There is an old saying: “When the big fish fight, the shrimps must lie low.” But with the big fish vanishing, the shrimps are eyeing their roles. That is exactly what is happening among smaller criminal gangs across Karnataka who are vying to capture territories and expand their networks after the dissipation of the earlier well-organised, bigger gangs.
The time through the pandemic has made this all the more evident with the spotlight on rowdies and their activities over the last one-and-a-half years. But these fledgling gangs, each aspiring to be more infamous than the other, are already under the scanner of the police and security apparatus of the state. This has led to a degree of frustration among them, resulting in more brutality while targeting rival gangs to achieve their goals faster.
The September 12 incident in which history-sheeter Aravind was brutally hacked to death, allegedly by his rival gang, inside the Karnataka Football Stadium in Ashok Nagar in Bengaluru is a case in point. So is last month’s brutal lynching of rowdy Mazhar Khan by a group of people from his neighbourhood in DJ Halli police limits. In July, another history-sheeter, Joseph alias Bubli, was hacked to death by a gang of eight inside a bank in Koramangala.
The three murders in broad daylight have put the spotlight on a murky, albeit a fledgling underworld. Within its domain, strife involves desperately seeking the status of capturing the erstwhile lucrative but dangerous markets of once-well-organised underworld gangs that now no longer exist, except in pockets, although without the influence they once exercised. For the police, a fewer wellorganised larger gangs were better to monitor through a network of intelligence sleuths and informers. But a larger number of smaller gangs has made it difficult for the intelligence wing to do so, sources said.
SOCIAL MEDIA AS INFORMER
Social media has come to the rescue of the police. Police officials say small gangs vying for dominance have lost their significance in the face of social media, which has emerged as an important tool for intelligence feeds. “With social media, it has become difficult to crush the voice of innocent people, even those living in remote villages,” says a senior police officer. “People have social media platforms now to raise alarm against criminals.
They post names and photos of criminals on WhatsApp or Facebook to bring their activities to the attention of police. Social media has helped the police keep a check on such antisocial elements.” This is significantly helping intelligence gathering by way of a ready network of “informers”. “Our focus on human intelligence more than depending on tech-based intelligence, which comes to our aid only after a crime is committed, is also a factor that has disabled such smaller gangs from operating effectively,” the official said. As per official statistics for Bengaluru City, in the last one year, around 130 rowdies have been arrested on various charges and remanded to judicial custody.
“As on August 31, we have detained 24 rowdies under the Goonda Act including two habitual offenders who were detained under the Prevention of Illicit Trafficking of Narcotic Drugs & Psychotropic Substances Act as a precautionary measure to maintain law and order,” said Bengaluru Police Commissioner Kamal Pant. In 2020, the city police detained 15 rowdies under the Goonda Act. Also, the Department of Prisons and Correctional Services recently transferred 18 criminals from Parappana Agrahara Central Prison to different prisons across the state based on information that they were involved in criminal activities even while behind bars.
“Till August this year, the city police have booked 3,068 security cases against the accused and taken bonds. Of these, 25 who violated bond conditions have been sent to judicial custody using magisterial powers under Sections 107 and 110 of the CrPC,” said Joint Commissioner (Crime) Sandeep Patil. In 2020, the police booked 1,808 security cases.
Does the increase in number of rowdies reflect their expanding network? The recent spate of murders of rowdies in public places is a pointer to that. Sources say many history-sheeters are out on bail and are back in business. Rowdy Aravind, who was hacked to death in the football stadium, was detained under the Goonda Act, but was let off by the Advisory Board.
THE LOOSE ENDS
Though a record number have been detained under the Goonda Act, some like Aravind have been let out. “Much of rowdy activities were under control during lockdowns, but once restrictions were lifted, criminal activities like gambling and drug peddling have resurfaced.
Most rowdies flourish under political patronage, and also with links with some lower level police personnel. If not transferred in time, the rowdies cultivate links with them. This further gives them the licence to operate without the fear of police,” said a source. Meanwhile, deputy commissioners of police and superintendents of police have been asked to exercise their magisterial powers to take necessary preventive measures and book cases against criminals.
TIGHTENING THE SCREWS
Fledgling gangs are now trying to take on functions of erstwhile organised gangs in Dakshina Kannada who primarily acted as middlemen in financial deals. Then, there are communally motivated gangs settling scores for political and communal murders which occurred in the past and gangs which form the muscle for illegal activities like drug transportation, sand mining, etc.
Mangaluru DCP Hariram Shankar said that earlier, there were organised gangs of Bannanje Raja, Akash Bhavan Sharan, Ravi Pujari, who resorted to extortion from builders, hospitals, etc. “With financial deals going sour, people are now approaching us directly. Organised extortion is no longer reported these days in Mangaluru,” he said. “Earlier ‘Monkeystand’ Vijay, Sorinje Lithesh, Thallath, ‘Don’ Nasir, etc., used to operate in specific areas.
All of them have stopped their open activities, mostly after February this year.” Mangaluru Police Commissioner N Shashi Kumar admits that offences are increasing post-lockdown, but have remained confined to petty crimes. “This year, there were no major incidents, brutal murders or emergence of smaller or bigger groups. There was only one incident of attempt-tomurder in Suratkal this year, but no organised gang was involved,” he says.
LEGACY OF GANG WARS
In Vijayapura district, gang wars have been triggered by disputes between the Byragonda and Chadachan families. The latest was on November 2, 2020, when members of Dharmaraj Mallikarjun Chadachan group attacked history- sheeter Mahadeva Sahukar Byragonda to avenge the murder of Dharmaraj Chadachan, who was reportedly killed in a fake encounter in 2017.
Byragonda survived the attack, but his car driver succumbed to bullet injuries. It was the first big attack in the district in the last four years. The rivalry between the two families dates back to early 1980s. But it has attracted youngsters to hooliganism, and each dreaming of making it big on their own. Among the 30 accused in the Byragonda shootout case reported last year, 95 per cent were below 28 years of age. Vijayapura SP HD Ananda Kumar said, “We are keeping tabs on all the gangs.
To prevent young history-sheeters from indulging in crime, we are imposing various security Acts and producing them before the executive magistrate to make a pledge not to indulge in gang wars.” He says they have tightened norms for gun licensing in the district. “Now, we are considering only genuine applications and issuing licences only after detailed verification.
We are strictly avoiding issuing gun licences to youngsters.” Kumar, however, points out there are chances of poor financial condition of families pushing youngsters to take up illegal routes to make a quick buck.
(With inputs from Bala Chauhan in Bengaluru; Mahesh Goudar in Vijayapura; Prakash Samaga in Udupi; Divya Cutinho in Mangaluru; Udaya Kumar B R in Hassan; Pramodkumar Vaidya in Dharwad; V Velayudham in Kolar and Ramachandra Gunari in Shivamogga)