The Ransom Industry
for ransom has become a thriving industry in North India. Take
the figures for New Delhi alone. From 32 reported cases in 1992,
the number went up to 51 in 1995.
Hello, I'm Anjali. You don't know me, but I'd
like to get to know you,' said the feminine vocie coyly on the
other side of the phone. For 21-year-old Rishi Sethi, this was
a bit unusual. He was not in the habit of receiving calls from
girls. In fact, should girls be calling up boys at all? Let alone
making such suggestive overtures.
he slammed the phone down thinking it was a crank cell. But the
caller persisted. And soon, Rishi and Anjali became tele-pals.
Anjali suggested that the two should meet. The rendezvous was
fixed at Kalindi Kunj, a scenic locale by the banks of the Yamuna
river in Delhi, used for such meetings. Rishi, however, decided
to make a picnic of it and took a couple of his friends along
for the meeting. But Anjali didn't turn up. And his friends ribbed
him for having been stood up.
next day she called again. (Since she claimed to be living in
a hostel at Delhi's Lady Shri Ram College, she had suggested that
it would be easier if she made the calls). "I was there at
Kalindi," she said. "But you'd brought your friends
along, so I didn't show myself. Next time, come alone."
was why Rishi left his house at 4.30 pm on September 12, 1995,
driving his father's Maruti 1000, all alone. He reached the rendezvous
-- this time it was behind the All India Institute of Medical
Sciences, near the director's bungalow. Suddenly, another car
stopped alongside. A man came out walked up to Rishi's car, opened
the door and pointed a gun at him. "Saale, tu ladki ko chherta
hai (how dare you tease a girl)?" he said, yanking him by
the collar. The man claimed to be Anjali's brother.
man got out of the car. When Rishi tried to explain, he was hit
on the nose. When he screaming for help, he was beaten up even
more. Then the two got into his car, and made him crouch under
the front passenger seat. 'Let's go and tell your father what
you've been doing,' said one of them menacingly. And then they
did not get to see his father for the next four days. He was instead
taken to a small basement (in a double-storey house in Raj Nagar,
Ghaziabad, as it was later discovered). The room was just large
enough to accommodate a bed. But Rishi did not get a bed. Instead,
he was chained from his neck, hands and feet. The chain was tied
to a hook on the door. If he lifted his neck, that hurt. At best
he could manage an uncomfortable sitting position. And that is
the way he stayed for four whole days. There was no light in the
musty, damp room. But Rishi didn't notice that. He was still blindfolded.
the meantime, Rishi's father, who owned Kalinga Cables, a thriving
electronics shop in Delhi's West Patel Nagar, received a call
at 11.30 pm that night. The caller demanded Rs 10 million. The
amount, said Kulbushan Sethi, was too much to arrange at such
a short notice. He was asked to think about the consequences.
Half-an-hour later Kulbhushan called the police.
September 14, the kidnapper called again, Kulbhushan still insisted
that he would need time to come up with that kind of money. Some
bargaining followed. The sum was brought down to Rs 1 million.
The next day, Kulbhushan was told to go to Mayur Hotel in Meerut
where there would a room booked in the name of Sandeep Jain. He
would get a letter from his son, and he should leave the money
there. Kulbushan did just that. And left.
when Jain showed up to collect the money, the police were waiting
for him. Codenamed 'Devil' they had positioned themselves not
only in strategic positions around the hotel, but had even covered
all the exits out of Meerut. They let Jain pick up the money and
then followed him.
followed was a hot chase, very much Bollywood style. And the police
soon caught up with Jain and his accomplice. The kidnappers --
Amit Yadav and Rahul Rana -- broke down and told the police where
to find Rishi. This was there first kidnapping and the duo ran
two unsuccessful restaurants, Chakori and Feeder 2000. They decided
to make up for their business losses by kidnapping a boy they
noticed when they went into Kalinga Cables to buy some electrical
they got the shop's telephone number, the rest was easy. Amit
just modulated his voice to make it sound like a girl's, and began
wooing Rishi as Anjali.
the police team lead by Additional Assistant Commissioner of Police
(West), Sanjay Singh, stomed into the basement where Rishi was
kept, the boy cringed in horror. Even after they took off the
blindfold, all that he saw were plainclothesmen with guns in their
hands. "Please don't kill me," he whimpered. It was
only when one of them showed his identify card that it finally
hit him. He was free.
nearly two years later, Rishi is married with a daughter. But
is he finally free of that nightmare? 'I still get depressed sometimes''
he admits. Though he goes go out alone, his family knows exactly
where he is going. And of course, he doesn't take crank calls
for ransom has become a thriving industry. Take the figures for
New Delhi alone. From 32 reported cased in 1992, the number went
up to 51 in 1995. One reason for this is that a large number of
UP-based gangs such as the Satbir Gujjar, Mahender Fauji and the
Tyagi gangs shifted their area of operation to Delhi.
did not start with kidnapping for ransom,'' explains Nikhil Kumar,
Delhi's police commissioner. "Most graduated to kidnapping
from being petty extortionists. From a local dada taking money
for hafta to gang leaders specialising in kidnapping." Criminals
like Om Prakash Srivastava, aka Babloo, who have perfected kidnapping
to a fine art come into a different category.
victims are easy to identify, especially in a city like Delhi
where those who have cash, flash it. The kidnappers usually identify
the victim -- usually the son and heir of the family business.
And the child is intercepted at gunpoint while driving out somewhere.
"Most businessmen put in all kinds of security gadgets in
their houses, but neglect to safeguard themselves when they are
out on the road,' says S N Srivastava, deputy commissioner of
police (southwest Delhi). And the reason whey they prefer to take
the sons rather than the wives? "The women act as the catalyst
to make sure the ransom is paid soon," says Srivastava.
most cases, the ransom is paid and the boy returns home. When
the police try to question him, they are told that 'it was a mistake.
The kidnappers had picked up the wrong boy. So They let him free.'
And the ransom? There is usually outraged indignation and a hot
are two reasons for this. One is, the families have no faith in
the police. They would rather pay the money than risk losing the
child. And they feel that the police would rather catch criminals
than save the victim. "This is totally incorrect," asserts
Maxwell Pereira, additional commissioner of police, (south Delhi).
"Our first priority is the safety of the victim. That is
why we even let the families pay the ransom money. We don't move
in until the kidnapped person has been returned."
is something that is reiterated by Deepak Mishra, DCP, west Delhi.
He handled the Rishi Sethi and also the Arpan Paliwal case. "Not
for once did we doubt that Rishi's safety would not be his first
priority." says Kulbhushan Sethi.
second reason for not bringing in the police is the black money
angle. Once the police get involved, the case is publicised and
so is the ransom amount. "Even if the child is not home,
there is one person who will be knocking at your door for sure
-- and that is the income tax authorities," says Inspector
Raman Lamba. "Take the S L Pawa case,' he adds. (Pawa, a
Greater Kailash-based hotelier, was kidnapped by the Babloo Srivastava
gang and returned after a ransom of Rs 10 million had been paid).
had made a statement to the police that he paid a ransom. But
every time his case comes up for hearing, revenue officials also
land up in court. "In such a situation, why should he admit
to having paid ransom?' asks Lamba.
this is the catch. Though the Supreme Court amended Section 364(A)
of the Indian Penal Code in 1993 and made kidnapping for ransom
punishable by death, this has brought little relief. "It
has not been awarded to anyone yet,' says Mohan Gupta, a businessman
whose son was kidnapped in 1995.
days, with kidnappers having realised that they are most vulnerable
even when they go to pick up the ransom money from remote parking
lots or even dense jungles in UP, most now opt for the hawala
route. As a result, no one is ready to admit to having paid ransom.
Or having been kidnapped for that matter.
problem faced by the police is a new ruling which makes it essential
for the police to get permission both from the Supreme Court and
the home ministry before they can tap the telephone at the house
of the victim. Moreover, after the Babloo Srivastava casse, kidnappers
are also aware of the fact that even cellular phones can be tapped
and so they have become all the more cautious.
have improved since 1995,'' asserts Nikhil Kumar. The reason for
this is that over 16 of the UP-based gang-leaders have been either
wiped out in encounters with the Delhi police or are now behind
bars. Such as the Gujjar gang. ''Gujjar's name was enough to make
people pay up," says Dharmender Kumar.''All he had to do
was call up and make a threat. He did not even have to kidnap
that does not explain the recent spate of kidnappings in the capital.
"At least give us credit that we have solved all the cases
that were reported to us and brought the victim back safely,"
says Nikhil Kumar
even when the kidnappers are caught, they go scot-free. As in
the case of Narender Shingla, the owner of Alisha Shoes. Shingla
was kidnapped and tortured a couple of years ago. He reportedly
paid up Rs 200, 000 for his release. But when the time came for
him to identify his kidnappers in the test identification parade,
he just refused to do so. ''If you insist, I will jump off the
roof,'' he told the police.
the anti-kidnapping cell has a library of sound recordings where
they can match voices of 'known kidnappers' and other such data,
they still need the co-operation of the victim's family. "Often
the family does not tell us when they receive a call to pay ransom,
or whatever renegotiations are going on'' says Mishra. The reason
for this is, of course, a lack of trust in the police.
trusted the police and I have no regrets,'' says Mohan Gupta,
and added that his perception of the police was very different
from what he found. Gupta had initially paid off the ransom, but
when his son did not return he got desperate and only then called
in the police. "The minute Dharmender Kumar heard the kidnappers
voice, he asked me if I knew someone in Meerut as the voice sounded
as if the person came from that area,'' says Gupta. "The
name I took turned out to be the kidnapper's brother."
son was one of the lucky ones. He was not mistreated by his captors.
Rishi Sethi was not so lucky. But at least he returned home alive.
a price, of course.
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