Vikas Dubey Saga: Reflecting On Lucknow’s Badmen In Nicer Times
The manner of Vikas Dubey’s murder (encounter) would cause Joey the child in awe of Shane played by Alan Ladd to scream: “that’s not fair – I hate you.” A kneejerk response to the Dubey saga would lead nowhere without picking up the thread of a perennially unjust system of which the police are the chosen cat’s paw. It reflects on the rottenness of the system that the real puppeteers, who pull the strings, seek to heap the odium exclusively on the police.
Systemic injustice, the police and “badmen” figure in my experience in two clusters: the peaking of urban terror at the hands of Mumbai’s underworld after the frightening 1993 pogrom and, ofcourse, the badmen of Lucknow during my growing up years.
The badman of Lucknow was called Bakait or Badmaash which literally means someone who lives on “ill-gotten livelihood”. That would suggest that they were thieves which they were not. Honour was an article of faith. They were mohalla or neighbourhood toughs, with clearly demarcated areas of operation. These notional lines, like all frontiers, could be pushed depending on the Bakait’s personality and that of other’s holding contiguous terrains.
At a time when the feudal order was fading away nicely, noiselessly, selling their bungalows to builders and cramming themselves on a floor without fuss, the Bakait served a purpose. He became the unofficial middleman between the retiring gentry, for whom he had an old fashioned respect, and the lower judiciary, the kutchery, constabulary, and the hangers on, lounging on cane furniture in the unkept lawns of the new political class.
My exposure to a Bakait was through our driver, Khan Saheb Nazir whose protective instincts for the family came into play when he received word that in the course of growing up, I had audaciously exceeded my brief. I was seen in Royal Café with the well groomed students of Isabella Thoburn College, a revolutionary violation of Lucknow’s gender segregation. This ignited jealousies, a class war – English medium versus Hindu/Urdu medium, not communal, mind you. This was a crucial divide which amplified itself into two class streams which, believe it or not, in some ways defined independent India. One stream swelled the ranks of “boxwalas”, Civil Service and other high end careers. The other lot, with an ever expanding base, turned to political activism with a vengeance, not as a cause but a profession.
The second cluster became the Bakait’s habitat. In retrospect, everything falls into place, but for a debutante saga-boy, what followed was intimidating. As I came out of Royal Café, I was encircled by a group led by a boy named Atiq who lunged at me even as the menacing figure of Buddhu Pahelwan, the Bakait from Nrahi near Hazratganj loomed in the background. Worse was in store but for the timely arrival of Khan Saheb, with Rasheed Ghosi (milkman) in tow. Rasheed knew “Buddhu” Pahelwan. The situation was thus defused. Other than supplying milk to our neighbourhood, Rasheed’s claim to fame was that he faced murder charges. He acquired status because of the protection he provided to the poker-den run by the Heartwell brothers in their mini mansion not far from Rasheed’s buffalo shed.
Khan Saheb had a word of praise for “Buddhu” Pahelwan’s valour – “no one can attack him from front” – but he romanticized “Nannhe” (Aslam Khan), a legend in Aminabad for his swift knife-movement, a slight, brooding man whose rendezvous was the hair cutting saloon opposite Royal Talkies, popular with Lucknow’s underclass because it screened two Nadia-John Cawas movies, back to back, for the price of one ticket. Like swordsmanship, expertise with Rampur knives was considered manly. Revolvers were effete even though Pyarey Jaani, in his trench coat, had considerable aura in Nakkhas and Chowk, his one hand always on the revolver in his pocket. There was no recorded case of the revolver ever having been used. It was deterrence, Lucknow style.
Deterrence had given way to open warfare when I turned up in Mumbai to gauge the aftermath of the March, 1993 bomb blasts. The driver of the yellow taxi from the Cricket Club of India, obviously from my home turf, Pratapgarh or Rae Bareli, was averse to giving me his name even though I spoke in his accent. Not a word by way of reaction to the blasts or the pogrom which preceded it. I put it down to my persistence, because quite abruptly he pulled up the taxi by the kerb and turned to me sharply. “Look we were butchered in the riots, but after the blasts, things have changed.”
“We are no longer ‘dabey huey’ or “cowering”. He continued, “enter any suburban train and say ‘Salam alae kum’ and people give you the way.”
The vengeance in his eyes was scary. “The state is too strong,” I said. But it is, I said almost to myself, equally true that a community driven to hopelessness would extract satisfaction from the actions of anybody who gave vent to the community’s choked anger.
In these circumstances, consider Vikas Dubey. In his list of alleged murders there were Brahmins too. But details recede when the larger than life figure of Vikas Dubey, a Brahmin, takes on the might of the state which is increasingly in non-Brahmin hands – indeed in Thakur hands. You may not register these facts but ask the Brahmins of Kanpur and they will read out their plaint: Chief Ministers of UP, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh are all Thakurs.
A community which basked for generations in the patronage of Pandit Govind Ballabh Pant, Kamalapati Tripathi, Hemvati Nandan Bahuguna and Narain Dutt Tewari, must feel a little sidelined with the arrival of Mulayam Singh Yadav, Mayawati, Kalyan Singh and, now, Chief Minister Adityanath.
Bihar’s Director General of Police, Gupteshwar Pandey put his finger on something while criticizing on Primetime TV a tweet which had gone viral: “Dubey was tiger for Brahmins.” In doing so Pandey was giving even wider currency to a dangerous thought particularly in the context of UP today.