By Naveen Soorinje
Two underworld elements, Madoor Yusuf and Ganesh Shetty, were murdered in Mangaluru jail on November 2, and police suspect that it was a hit ordered by communal motivations. Naveen Soorinje is a journalist with a Kannada news channel. He had spent slightly over four months in the same jail between November 7 and March 23. He had been falsely implicated in the Mangalore homestay attack which occurred on July 28. Writing for The News Minute, Naveen recalls his brief encounter with Ganesh Shetty during his imprisonment in Mangaluru jail. The following has been translated from the Kannada:
When we live among leaders who shed blood in the name of a god called religion, an underworld gangster too can become a model for emulation.
People who are high on religion can learn a lot from a gangster named Ganesh Shetty, who was murdered when he tried to protect another underworld don named Madoor Yusuf, from communal goondas.
Ganesh Shetty was in the fifth barrack when the BJP government had me imprisoned in the Mangalore homestay attack case.
Mangaluru jail is unlike any other prison in the state: the jail is divided into A and B blocks in such a manner that no communication between the two is possible. Muslims are grouped together in Block A and Hindus in Block B. Because many of the jail’s inmates are implicated in communal riots, and because communal sentiments run high among the people of Mangaluru, this system was necessary to avoid communal clashes inside the jail.
Despite being a Hindu, I was kept in Block A along with Muslims because there was a threat to my life from Hindutva activists. Ganesh Shetty too was in the same block along with some other non-communal Hindu prisoners.
I always had an intense curiosity about the mental state of underworld elements such as Rasheed Malabari, Madoor Yusuf, Ganesh Shetty and others. During my imprisonment, I tried to find answers that would satisfy my curiosity.
Sharpshooter Ganesh Shetty was wanted for murdering businessman Mahendra Pratap in Mumbai in 1994 for extortion. He was lodged in the Mangaluru district sub-jail in connection with a case in the city, and hailing from a well-off family, he had already obtained bail in the case. However, he remained imprisoned as the Mumbai court refused to grant bail on technical grounds. Had everything gone smoothly, he should have been released within two or three days of the day he was murdered.
Next to his bed in the fifth barrack – a large hall with 20 inmates – Ganesh Shetty had set up a photo of Durgaparameshwari of Kateel, whom he worshipped. He would wake up at 5 am every morning and meditate before the photo for an hour. The spot where he performed his pooja was quaint. Everyday, he would cover the entire photo with flowers until the goddess was invisible, and would place several kilos of fruits before it as an offering. He had given up meat-eating during his imprisonment, and he never missed a single religious fast. I was always taken aback by the fact that an underworld don could worship god and practice his faith in this manner.
During the four-and-a-half months I was in jail, I never saw him speak harshly to anyone. A man who never failed to observe religious rituals, he had never responded in a communal manner on any issue. Similarly, he never faced any problem in performing his puja or fasts in Barrack A, which was predominantly Muslim.
Also during those months that I spent in jail, I saw a number of innocent people being brought in. Often, the police picked up young men and jail them on grounds of suspicion. Usually, they would pick up young Muslim men or the elderly from bus stops or railway stations under Section 96 of the Karnataka Police Act. You can be let off if you pay the court’s fine of around Rs 2,500. Those who end up in jail are the ones who cannot pay this amount.
Section 96 of the Karnataka Police Act, which is punishable by three months’ imprisonment states:
“Being found under suspicious circumstances between sunset and sunrise – armed with dangerous instrument; having his face covered or disguised; being in a house, building or boat without being able to satisfactorily account for his presence there; lying or loitering in any street, yard or other place while being a reputed thief and without being able to account for it, possessing house breaking implements.”
This imprisonment on suspicious grounds is rather peculiar. Let’s say that a rowdy facing several cases of assault is found in a place where he doesn’t have any business – he is either out on bail or is acquitted. Upon questioning him, if the police find his answers unsatisfactory, they can register a case of suspicious activity and produce him before the court. Such a law would help the police in reining in suspicious activities. But the people who the police arrest under this law, are helpless orphans, destitutes, or those whom nobody will miss. With the help of social workers and activists, I and other inmates managed to secure the release of six innocent young men. In at least three of these, Ganesh Shetty not only proactively worked to get them released, but also arranged financial assistance.
There are more than 20 cats in the jail, including some kittens and many prisoners had their favourites among these. Ganesh Shetty – an aide of Shota Shakeel and a sharpshooter – loved those cats. Despite being a vegetarian himself, he would have non-vegetarian food brought into prison for the cats.
I always wondered how a man who loved both his fellow prisoners and these cats so much, could kill another human being for extortion? One day, I decided to ask him this, when we were talking.
“Look, we eat sheep and chicken, but we still oppose their killing for fun. If a sheep is being harmed except for killing, do we not feel compassion? We became underworld elements to feed ourselves. It is impossible to get out. We don’t shed blood for no reason like religious groups. We don’t kill poor hapless people,” he told me. For the same reason, Ganesh Shetty could not just tolerate when Hindutva activists tried to kill Madoor Yusuf and got murdered when he tried to stop them.
Why can’t cattle-worshippers learn to love human beings when an underworld gangster by profession who never slipped up in observing religious rituals could transcend his background and develop humane qualities? To my mind, this is a Yaksha-Prashne, a question to which an answer cannot possibly be known. If those who shed blood in the name of religion cannot practice the ideals of Vivekananda, perhaps they could at least develop these qualities of an underworld don named Ganesh Shetty. That’s the least that one could hope for.
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