| Policewomen accompany Monica Bedi (face covered) after her arrival in Mumbai. (Reuters)
Sarai Mir (Uttar Pradesh), Nov. 11: A flourishing underground pistol-making industry, humming hawala channels, over 60 PCOs for a population of 7,000 ' Sarai Mir is just what you may expect an underworld don’s hometown to be.
But mention the name “Abu Salem” here, and townsfolk would turn and walk away without a word. Take even the name of his brother, known here as “Chunchun Miyan”, and neighbours blanch in fear.
With the extradition of Salem, Sarai Mir’s greatest fear is that police will revive the old cases against him and start “harassing” the town again.
“Allah knows where he (Salem) lived,” a neighbour said. “Chunchun who'” asked another. “I’m not a cop; why should I keep track of a don or his family'”
“What have you come here for' To rake up the past'” a man asked rather menacingly from among a huddle of sullen residents. “Go away, we can tell you nothing' we have had no connection with Salem for the last seven years.”
The police pooh-pooh the claim. “Every month, Mumbai and West Asia dons pump in some Rs 1 crore through the hawala channels into this district (Azamgarh in eastern Uttar Pradesh),” a special task force officer said. “Salem used to do that, too.
“The mafia recruit young hitmen from here. The supari killers who shot Gulshan Kumar in Mumbai and Left leader Shankar Guha Niyogi in Chhattisgarh, all came from here. So did the ones who tried to kill Rakesh Roshan (producer-director father of actor Hrithik Roshan). They are all experts with the kattas (the locally made pistols).”
The kidnappers of Kanpur industrialist Arun Gupta in March 2002 were later traced to Sarai Mir. The hostage was freed after the ransom was allegedly sent to Dubai through hawala, with the local gang getting a one-third share.
Sarai Mir, set on the banks of the river Ton, betrays its newly acquired wealth through the rows of prosperous-looking shops that flank the road to Azamgarh town 30 km away, the foundries criss-crossing the landscape, and the array of gleaming phone booths. The Salem family is said to own 27 of the shops.
But the family disowns Salem, at least in public.
“He does not keep any contact with us. We don’t know anything about him. Please excuse us,” said Chunchun Miya alias Abu Hakim, who runs a construction business in a lane near the town’s lone bus stop.
“I have nothing to say,” Salem’s 67-year-old mother Asrafi Begum said before slamming the door of the three-storey house.
But outside the town, people are willing to speak.
“Ever since he made a name in the Mumbai underworld as Dawood Ibrahim’s hitman, Salem has maintained links with his home district,” said a man in Bamhaur, a village 12 km from Azamgarh town.
“Yes, Azamgarh supplies sharpshooters to the mafia in Mumbai, Dubai, Malaysia and Singapore,” rued Liaquat Hasan, a schoolteacher.
The area’s underground economy is based as much on hawala as on the kattas.
“Bamhaur ka kattas to bejor hai (pistols made in Bamhaur are without parallel),” said a resident, adding that at least 400 villagers make their living by making and selling the crude guns.
“Bamhaur’s kattas were used in the killings of Gulshan Kumar and Guha Niyogi,” an officer at Sarai Mir police station said.
“A few years ago, when Mumbai police learnt about the trademark, they sought the help of Interpol to trace it, thinking that Bamhaur might be somewhere in Europe. Imagine their shock when they realised the place was in their own backyard!” S.K. Bhagat, Azamgarh superintendent of police, said.