Meet the grid thief of Kanpur
Loha Singh, the real-life protagonist of Katiyabaaz, a documentary which has won rave reviews at international film festivals and hit the marquee this week, reveals why he will continue to steal electricity to help the poor
Life has a way of teaching you things in a short span of time. This was the case with Loha Singh too. A native of Kanpur, Singh’s father was an electric welder and lost his vision after a mishap at work. Singh was left to fend for himself, six siblings and mother, who made bindis to make ends meet.
Loha Singh started stealing electricity in 1999 to help the poor
At seven, Singh started working in a teashop, slaving for 12 hours a day to earn a measly sum of R3 daily. Over the next two months, every day while going to work, he saw a man perched atop an electric grid. A curious Singh observed him closely and noticed that the latter would steal electricity and supply it to nearby shops. Singh, who was disillusioned then, decided to do the same. Soon, he became a Robin Hood of sorts for the neighbourhood as he supplied stolen electricity to the needy. Over a course of time, Singh came to be known as Loha Katiyabaaz. In North India, the illegal wire that Singh connects is known as katiya.
From real to reel
The 28-year-old is now the protagonist of an 80-minute documentary called Katiyabaaz. Directed by Delhi-based Fahad Mustafa, 27, and Ghaziabad-based Deepti Kakkar, 28, it has been screened at Berlinale and Tribeca film festivals and released in theatres this week. It chronicles the life of Singh and how he fights against Ritu Maheshwari, the chief of Kanpur Electricity Supply Corporation (KESCO). While the locals are infuriated with the long hours of power cuts and demand radical action against KESCO, the power company cites shortage of funds as the reason for lack of resources to generate electricity. What follows next is a tussle between Singh, the messiah of the poor, and Maheshwari.
Singh says, “I’ve been stealing electricity since 1999. One day, while I was perched atop a pole, I saw Fahad and Deepti walking towards me with a camera. I thought I was trapped.” The filmmakers told him that they wanted to make a movie on him. “My friends told me that I would be imprisoned for the illegal act. But I stuck to my guns as I had given a commitment to Fahad and Deepti,” he says.
Singh believes that stealing electricity is an immoral act. “The state expects the poor to pay electricity bills but doesn’t supply them with power. Where does that leave them? It’s my duty to save the public by giving them electricity irrespective of the means that I adopt. I will never stop doing this,” he signs off.