D-Company is a criminal organization headed by mafioso Dawood Ibrahim. Other prominent members of the gang include Chhota Shakeel, Tiger Memon and Abu Salem, who is now under the custody of Indian police. It is closely linked to a range of organized criminal and terrorist activities in South Asia, especially in Mumbai, India, and the Persian Gulf region. Several members of the gang are on the “wanted list” of Interpol and Indian police. The reference to “company” in the name of the organization does not signify that it has a separate corporate identity. The organization has a history of rivalry with the Mumbai Police (see Mumbai Encounter Squad) and other underworld dons such as Chota Rajan, Ejaz Lakdawala and Arun Gawli.
There are a number of allegations against the organization, such as that it generates billions of US dollars from illegal business activities around the globe, especially in India. The Indian government also believes that Dawood Ibrahim and his associates fund and support terrorist activities in the country. According to Indian intelligence agencies, such as the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) and Central Bureau of Investigation, D-Company financed the terrorist bombings in Mumbai which killed 257 people in 1993. It is also alleged that D-Company planned further terrorist attacks in Gujarat following the extensive riots and violence which occurred there in 2002. D-Company is also alleged to run the largest underground business in South Asia. Its operations include arms dealings, drug trafficking, hawala, organized crime and funding of terrorist organizations.
At various times it has been linked to the Bollywood film industry, as well as real estate and betting businesses, from which it is said to derive considerable revenue. The film “Company” is based loosely on its activities.
The first of mafia elements, or syndicates, perhaps had their origins in the gambling and bootleg liquor dens set up Karim Lala in the 1940s. He was succeeded by Varadarajan Mudaliar, a Tamil migrant who arrived to Bombay along with an influx of south-Indian migrants. The increasing restrictions placed on the Indian economy by the socialist regimes of those days gave the Bombay underworld increasingly more means by which they could expand their activities. Ramabhai Naik in 1986 gunned down supari-king Karim Lala’s nephew, the dreaded Samad Khan, and paved the way for Dawood Ibrahim.
A colleague of his, who was placed in jail during the Indian Emergency (1975 – 77), Mastan Mirza, more famously known as Haji Mastan also played a key role in structuring illegal gambling as an organised business. He formed Dalit Muslim Surakhsha Maha Sangh in 1985-86. He did not know how to read or write English, Hindi or Urdu. Aslam Kiratpuri a well known journalist, gave him ideas how to speak in public meetings after which he became a good speaker. In the year 1994 he died in Mumbai.
After the collapse of the cotton mills based textile industry in Mumbai in the 1980s, many workers were left unemployed, furthering the environment for crime that already existed. Various underworld dons rose to power. As Mastan’s influence in Bollywood grew, he began to produce films and cast his mistress, an aspiring starlet, into small roles. He was also known for his links with the legendary actor Dilip Kumar. During the Indian Emergency (1975 – 77) he was imprisoned. Haji Mastan become as a Muslim leader in 1984.
D-Company was formed by Dawood Ibrahim, an acolyte of Hajji Mastana, and a descendant of migrants from the Konkan coast Ratnagiri district to be specific. It was amongst the most powerful criminal organisations in the world in the 80s, with many illegal and legal business ventures under Dawood’s control. His group eventually split up creating separate gang of Chotta Rajan, sometime during the mid-nineties due to his use of communal violence for personal gain. Where his mafia had previously been secular, it now broke up on communal lines. Soon after the Bombay riots, a series of blasts that took place in Bombay in 1993 and changed Bombay underworld completely, he was accused, both by former colleagues and the police, for orchestrating the blasts. It is thought that in an attempt to gain political support from religious radicals that would legitimise him as more than a crook, he collaborated with various terrorist organisations. This led to the fragmentation of his criminal empire when Chotta Rajan, his lieutenant, broke away and gained support of powerful right-wing Hindu Nationalist politicians. Soon after the bombings he was forced to flee the city (now renamed Mumbai) and the country. Dawood Ibrahim reportedly now lives in Karachi or Dubai, and controls what is left of D-Company from there. The last known public contact with him was when a Times reporter once interviewed Dawood in Karachi.
The Indian Mafia in the meantime has spread to other parts of India and has diversified onto various activities. In Mumbai, with the adoption of new police policies, crime has been going down in Mumbai and the mafia has been forced to flee the city to safer havens. Many of its crime bosses operate from different parts of the world, controlling the Mafia within India.
Mumbai underworld today
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The underworld of Mumbai, the most populous city in India and capital of Maharashtra state, is a criminal network, which thrives on extortion, drugs and prostitution. The underworld is controlled by three or four major gangs, but most of them have been on the run from law recently.
The underworld’s activities are not just limited to organized crime. Many ‘dons’ are supposedly linked to the heart of India’s entertainment industry, otherwise known as Bollywood. The main role played by the underworld is that of financing the productions, although some outfits aim to control the script content and other thematic elements of the plot.
The Mumbai underworld today does not exist as one single gang, like the former D-Company, but rather as a collection of gangs which have formed from the parent gangs’ split. Some are; Chotta Shakeel and Abu Salem gang (also known as D-Company), Chotta Rajan gang, Ejaz Lakdawala gang, Ali Budesh gang and Arun Gawli gang, as well as other gangs which have arisen recently. Drug trade still continues with other parts of the world from Mumbai, and the city still sees a lot of bloody shootouts between gang members and police.
Indian mafia in popular culture
In the 1970s, many of the most well known classic Bollywood movies were based around themes of fighting criminals and corruption at a time when crime was rising, and authorities were powerless. Classical Amitabh Bachchan films such as Zanjeer, Don, and Amar Akbar Anthony depicted the underworld and heroes trying to overcome it. The Indian mafia has also been depicted in several films by Ram Gopal Varma, including Company by Ajay Devgan. Kamal Haasan played the lead role in the Tamil movie Nayagan, directed by Mani Ratnam. Nayagan is in the Time Magazine’s “All-Time 100 Best Films” list, issued in 2005. This movie represented Mumbai Don Varadha Bhai’s life(Varadarajan Mudaliar). Satya (film), Black Friday (2004 film), Omkara and Don (2006 film) are a few other films that depict the Indian mafia. There has also been a Bollywood version of The Godfather, Sarkar (film).
The Indian mafia is notoriously very heavily involved in the film industry, providing films with funding and using them as fronts for other activities. Although in recent times police investigations have forced mobsters to make their activities more subtle, for most of Bollywood’s existence stars openly displayed their mafia connections, attending parties with mafia dons and using their help to gain new roles.
Muthappa Rai is one of the prominent figures in the Bangalore underworld. The Russian and Israeli gangs rule the Goan mafia.
Thuggee (or tuggee, ठग्गी) (from Hindi thag ‘thief’, from Sanskrit sthaga ‘scoundrel’, from sthagati ‘to conceal’) was an Indian network of secret fraternities engaged in murdering and robbing travellers, operating from at least the 17th century (and possibly as early as 13th century) to the 19th century. The group are the origin of the term “thug”, as many Indian words passed into common English during British Imperial rule of India.
Thugs were active all over the Bengal region of the Indian subcontinent. Maps showing the possessions of the British East India Company in 1765 and 1805
Thuggee groups practiced large-scale robbery and murder of travellers. Their modus operandi was to befriend unsuspecting travellers and win their trust; when the travellers allowed the thugs to join and walk with them (sometimes for hundreds of miles), the group of thugs killed them at a suitable place and time before robbing them. Their method of killing was very often strangulation, performed by throwing a yellow scarf, called a Rumaal, around the neck. Usually two or three thugs would strangle one traveller. Because they used strangulation as the method of murder they were also frequently called “Phansigars”, or “noose-operators”. The thugs then hid the corpses, often by burying them or by throwing them into wells.
Thuggee groups consisted of Hindus, Sikhs, and Muslims, though their patroness was the Hindu Goddess Kali, whom they often called Bhowanee. Some historians classify the thugs as a cult or sect.
Thugs preferred to kill their victims at certain suitable places, called beles, that they knew well. They killed their victims usually in darkness while the thugs made music or noise to escape discovery. Each member of the group had its own function, like luring travellers with charming words or that of guardians to prevent escape of victims while the killing took place. The leader of a gang was called jamaadaar.
Origin and recruitment
A group of thugs, ca. 1863
A group of thugs, ca. 1863
The earliest authenticated mention of the Thugs is found in the following passage of Ziau-d din Barni’s History of Firoz Shah (written about 1356):
In the reign of that sultan (about 1290), some Thugs were taken in Delhi, and a man belonging to that fraternity was the means of about a thousand being captured. But not one of these did the sultan have killed. He gave orders for them to be put into boats and to be conveyed into the lower country, to the neighbourhood of Lakhnauti, where they were to be set free. The Thugs would thus have to dwell about Lakhnauti and would not trouble the neighbourhood of Delhi any more.” (Sir HM Elliot’s History of India, iii. 141).
Though they themselves trace their origin to seven Muslim tribes, the Hindu followers only seem to be related during the early periods of Islamic development; at any rate, their religious creed and staunch worship of Kali, one of the Hindu Tantric Goddesses, showed no Islamic influence. The practice of Thuggee was categorically stamped out by the British by the early 19th century. It should be noted that even at the time, a very small minority of the followers of Kali were Thuggees, whereas the majority of followers did not share the Thuggee viewpoint.
Induction was sometimes passed from father to son; the leaders of the thug groups tended to come from these hereditary lines. Sometimes the thugs did not kill the young children of the travellers and groomed them to become thugs themselves. Some men became thugs to escape great poverty. A fourth way of becoming a thug was by learning it from a guru (a hindu monk).
Number of victims
Estimates of the total number of victims depend heavily on the estimated length of existence of the thugs for which there are no reliable sources. According to the Guinness Book of Records the Thuggee cult was responsible for approximately 2,000,000 deaths. The British historian Dr. Mike Dash estimated that they killed 50,000 persons in total, based on his assumption that they only started to exist 150 years before their eradication in the 1830s.
Yearly figures for the early 19th century are better documented, but even they are inaccurate estimates. For example, gang leader Behram has often been considered to be the world’s most prolific serial killer with 931 killings between 1790 and 1830 attributed to him. Reference to contemporary manuscript sources, however, shows that Behram actually gave inconsistent statements regarding the number of murders he had committed, and that while he did state that he had “been present at” 931 killings committed by his gang of 25 to 50 men, elsewhere he admitted that he had personally strangled around 125 people. Having turned King’s Evidence and agreed to inform on his former companions, furthermore, Behram never stood trial for any of the killings attributed to him, the total of which must thus remain a matter of dispute.
British destruction of the secret society
The Thuggee cult was suppressed by the British rulers of India in the 1830s, due largely to the efforts of the civil servant William Sleeman, who started an extensive campaign involving profiling and intelligence. A police organisation known as the ‘Thuggee and Dacoity Department’ was established within the Government of India, with William Sleeman appointed Superintendent of the department in 1835. Thousands of men were either put in prison, executed, or expelled from British India. The campaign was heavily based on informants recruited from captured thugs who were offered protection on the condition that they told everything that they knew. By the 1870s, the Thug cult was extinct, but the concept of ‘criminal tribes’ and ‘criminal castes’ is still in use in India. The Department remained in existence until 1904, when it was replaced by the Central Criminal Intelligence Department. The defeat of the Thuggees played a part in securing Indian loyalty to the British Raj.
Previous attempts at prosecuting and eliminating the thugs had been largely unsuccessful due to the lack of evidence for their crimes. The thugs’ modus operandi yielded very little evidence: no witnesses, no weapons, and no corpses. Besides, the thugs usually made no confessions when captured. Another main reason was the fact that thug groups did not act locally, but all over the Indian subcontinent, including territories that did not belong to British India in combination with the fact that there was then no centralised criminal intelligence agency, but only local, often corrupt police.
Possible misinterpretation of Thuggee by the British
In her book The Strangled Traveler: Colonial Imaginings and the Thugs of India (2002), Martine van Woerkens suggests that evidence for the existence of a Thuggee cult in the 19th century was in part the product of “colonial imaginings” — British fear of the little-known interior of India and limited understanding of the religious and social practices of its inhabitants. For a comparison, see Juggernaut and the Black Hole of Calcutta.
Krishna Dutta, while reviewing the book Thug: the true story of India’s murderous cult by the British historian Dr. Mike Dash in The Independent, argues:
“In recent years, the revisionist view that thugee was a British invention, a means to tighten their hold in the country, has been given credence in India, France and the US, but this well-researched book objectively questions that assertion.”
In his book, Dash rejects scepticism about the existence of a secret network of groups with a modus operandi that was different from highwaymen, such as dacoits. To prove his point Dash refers to the excavated corpses in graves, of which the hidden locations were revealed to Sleeman’s team by thug informants. In addition, Dash treats the extensive and thorough documentation that Sleeman made. Dash rejects the colonial emphasis on the religious motivation for robbing, but instead asserts that monetary gain was the main motivation for Thuggee and that men sometimes became thugs due to extreme poverty. He further asserts that the Thugs were highly superstitious and that they worshipped the Hindu goddess Kali, but that their faith was not very different from their contemporary non-thugs. He admits, though, that the thugs had certain group-specific superstitions and rituals.
Mumbai Encounter Squad
Controlling Gang Wars in Mumbai Under-World
The Encounter Squad came into prominence in the 1980s and 1990s, when they started dealing with Dawood Ibrahim’s gang, also known as D-Company. Since cracking the 1993 Mumbai Bomb blasts case, this squad has played an instrumental role in controlling the Dawood Ibrahim, Chota Rajan, Ashvin Naik, Ravi & Hemant Pujari , Ejaz Lakdawala, Ali Budesh, Chota Pintoo, Mohd. Aamir Sherazi and Arun Gawli gangs in Mumbai.
One of first encounters occurred in January 1982 when gangster Manya Surve was killed at Wadala area. The famous killing of Maya Dolas in the Shootout at Lokhandwala bought focus on this unit for first time. More than 400  criminals from different gangs were killed by this squad in Encounter killings in last decade.
The squad was dissolved after Dawood and Chota Rajan (two rival dons) fled India to save themselves from being targeted by sharpshooters from rival gangs and from the Encounter Squad. Recent explosions on Mumbai trains have triggered the re-organization of the squad.
Presently, Vijay Salaskar heads the Anti-Extortion Cell, Mumbai.
Active Inspectors in Encounter Squad and Encounter killings count
Pradeep Sharma – 112
Daya Nayak – 87
Praful Bhosale – 77
Ravindra Angre – 51
Sachin Hindurao Vaze – 48
Vijay Salaskar – 40+
Encounter Squad in Popular Culture / Bollywood Movies
Abtak Chappan – Nana Patekar playing role of Sadhu Agashe based on Daya Naik.
Company – Vivek Oberoi playing Chota Rajan, Mohanlal playing Encounter Squad Chief
Shootout at Lokhandwala – Vivek Oberai playin Maya Dolas, Movie on Maya’s Encounter,
Aaan-Encounter Squad – Character based on real life inspectors
Sarfarosh – Fictional story based upon the Indian Underworld.
Garv – Brothers Salman & Arbaaz Khan play roles of Inspectors of Encounter squad