Does history repeat itself? Even centuries later, do people carry within them the DNA of age-old fratricidal wars, like some devilishly complex proteins? As Kurukshetra, Haryana was where thousands of years ago the bloody Mahabharat wars were fought over land. It seems to be once again becoming the source of many abominable tales of corruption, of violent revenge killings and murky land deals. Barely 20km out of New Delhi, undercover police agent and Gurgaon ACP Krishan Murari was asked to pay a bribe by three policemen for allowing a heavy vehicle to enter the town after the “no entry” hours. The trio has since been hauled up, but the fact remains that in Gurgaon and the nearby western Uttar Pradesh towns, the powerful can live beyond the law by arranging to have what in popular parlance is known as a “setting” with the keepers of the law.
Indraprastha, or Delhi, and Kurukshetra are today known as boom areas. Here, towns such as Gurgaon and Noida are known also for molestation of women and shootouts in posh malls, bars and restaurants. Most of the clashes still involve property. Big-time real estate dealers, sons of rich local farmers and/or influential politicians, most of who have made a pile by buying and selling ancestral property at a premium and sanctioning new townships, dominate the area. A shopping spree at some of the malls here can cover the entire monthly budget of a modest middle-income home. And money spent on some lavish theme wedding celebrations at farmhouses can feed a real farmer’s family for years.
Large (mostly undeclared) incomes from similar sources in towns such as Meerut, Agra and Rampur that lie close to Kurukshetra also invite high crime. Both the police and the locals seem to have accepted violence and crime as their inescapable karma. According to recent reports, when the Agra police ran out of ammunition in the middle of a gunfight with criminals in the Adarsh Lane area, they shouted over the rooftops to the locals, “Barah bore ki kartoos hai (any 12-bore cartridges)?” Pat came the reply, “Hai, magar nakali hoga (yes, but not original).” A hundred such fake cartridges were handed out and used by the police.
The Meerut division also houses what must be India’s Sing Sing, the infamous Dasna jail, reputed to be home to some of the most dreaded criminals and one of the biggest crime nurseries in north India. Here, criminals have access to all sorts of comforts, including mobile phones. Many of them are said to be carrying on their lucrative extortion and kidnapping businesses through their trusted lieutenants outside, with a little help from the jail personnel, of course.
But should you wish to understand how the jails in the area are run and click on one of the Uttar Pradesh government sites, Meerut.nic.in, and go to the RTI (Right to Information) column that provides answers to all public queries, you will find that it has not been updated for a while. The name of the publicity officer for Meerut district jail, for example, is listed as Yadvendra Shukla, who is also the senior superintendent of jails. So far so good, except that Shukla is currently an absconder whose properties have been attached and who is wanted by the police in connection with the murder of a fellow jail official, deputy jailer Narendra Dwivedi. On the website, last updated in February, the late deputy jailer, killed in a shootout between gangsters on 7 August at the crossing in front of the Meerut jail, is still listed as a jail official, along with two other deputy jailers currently lodged in the Deoband jail in connection with the same shootout. This is not all. Out of a total of 183 workers and officials this website lists today, 15 others are under orders of suspension and 65 have been transferred.
But in a land where the querulous spirit of the Kauravs and the Pandavs lives on, Kuntis and Gandharis are also to be found in a few corners. Lonely, indigent women who have chosen to care for social outcasts and help them die with dignity. Shanti Devi is one such. For the last 20 years, this 51-year-old widow has been performing the last rites for the unclaimed dead at the police mortuary at Hindon. During her long stay at her one-room hut nearby, she says she must have cremated some 8,000 nameless, homeless bodies. Last year alone, the number of unclaimed bodies the Ghaziabad police and the municipal committee workers brought to the crematorium was 448. Her 18-year-old son Dilip is Shanti’s only help. When asked if she is paid for the job, Shanti Devi smiles sadly. She got a pension for a while, but not any more. Currently, she and her son make do with the small sums they earn from the municipal committee people who bring in unclaimed bodies of accident victims. She and her son are expected to carry the bodies from the mortuary to the crematorium and perform the last rites. Sometimes the police also leave a small sum for cremating bodies, which are often in an advanced state of decomposition.
When asked if she knew that the police have a regular budget for cremating each unclaimed body, Shanti Devi only smiles. It doesn’t matter, she says, because if one cremates one unclaimed body, God considers the act more noble than performing 100 marriages.
Mrinal Pande likes to take readers behind the reported news in her fortnightly column. She is chief editor of Hindustan.
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