TWO daring attacks by gangsters, which left three dead in the capital city a week ago, served as a rude reminder that the law enacted recently has not diminished the ability of criminal elements to strike at will.
Shaji, one of the deceased, is believed to have been a victim of inter-gang rivalry. He was an accused in eight cases. Dipulal, another deceased, has been identified as a member of the Democratic Youth Federation of India, youth wing of the Communist Party of India (Marxist). He is said to have been a victim of the feud in the party.
The police, whose anti-goon record is poor, redeemed its reputation somewhat by making quick arrests in connection with the latest killings. The two incidents took place at an interval of 15 minutes in Thiruvananthapuram on Sunday night. The police picked up 11 men in Kochi on Monday morning after a short chase.
Since long the State police had been demanding an anti-goon law, saying tough legislation was needed to deal with habitual offenders. Acceding to its demand, the United Democratic Front government promulgated the Kerala Felonious Activities (Prevention) Ordinance in 2005. Its provisions were never invoked.
The Left Democratic Front government, which came to power last year, allowed the ordinance to lapse. Later, it brought forward its own anti-goon law. It altered the definition clause in such a way as to keep political, trade union and student activists out of the purview of the law.
Congress leader VM Sudheeran accused the LDF of diluting the law to help those engaged in illicit liquor trade. Home Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan said the law would be used against bootleggers too.
The anti-goon laws essentially invest the police with power to detain habitual offenders without trial for a specified period. The only safeguard available to the detainee is the review of his case by a committee set up by the government.
Human rights activists opposed the measures brought forward by both the Fronts. They argued that there were provisions in the existing laws to deal with habitual offenders. What the new laws did was to vest in police officials the powers that were exercised by magistrates under normal laws.
The LDF government was only slightly less tardy than its predecessor in invoking the new law. The police drew up a list of 125 goons in and around the capital, but detention orders were issued only against eleven persons. Of them, only five were traceable. Police sources concede that the other six may have fled the country. They were known to be in possession of passports, some of them probably forged ones.
Even after the enactment of a special law, there is no effective action because many gangsters have political connections. Several newspapers highlighted this aspect in investigative reports published after the latest killings.
Gangsters who control the main markets of the capital are known to collect protection money from shopkeepers. Several instances of attacks on shops and shopkeepers for failing to pay have been reported.
According to information gathered by the police, gangsters operating in and around the capital are involved in a wide range of criminal activities. At one end are hit men who specialise in killing or maiming. At the other end are musclemen whose services are engaged by real estate operators, moneylenders and even some new generation banks.
Some gang leaders operate under respectable cover. One newspaper report said they were running transport services and food stalls and helped politicians and officials by providing facilities to invest their ill-gotten money in profitable ventures.
If some gangsters began life as musclemen of political parties and broke away to operate independently, some others appear to have moved in the opposite direction. They started their career as small-time criminals and then sought shelter under political wings.
Media reports have identified several persons involved in recent incidents of gang attacks as DYFI members. DYFI denied some of the reports. It is a large organisation with more than 4.5 million members. The possibility of criminal elements infiltrating it for personal protection cannot be ruled out.
The gangs get recruits from the ranks of the large body of young men who are jobless and lack the educational qualifications needed to land a white collar job. Once caught in the net, the young men find it difficult to get out. Measures to wean away such youth must form part of any scheme to rid the State of gangsters. --Gulf Today, Sharjah, October 8, 2007.