Gandhiji. They transformed me. I easily cracked the exam on Gandhi held in the prison (as a part of reformative measures). Lawyer and social activist Asim Sarode, who today vouches for my reformation, then told me that I need not take any exams, but must teach fellow prisoners.
Once he introduced me to the legal woes of inmates, I took up para-legal counseling and began writing pleas for them. Of the 79 defence or relief pleas I made, 69 were accepted by the courts; this encouraged me. In seven years, my efforts somewhere helped 67 people get acquitted or discharged.
Gandhijiís life set me thinking: If one person can bring such a massive change for a country, why canít I make a difference in a prison? The prison authorities had borrowed a leaf out of the British regime. Prisoners had no human rights and the staffís mentality was staunchly anti-prisoners and anti-reform.
As I applied Gandhijiís lessons in jail, the resenting prison authorities began helping me help others. Bapuís most stirring question was - Why are you doing this to me? That was what he asked those men who threw him out of the train in South Africa. That question is relevant for victims of any oppression. That is what kept me going - Why are you taking away whatís mine?
At the turn of the millennium, I began reading the Bible and it influenced me greatly. A pastor, whose views meant a lot to Gandhiji, was his confidante in Africa. In Christianity, I found the concept of self-sacrifice for the sake of the poor. I believe Gandhijiís beliefs were very close to Christianity and hence the combination helped me reform in every manner.
In 2001, a life-altering incident occurred in Kolhapur jail. I tried to intervene in a skirmish amongst a bunch of D-company goons when one of them knifed me in the face. Within seconds, my white kurta was drenched in blood.
That day, for the first time in my life, I didnít fight back. I didnít feel like exacting revenge. I told them ĎForget this happened and I wonít complain against you guys. But remember I didnít hit backí. After this, they couldnít look me in the eye. Days later, I was transferred to Yerawada prison, where I met Sarode and other NGOs.
I walked out a free man on a winter evening in December 2008. My flight to freedom took me by surprise. I had filed a review plea to the High Court, citing how 16 years of prison had reformed me and how I taught computers and English in prison.
Once I stepped out, I cleared my theology exams and became an ordained minister of the protestant church. In one of the church gatherings, I met a social worker and found love again. We got married two years ago. Today, we work towards rehabilitating prisoners by getting them jobs and I run my household by renting vehicles.
When I look back, I realize that albeit through a painstaking path, I had found my destiny. Professionally, I could have done well in the army, but I knew my calling was never to serve people, but to serve people in need. Do I feel repentant for my wrongdoings? Yes.Ē
Source: Mumbai Mirror, dt. 02.10.2011