A decade ago, documentaries were not something that was watched as a source of entertainment by the masses. Netflix cracked the code and converted it into a flourishing market. “Indian Predator: The Diary Of A Serial Killer” once again establishes the fact that, if executed in a proper manner, documentaries can engross you, entertain you, and at the same time invoke some profound thoughts inside you. The documentary was directed by Dheeraj Jindal and written by Sudeep Nigam. The fear I personally have is that a day might arrive when the drama dilutes the intensity. In this documentary, too, there came a time when you almost feel that the makers are trying to sensationalize everything by using suspenseful background scores and taking shots that cinematically deliver the message, but somehow, they are able to maintain the sanctity of the documentary.
“Indian Predator: The Diary Of A Serial,” in a patented Netflix style, describes events and then takes you inside the mind of the perpetrator. It makes you privy to the intricacies of a criminal mind. Then finally, it places several theories and conclusions in front of you. It pretends to not take sides, but very subtly and passively, it points out one theory from the lot, which it wants you to believe, but diplomatically still gives you the opportunity to analyze and make your own decision. So, let’s try to understand the nature of the crime, why it was committed, what the motive behind it was, and whether justice was served or if the serial killer was able to take advantage of the loopholes of the Indian legal system.
Who Is Raja Kolander?
In the year 2000, a journalist by the name of Dheerendra Singh went missing on the 13th of December. He was supposed to reach his village named Bairi that day, which was approximately a 3-hour drive from Prayagraj, where he had moved for work. Back in the village, his brother Veerendra Singh and his wife, Phulan Devi, got worried about him. They waited it out for a couple of days, but they didn’t have a very good feeling about it. Dheerendra was a journalist working for a renowned newspaper called “Aj.” The Kumbh Mela, the largest gathering of humans on the planet, was being organized that year. It became the talk of the town that a journalist had suddenly disappeared, and the police had no clue about what had happened. It didn’t portray a very good image of the city and its authorities. The police were under added pressure to give instant results. They didn’t want the pilgrims to think that a criminal was on the loose. Shri Narayan Tripathi, SHO of Kydganj police station, was immediately put on the matter, and he started his investigation.
The phone records of Dheerendra were taken out to know who he was in contact with before disappearing. In those days, cellular phones were a rarity. Not a lot of people owned mobile phones, and the criminals, too, weren’t aware of the technology and didn’t know how to use it judiciously without being traced. One of the last phone calls made was to a landline number. It belonged to a man named Ram Niranjan, a.k.a. Raja Kolander, whose wife was from the same village as Dheerendra. His wife, Phulan Devi, member of the district council, had picked up the call and told Narayan Tripathi that she lived somewhere near Ramsagar lake. Veerendra went to that address and asked Phulan Devi if her brother had visited them. Veerendra and his whole family knew Phulan Devi from before. Meanwhile, Officer SN Tripathi was standing just outside the village on the street, when he saw a vehicle approaching him. It was the same SUV (Tata Sumo) that Raja Kolander had. The police took him into their custody for further questioning. Kolander’s brother-in-law, named Vakshraj, was also present in the SUV with him. He denied every accusation when asked at first. Vakshraj was wearing a pair of shoes that looked expensive, but he said that they were only for a few hundred bucks. The suspicion of the police officers became even stronger. Around 3 a.m., a couple of hours before dawn, Raja Kolander confessed that he had killed Dheerendra Singh. But the police now needed evidence against the man, because there was always a possibility that he would say the contrary when presented in front of the magistrate or the lower courts. Raja Kolander had a lot of illicit and illegal side businesses. He was scared that Dheerendra, being a journalist, would expose him. He plotted his murder with Vakshraj and shot the journalist point blank at his piggery farm. Raja brutally mutilated the body of Dheerendra and threw different parts in different places. His severed head was found in Bansagar Lake, whereas the other parts were buried a few kilometers before the city of Rewa.
Raja Kolander worked as a grade four employee at the Central Ordnance Depot in Chheoki. His pay and his lifestyle didn’t align. He had a piggery farm and a couple of four-wheelers, which made it very clear that the man was not earning solely from his official job. The police also took his family under their custody. They started torturing them to get information. They were finally able to find the different parts of Dheerendra’s body and also his blood-smeared clothes. Dheerendra Singh’s last rites were done in his village. The journalist fraternity of the city insisted that Dheerendra’s head should be cremated in Prayagraj, as a symbol of protest. Veerendra Singh couldn’t believe that his brother had been murdered and subjected to such a horrifying death. Dheerendra’s wife was pregnant during that time. She also met with an accident and died a few years after her husband was killed. Raja Kolander, on the other hand, quite unabashedly, helped the police in their investigation, as if he had nothing to hide. The police officers went to recover the murder weapon, a country-made pistol, from his piggery farm. Coincidentally, they found a red-colored diary, on which it was written “Raja’s Diary.” They were shocked beyond their wits after seeing what was written in it. There were 14 names that were mentioned there, and the last name was of Dheerendra Singh. The police knew there and then that, accidentally, they had caught a serial killer who had been able to beguile the system and operate from the shadows.
Why Did Raja Kolander Kill 14 People? Did He Practice Cannibalism?
In order to understand Kolander’s motivations and intentions, it is necessary to take a look at the socio-political environment of that time. Kolander belonged to a tribe named Kol. He was seeing that a lot of political parties were now fighting for the rights of castes that were oppressed and didn’t have any sort of representation in the state legislature and the parliament. The Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party were the ones who were trying to trigger a subaltern uprising. Phulan Devi, the infamous bandit queen, was also given a ticket by the Samajwadi party. There was a wave of change and Kolander, too, wanted to be a part of it. He dreamt of making it big as a politician and climbing the ladder of the food chain. Dr. Rajat Mitra, a clinical psychologist, and Badri Narayan, an anthropologist, who had observed the case, had their own theories and analysis as to why Ram Niranjan changed his name to Raja Kolander and committed those heinous crimes.
Kolander lived his life in metaphors. Behind each metaphor, there was a desire that he wanted to fulfill. When he bought an SUV, he didn’t buy it because he liked the specifications, but in those days, the car was like a symbol of power. Generally, a lot of politicians and power brokers owned it. Kolander often lent money to people, not because he wanted to earn interest, but because he wanted to have that sense of being in a superior position as compared to someone else. Rajat Mitra says that after studying his behavioral patterns, he could assess that the man was probably suffering from an antisocial personality disorder. Kolander never fought with anybody. He never entered into an argument, no matter how grave the circumstances might get. In his own imaginary narrative, Raja Kolander considered himself to be a victim. He was a self-proclaimed emperor who was not a criminal but a revolutionary. He had named his children “Andolan,” “Adalat,” and “Jamanat,” which, if translated into English, meant “Revolution,” “Court of law,” and “Bail,” respectively. He had also changed the name of his wife, so that it could sound more authoritative. Now, this was not something that you saw very often. In his own narrative, he believed that he was a crusader and the leader of his tribe. He had no respect for the criminal justice system, he was devoid of any empathy, and somewhere also believed that by killing the people, he was doing them a favor. He felt that his actions were restoring the balance of society and, also, uplifting the downtrodden.
According to his children, he was not the kind of man who would even lift a finger, let alone kill somebody in cold blood. Obviously, a lot of times, there was a conflict between reality and his own imaginary world, and that’s when he used to get restless. He had changed his name to Raja Kolander only because it gave him a sense of authority. Ram Niranjan, as a name, didn’t sound too strong and impactful. He also wanted to be seen as the king of his own tribe. Raja did everything in his power to achieve that. According to Raja Kolander, he never killed those people. He said that he was framed by the police because they just wanted a scapegoat. He said that a few names, whom the police had told to be his victims, were still alive. He said that the media trial had created a public perception that was not only flawed but also undemocratic. Maybe Raja Kolander was a delusional man, and he created these fictitious theories inside his mind, which he actually believed to be true. But there is a possibility that he might have known what was right and what was not but was very slyly trying to hide the facts. His testimonies clearly had a lot of discrepancies as compared to the accounts of his children, relatives, and friends. For a moment, if you heard him talk independently, without knowing the background, you might believe him too. He spoke with a lot of conviction and had a way with words.
It was said that he used to boil the brains of his victims and drink the stock. He felt that it was a way through which he could imbibe the knowledge and traits of the person to whom the brain belonged to. There were rumors that he used to practice cannibalism, though it could never be corroborated with proper evidence. He had killed one man just so that he could drink the stock made from his brain and take over his psychic abilities, which he professed to have. Now there was a different side to the story too. The tribe “Kol” had been subjected to a lot of oppression and injustice over the years. There was a stereotypical image that people had of them. The consumption of alcohol and eating non-vegetarian food were customary for them. People had a perception that when this tribe used to stay in the jungles, they used to consume human meat. This was a mere assumption and may have played a crucial role in making Raja Kolander a man-eater in the public eye. But even if he wasn’t a man eater, one thing was for sure: he was not telling the truth. The courts couldn’t find enough evidence to prove the fact that Kolander practiced cannibalism.
Final Words: Where Is Raja Kolander Now?
In the year 2000, Raja Kolander was accused of committing the murder of 14 people, though he was convicted of only three of them and sentenced to life imprisonment in 2012. The skeleton remains of a few victims were found buried in his piggery farm, and as mentioned earlier, Dheerendra Singh’s body was also recovered by the police officials. Kolander had told the police that the SUV he had in his possession was also stolen. He had killed the driver and conductor, Manoj Singh and Ravi Shrivastava, too. Kolander challenged the conviction in the upper courts, and the case is still going on. Hansraj Kol, an activist, believed that somewhere he was oppressed by the system, by the powerful people hailing from the upper caste. The tribe had to bear a lot of prejudices that the people had against them, but still, that didn’t justify his actions. Experts believe that a man so dangerous should be kept in jail till the time he becomes physically incapable of engaging in any such activity once again. Raja Kolander is still serving his sentence in Unnao Jail in Uttar Pradesh, though he strongly denies every charge and spends a majority of his day praying.
“Indian Predator: The Diary Of A Serial Killer” is a 2022 documentary series streaming on Netflix.