Crime in Mumbai is usually seen through the prism of its famous underworld — for which people all over the country have some strange, sentimental attachment. The ways of the gangsters of old are romanticised in film and even in newspaper reports, even if that particular era of the “Dreaded Underworld Don” is long gone, together with smuggling and prohibition. But the past few weeks have revealed a more insidious and perhaps equally dangerous type of crime in the big city — the underbelly of sleaze which lies just under the bright lights of glamour.
The murder of Arunkumar Tikku and suspected murder of Karan Kakkad, both in the Lokhandwala areas and both possibly by the same gang, are a chilling example of how suckers fall into the hands of conmen (and women) and criminals. Some of the names are even familiar to us — stock broker Gautam Vora, now under arrest for helping prime suspect Vijay Palande hide from the police, was questioned for his possible involvement of the suicide of model Viveka Babaji.
As people are now discovering, the Lokhandwala-Versova-Andheri (West) area operates in a parallel universe almost. It caters to the thousands who come to Mumbai looking for a toehold in the glamour industry. And where there is fresh blood of innocents, there are sharks. This universe operates so far outside the everyday life of most people and the cloak of glamour can be so impenetrable that the underbelly is usually invisible. Less than five per cent of the hopefuls make it, so one can only imagine the levels of desperation which drive the rest. The connections in several cases are now pointing to the same people. Small-time model Simrin Sud, it is suggested, was used to lure victims in. She was once — or perhaps is still — married to Palande and also knew Vora.
And where there are criminals, can the Mumbai police be far behind — in cahoots of course, not hot pursuit. Palande is related to an inspector who helped him escape from custody when he was first arrested last week. This relative has helped him in the past as well. The police commissioner has expressed shock at this connection between the police and criminals but that is being disingenuous. Anyone who has visited a police station in India knows that innocence and lack of connections are the two biggest black marks against you. Criminals, who usually display neither, have a much better chance of getting away.
There can and will be theories about fractured social values and about the dangers of too much aspiration with not enough wherewithal to reach your material goals — especially in this new, must-win-at-any-cost India. But the fact is that human nature has always contained within it both the desire and ability to be predatory. The needy and the desperate are instant targets and the wannabe worlds of television and glamour are full of both.
In India, we often seem to look at crime purely in terms of rich and poor. The better-off must guard themselves against their domestic help who are out to get them at any point. Register them with the police, track their movements and never trust them. But there are bigger and worse threats out there — especially because they come from those you least suspect. Nor can we keep kidding ourselves that Indians have some higher moral compass which prevents us from committing crimes. The facts suggest otherwise.
The motive in these crimes is simpler to understand however — money and the good things in life and we are meeting variations of it everyday in almost every crime story. Grab property, cash, cards, cars, jewellery and whatever else you can, use them and move on to the next patsy. There’s a salutary and very old lesson in that.