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The Man Who Interviewed Dawood Ibrahim Talks About The Dark Underbelly Of The Mumbai Mafia

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This post is a part of Youth Ki Awaaz’s coverage of the Crime Writers Festival:

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By Krishangi Singh:

What do you do when the name of the man you’re about to interview is on one on the ‘Most Wanted’ lists of not just India, but many other countries?

And when the man is the head of the D-Company itself – Dawood Ibrahim. The man allegedly behind the Mumbai terror attacks in 1993 that killed over 350 people and who is supposed to have close links with the Al-Qaeda, and the now dead Osama Bin Laden.

Well you probably can’t do what veteran crime reporter, investigative journalist and author Hussain Zaidi does. And that’s to get to the bottom of things without batting an eyelid.

No fictional characters. No change of names. Just sheer facts.

S. Hussain Zaidi’s ‘Black Friday’ was a book that gave an extensive and transparent account of the 1993 Mumbai blasts, which were executed on the command of Dawood Ibrahim. Heavy on research and nothing short of a fast paced thriller, Zaidi in his book ‘Dongri to Dubai: Six Decades of the Mumbai Mafia’ interviewed Dawood Ibrahim, and one has to ask, was he not ever afraid in his line of work?

I was not afraid because I was always sure that I wrote my books in the way I used to report for my newspaper. I remained impartial, very unbiased and never took sides. I never lost hold of objectivity. When you do these things people who are being written about know that you’re just doing your job, without having any personal agenda behind it.”

It won’t be a stretch to say that no one really had so thoroughly covered the Mumbai mafia’s notorious activities before Hussain Zaidi stepped in and began discovering the outreach of the gangland’s power and influence. So when he tells us of Dawood’s current standing, skeptical as we are if he has any left, it makes sense to listen to Zaidi on it, “He was and he remains a very influential Don in India. His techniques and involvement might differ but his influence is not going to wane anytime soon or at least till he is alive.”

Zaidi’s word on Dawood’s possible successors and the kind of influence they will hold in India after his demise, whether it is Chhota Shakeel or someone else, are equally powerful, “I don’t think Dawood Ibrahim will ever have a successor who will reach his level of power. He has many friends and ‘clones’ that would take his position but the thing is that although Dawood’s successor will inherit his power from Dawood, Dawood’s own power centers are very varied.  He has connections amongst many MPs, diplomats, bureaucrats, top police officials and other powerful places. None of his successors will be able to have such people at his beck and call.”

To extract information about men of such influence could not have been an easy feat. Even harder is the task of pulling out the intimate details surrounding the Mafia women and whom they entertained, which he covered in his book ‘Mafia Queens of Mumbai’.  His investigative abilities show as he explains the difficulties of unearthing information on these women of power, “It was very difficult because some of those people were dead and gone. About others, people had just clamped up. They were not ready to share details about those women at all. So to dig out details such as their age, behavior and mindset was akin to stealing a piece of flesh out of a tiger’s mouth”.

However, his accomplishments in investigative journalism go beyond covering the Mumbai mafia. When he thinks about his most challenging work, he is unsure about which of these varied tasks was more difficult than the rest “I don’t know whether to talk about the story against a High Court judge doing an exposé on him, or exposing the transcript of conversation between deputy chief minister of Maharashtra and Abdul Karim Telgi in the Telgi scam, or about a religious head who was commercializing crores of charity into commercial property.”

Crime reporting involves coming in touch with all sorts of dangerous and distasteful men, which makes it essential to set clear boundaries of involvement.

His definition of what constitutes as essence of crime reporting reflects that, “I think a crime reporter should never lose objectivity. He should never wine and dine with his sources and only treat them as subjects. When you let your feelings come in the way of work, you don’t remain a crime reporter anymore.

Often crime reporters are given the analogy of pathologists. A pathologist examines a lot of infectious matter but ensure that he himself remains uncontaminated, and the same goes for a crime reporter.”

So does he like any authors from the current lot? “Some recent crime novels have caught my eye but I don’t know whether it will be fair to talk about them. However, my all time favorite is ‘Sacred Games’ by Vikram Chandra. I also like ‘Quantum Siege’ by Brijesh Singh.”

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hussain zaidi writer

[alert type=white ]

Quickies!

What does your writing space look like?

It’s quite room with no distractions in it.

The view from your window…

There’s a lot of greenery outside my house. There’s also a metro track running outside my window at some distance, the lights from the metro, entering and departing at night  are something I enjoy looking at.

That what keeps you from writing/work…

A compelling book or a classic fast-paced Hollywood thriller.

What aspiring authors must not do…

They should not lose the focus of their story and they must not copy the style or narrative of other authors.

Tea Or Coffee?

Tea. Only if it is made by my wife.

Early Bird or Creature of the Night?

Creature of the night.

Road trip or flying?

A little bit of both.

Okay to sip wine while writing?

No, I like tea while writing.

What do you do when you hit the mythical Writer’s Block?

I take a break and go after all those pleasures that were kept on hold for some time.

And where does one find that mystical Muse?

A good subject, a good idea or a good story.

If not a writer, you’d be?

I would be a spy for my country.

A character of your own creation you have fallen for?

None so far.

Critical acclaim or crazy screaming fans?

I like both. The more the merrier. [/alert]

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Catch the author for more as he discusses, ‘Notes From Mumbai Mafia’ and ‘Mumbai: The Megalopolis’ at the HT Crime Writers Festival on 18th Jan ‘15 at the India Habitat Centre.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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