The underworld dominated the streets of Mumbai in the 90s. Shootouts and murders became a regular affair. The common people lived in fear and were careful not to cross paths with the notorious gangsters. The rise in crime rate overwhelmed the police; the gangsters were unafraid of them, and there was an undeniable sense of helplessness and panic within the police force. “Mumbai Mafia: Police vs. The Underworld” documents how the police curbed the outrageous growth of gangster gangs, particularly the infamous D-company headed by the nefarious don Dawood Ibrahim. The documentary questions the role of encounter cops, who were once celebrated by the media but soon came under public scrutiny.
What Is ‘Mumbai Mafia: Police Vs. The Underworld’ About?
Pradeep Sharma, an ex-encounter cop, narrates the story of his first encounter with pride. Over the years, he had conducted more than 100 encounters, a number that he was extremely proud of. The encounter cops came into existence with the uncontrollable rise in the number of gangsters. The gangsters were fearless, and even the threat of the police could not stop them. They were ready to shoot the cops, and they were confident that even if they were imprisoned, they had connections to get out of prison smoothly. The gangsters started to control the common people; they became the easy target of crimes since they had lost the sense of protection and support that they expected from the police and judiciary. Mumbai was caught in a state of lawlessness, and there was an immediate need to bring order and control. It was a police officer, A. A. Khan, who decided to study Dawood Ibrahim and tactfully target his gangsters. They started focusing on building a network of informants who would help them keep track of the gang’s whereabouts.
D-Company was an organized criminal syndicate operated by Dawood Ibrahim. His company was involved in all sorts of illegal trade, from gambling, bootlegging, and drugs to smuggling gold and silver. Dawood was born and raised in a middle-class household in Dongri, Mumbai. From a young age, he associated himself with the local gangsters and developed a desire to become the king of the underworld. He had no competitors because he murdered anyone who threatened to overpower him. He was known as the “terror,” and his presence alone could generate extreme fear. He knew that only fear could help bring people under his control.
Khan formed a team with the most eligible police officers, who were unafraid of retaliation from gang members and the possibility of criminal charges. The encounter of Dilip Buwa and Maya Dolas helped boost the police ego and regain the trust of the common people. That was the beginning of the large-scale encounters that the Mumbai police conducted over the years. Encounters are the last resort of the police to defend themselves when criminals refuse to surrender but were every encounter conducted out of necessity by the police? Or did the encounter culture give the uniformed protectors a license to kill?
How Did The Mumbai Police Retaliate After The Mumbai Bomb Blast? Where Is Pradeep Sharma Now?
Initially, Dawood Ibrahim was unaffected by the encounters conducted by the police. He was conducting business as usual; the deaths of his gang members meant fewer people on his payroll, and he was not complaining. The 1992 riot changed Ibrahim’s sentiment. He was settled in Dubai, but the deaths of his Muslim gang members and relatives enraged him. The role of the police during the riot was questionable. They were blamed for instigating civilians due to their “bullet-for-a-bullet” attitude. While the common people expected the police to pacify the situation, it simply escalated each day. Ravindra Angre, an ex-police officer, believed that the steps taken by the police were necessary, and there was a sense of pride when he discussed the fear that the police brought upon the people.
Ibrahim’s followers looked up to him to help them seek revenge for the humiliation and mass murder. He supplied arms during the riot, adding to the already existing hatred and chaos. Two weeks after the riot, the supervisor of illegal activities at Andheri airport, Shrikant Desai, was encountered. The air cargo section of the D-company collapsed with the deaths of Desai and Ibrahim. He wanted to terrorize Mumbai for daring to take a step against him and for the large-scale murder of Muslims that the country had recently witnessed. He orchestrated the Mumbai blast—a series of blasts that took the city by storm. The first bombing occurred at the Bombay Stock Exchange, which resulted in the deaths of 70 people, and gradually the news of twelve other blasts all across Mumbai was reported. Dawood wanted Mumbai to pay attention to him; bombing the city was his way of declaring that if anyone dared mess with him or his people, he would destroy the city. Dawood was no longer a high-profile gangster; he was a terrorist whose vengeance knew no boundaries. He had declared war on the State, and the police wanted to take action to reaffirm their power and position. Police Commissioner R. D. Tyagi gave the police unlimited power to conduct as many encounters as necessary to reinstall fear in the gangsters. The police were desperate to win the trust and applause of the public, and with large-scale, state-sanctioned encounters, they were able to achieve it. The media celebrated the encounter cops, and the common people were simply glad that punishment was in order for the wrongdoers. A. A. Khan, a police officer, sought voluntary retirement once he realized that the unlimited power vested in the police could be exploited. He believed that the role of a police person was to get hold of a criminal and bring justice with the help of the judiciary system, but with the new order, the police had become the justice system. If an individual is offered such a state-sanctioned power, they are bound to misuse it.
When Times Magazine correspondent Alex Perry came across the term “encounter cops,” he was intrigued. It was unimaginable for him that cops were given the license to shoot people at their whims without facing any consequences. He wondered how the police always managed to kill with their good old pistols when the gangsters were firing at them with AK-47s. He wanted to understand the mentality of these encounter cops who had become celebrities. He was introduced to Pradeep Sharma, whose approach to the encounters stunned him. The encounter cops were competitive about the number of people they murdered, and the one with the highest score was the most respected. The cops left no room for the reformation of the criminals, and only recently have the human rights activists started speaking against the practice. Sharma believed he was cleaning the streets of Mumbai, and even though he was taking lives, it was a job that needed to be done. He strongly believed that he was providing a service to his community and enjoyed the idea of being a godlike figure to the victims of criminals. His interview in the Times magazine landed him in trouble, and he was arrested on the charge of the fake encounter killing of Lakhan Bhaiyya. The interview led to the scrutinization of the activities of all encounter specialists for the first time. The term “fake encounter” was discussed and considered a possibility given the circumstances of many deaths. Ravindra Angre was arrested on the charge of extortion, but he was released due to a lack of evidence after spending a few years in jail. As more and more people started to speak against the encounter practice, the State gradually put an end to it. Trust in the judicial system was important to rebuild, no matter how notorious the criminals the police were dealing with were.
Pradeep Sharma was acquitted of all charges in 2009 in the Ramnarayan Gupta (Lakhan Bhaiyya) case. He was accused of kidnapping and murder in cold blood. Sharma maintained his innocence throughout the trial, saying that he was framed for a murder he had not committed. The key witness in the case, Anil Bheda, was found dead in New Bombay; his body was in a decomposed state. Sharma was ultimately set free due to a lack of evidence. After his release from prison, Sharma was back to his duties. In what many believe to be a tactic to cleanse his image in the public eye, Pradeep Sharma headed the police force in the arrest of Iqbal Kaskar, one of Dawood Ibrahim’s cousins. By mindfully entering his house and calmly arresting him, Sharma proved that he was a capable police officer who complied with the laws of the State.
The encounter specialists’ team was formed to tackle gangsters in case they refused to surrender themselves to the police and threatened to attack them instead. But in the end, the liberty given to the force was used wrongfully to fulfill their ulterior motives. They were heroes, celebrities, and almost godlike entities who believed that they were beyond the laws of the State. Meanwhile, the encounter specialists believe that they were simply used by the politicians when they needed tough action and discarded the moment people questioned the practice. It goes without saying that the police cannot function without the confirmation of the State, and even in the case of the encounter specialists, tough action was what the State demanded of them. Actions against the encounter cops were only taken when people started to question the practice and disapprove of the “bullet for bullet” attitude. At the end of “Mumbai Mafia” documentary, we learn that Pradeep Sharma was arrested in 2021 for his alleged involvement in the murder of a businessman, Mansukh Hiren. He is currently in prison, awaiting trial. In 2018, Ravindra Angre joined the Congress party with the aim of becoming a politician. The “encounter cops” are a clear example of what happens when a few individuals are given the power to make judicial decisions.