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Book review of

Stories of Women from the Ganglands

A project submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirement for the degree of Bachelor of Arts in Sociology Applied Component Gender and Society, Paper 6, for the academic year of 20112012.

Shreya Bhat, Roll number 352,

TYBA, St Xaviers College, Mumbai.

Sr No. Topic. Page No.


The Willy Old Woman of Dongri.

The Matriarch of Kamathipura.


Femme Fatale.

The Narco Empress.


Mobsters Moll.


Wives of Hindu Dons.


That the female of the species is deadlier than the male -Rudyard Kipling. The first time I came across this book titled Mafia Queens of Mumbai stories of women from the ganglands was in a bookstore in, well, Mumbai! Upon having started my classes in Gender and Society, we were told that our University project would have to deal with the issue of gender, and a single glance at the book placed in the shelf was my answer to the ultimate question: what part of gender and its relation to the structure of society should I question? The book, authored by S. Hussain Zaidi with Jane Borges, in my opinion, is extremely well written and manages to hold your attention from page 1. Mostly because it is based on an issue that is always discussed in whispers and the central characters are those who are hardly known of. Backed with facts, precise dates and photographs, the book seems more accurate as it avoids the use of fictional names. The foreword by Vishal Bharadwaj, where he talks of how crime is juicier than spirituality and guns, more attractive than roses, gives you an idea of the setting of the book. While crime in India is reported only in the tiny constricted columns of a newspaper, this book, seeks to preserve such stories. As a woman myself, a story based around a female protagonist, or an antagonist in this case, always seems far more fascinating. Women like Phoolan Devi, Indira Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi are only a couple of women who have managed to captivate more attention than their counterparts. This book throws up a bunch of 13 beautiful, kind, shrewd women, who have played an important part in shaping the structure of the Underworld, some by breaking ground themselves, the others simply by living in the shadows of the men in their lives. The 6 main chapters are centered on Jenabai, Gangubai Kathewali, Sapna didi, Mahalaxmi Papamani, Monica Bedi, Asha Gawli, Neeta Naik, Sujata Nikhalje and Padma Poojary. Additional mention has been made of other women who also played small, yet crucial roles as a part of Mumbais Mafiosi. Through this essay, I intend to give you a summary of the content of the book, while putting in my own opinion on the portrayal of women, both positive and negative, and the weightage given to the role they play in the growth of a body largely feared and hardly manageable. Every chapter, therefore contains a narration of the incidences mentioned by the author and my analytical thought about the information provided about each of these women.

The Willy Old Woman of Dongri Jenabai.

The character of Jenabai in the book is consistently portrayed as that of a woman who is single handedly in complete control of the men in her life. Known to be a bootlegger and a police informer, she was also known to have been actively involved in the struggle for freedom alongside Mahatma Gandhi and a rakhi sister to former Prime Minister Morarji Desai. How is then, that one such well known woman be regarded as an infamous Mafia Queen? Jenabai, who lived in her modest ancestral home in Dongri, was regarded as a Godmother by none other than Dawood Ibrahim. In the book, the reporters talk of several instances wherein Jenabai shielded Dawood from the police and then went on to initiate the peace making process between two upcoming warring gangs, all on account of the influence, power, control and respect she held in the community she lived in, and among the people she interacted with. Extremely charismatic and shrewd, in the words of her own daughter Khadija, Jenabai dealth with the police in a very planned manner. She is credited to have resolved thousands of family disputes and battles within the mafia. Not only was she respected and approached by the elite in the community, people belonging to the lower classes also approached her to seek help, many a times financial assistance. Such was her command. In the late 1980s, she involved herself in a religious movement among Muslims. The books speaks of how, in a community where women are always expected to live and breathe inside a purdah, Jenabai was amicably respected and the amount of influence she had grew exponentially. To be a Godmother to a villainous man like Dawood Ibrahim certainly placed her in a position where she moulded the future of the Underworld with her own hands. Without a husband to fall back on, she successfully managed to bring up her own children and earn the admiration of the society that she worked hard in.

The Matriarch of Kamathipura - Gangubai Kathewali.

Gangubai Kathewali, who grew into a woman of strong substance, once upon a time faced the same fate as that of million other young girls who are brought into Mumbai with false promises of marriage and city life and are inevitably pushed into the dark world of prostitution. Gangubai hailed from a small town in Gujarat and arrived in Bombay after eloping with her lover, who happened to be the same man who sold her off to a brothel owner for a paltry sum of five hundred rupees. Upon finding out the truth, after initial resistance, like all the other helpless women, Gangubai gave in to the world of flesh trade. The book charts her growth from a mere sex worker in Kamathipura to becoming the Queen of Kamathipura. While the sex trade that goes around in these areas does not deeply involve the mafia as such, Gangubai managed to gain much needed security on account of the close sisterly relations she developed with Karim Lala, a small time gangster who went on to become the founder and pioneer of the Indian mafia in the area of Mumbai. While Gangubai was firm on continuing managing and handling the sex trade that took place in Kamathipura, she was known as the madam who gave more importance to women over money. The author narrates an incidence wherein Gangubai cordially sends a girl who was sold off in the city back to her hometown. Regarded as the president of Kamathipura, Gangubai has addressed conferences of women on several occasions. In 1960, she spearheaded a movement against the evacuation of sex workers from around areas where schools were set up. She is known to have been a helpful woman, without a family of her own, who adopted several orphaned 6

and homeless children, provided them shelter in her own house and supplied resources for their education. The bit on Gangubai throws light on the fact that prostitutes are equivalent to soldiers. While soldiers battle it out to protect their motherland from external forces, prostitutes offer themselves away to men so as to protect the chastity, integrity and morality of several women in the society from the male roving eye. While she was certainly not all milk and honey, the book also paints a rather dark picture of hers that shows her rolling in money and as someone who is a hardcore gambler. Yet, the respect she won from the people of the society she belonged to overshadows her role as the propagator of sex trade that continues to ruin the lives of millions of women in the country.

Femme Fatale Sapna Didi.

Sapna didi, originally named Ashraf, was the wife of one Mehmood who was shot dead in a police encounter that was orchestrated after a tip off by none other than Dawood Ibrahim since Mehmood refused to complete a task given to him by the mafia king. The story of Sapna therefore is about a woman who is out to seek vengeance for the death of her husband, a man she loved much. From being meek and homely, the book traces the transformation of Ashraf into Sapna, a woman filled with bitter rage and hurt, enough to want to bring down someone as feared as Dawood. In her quest to do so, shes seen joining hands with Hussain Ustara, a gangster who provides for the resources and help required. While mastering the art of using a gun from scratch, Sapna builds her network of contacts at a steady pace and over the years is seen working towards her goal as a strong willed woman seeking justice, in her own way, ironically backed by a man. She was known for her strategy of trying to cause monetary damage to Dawoods empire by busting arms consignments and fake currency rackets controlled around Nepal for around 4 years, always accompanied by Ustara. However, like a perfectly scripted Bollywood movie, Ustara developed feelings for this woman who was stronger than he had ever imagined. His expression of the way he felt for her was met with utter disgust on her behalf and then went on to split, as a team. While she continued to operate all by herself, she found herself to be slightly weakened and taking advantage of this situation, Chota Shakeels men had her murdered. The narration first paints the picture of a beautiful burkha clad Ashraf who then changed into a painfully magnetic and powerful woman who loses her faith in religion and is willed by the need to avenge the death of her husband. So strong was her will that apart from leaving Dawood shaken, she left behind Ustara who swore to eliminate the perpetrators of her doom. The bit on Sapna clearly exemplifies the fact that to a woman, her family matters the most and any evil raining down on her family has to fight the wrath of the woman. One has seen in several other incidences as well where women have taken it upon themselves to step out of their comfort zones and the safety of their homes to battle external threats and protect the dignity of their families and seek justice.

The Narco Empress Mahalaxmi Papamani.

Named after a Goddess, Mahalaxmi Papamani, fondly referred to as Amma, is regarded as the richest drug baroness in Mumbai. She was looked up with great respect in the Tamil community consisting of people belonging to the lower class. Just like other Mafia Queens, Papamani starts off with the support and backing she receives from a Tamilian don. However, downfall of the don also marks her own failure. Not someone to give up that easy, Papamani is then seen fending herself by starting off all over again as a rag picker first, a domestic help in Mumbai and then she came into contact with a drug peddler, who she happened to marry. The book takes us through Papamanis life, which is full of dramatic highs and lows. The business of peddling drugs is mostly handled by a bunch of three women, the troika. Concerning the murky world of drug peddling, the power placed in the hands of these women, none remotely backed by men, is simply hard to believe. Back in those days, their earnings were equal to the income of a CEO of a respectable firm in Mumbai. Papamani, apart from single handedly supporting her family of 4 children and an alcoholic husband, also helped provide employment to several deprived families the Sion-Koliwada region. Most of these women are therefore known for their contribution to society by the way of supporting the financially underprivileged and the charitable help they provide to their own community. This in return helps them win the support of the masses in the form of security in case of intervention by the police forces. Through Papamanis story, the book effectively throws light on the fact that in mans world, there are innumerable forces that are constantly at work to bring down a woman,

irrespective of the nature of work she is involved in. Many a times these forces are none other than the husband or the family of the woman, their own people they strive hard to provide for. Similarly, in Papamanis case, it was her husband who held a grudge against her for becoming far more successful than he could ever be in the business and her daughter who despised Papamanis efforts to safeguard her from falling into the wrong hands of a local goon and trying to provide her with a better future. They both snitched against Papamani to the police and that led to her ultimate arrest and subsequent downfall. The author, while conducting research talks of meeting Papamani in a much planned setup where Papamani played the role of being a vegetable vendor, far from her role as that of the biggest drug baroness of Mumbai.


Mobsters Moll Monica Bedi.

The chapter on Monica Bedi, the moll to Dawoods aide Abu Salem and Bollywoods very own controversys child, hardly comes as a surprise because so much is already known, reported and been said about Monica, partly by the media and a lot by herself, in her attempt to justify her actions. Monica Bedi started off as a small time actress in Bollywood. Upon reading the book, I realized technically, she can not be called a mafia queen because going by her allegations, she hardly knew of Salems networking and wrong doings. She fell for the person he was and she was too deep in love with him before she realized the mess she had become a part of. Unlike the other mafia queens, Monica Bedi is not seen playing any important role, or taking important decisions. She, supposedly, only travelled with Salem around the world before they were finally arrested in Lisbon in Portugal. While in prison, we see Monicas transformation into someone who embraced Christianity and the Bible showed her the path. Her relations with Salem, or whatever that was left of it, soured and that was the main reason for them to be deported back to India. Once back in India, Monica served her sentence in prison and then on she has been constantly trying to piece back her life by trying her luck in Bollywood once again, this time without the influence and help of a gangster from the Underworld. The portrayal of Monica is that of a rather docile woman, which is true in all probability. Going by her conversion from being a Sikh to embracing Islam, then Christianity and back to Sikhism, she comes across who is easily influenced. Love struck and clearly lacking a strong guiding force in her life, Monica saw herself become the shadow of a


man who served her needs. Thus, it fits the societal projection of women who are slaves to their needs and are seen living at the mercy of the men in their lives. Similar to being a moll to these gangsters, several women have been known to be the ganglords girls too. These women, in most cases, are more brains than beauty. They are women who are extremely moderately tech savy and this helps them escape the police. Also, since they are not half as beautiful, they do not gather much attention. These are women who aspire to make it big. They are closely involved in the network of the mafia. Mentioned in the book are two such women; Mrs Paul, Chhota Shakeels close aides wife and Rubina Sayyed, most commonly known as Chhota Shakeel ki motigirlfriend.


Wives of Hindu Dons

Here on, the book takes a different route. On account of rise in terrorism, the national and international police were keen on coming down upon the gangsters. The gangsters, in order to save themselves, realized that they would have to hand over their reigns to someone trustworthy for the time being. However since they found it difficult to trust people easily, the quickest way out was to turn to their better halves, their aardhangini. The wives of these dons, seen mostly only in the case of Hindu dons, had all along watched from inside the safety of their homes as their husbands went out and carried out their business. These women were well aware of the tricks of the trade and were only needed to be polished into mastering them efficiently. Management of a gang for them was more or less like bringing up their own kids, only a gang was like a pack of wolves which constantly needed to be tamed and kept under proper control. These women, like any other Indian woman, stood up to protect their husbands from the enemy. Therefore, the participation of these women in the activities of the Underworld should be credited to the traditional training given to them concerning their role as an Indian wife to their husband.

Asha Gawli, seen along with Arun Gawli in the above picture, is fondly referred to as Mummy. She is a typical Indian woman, clad in a sari, vermillion and a mangalsutra. So far, she has managed to help Arun Gawli float his political party by campaigning for him on all those days that he spends in jail. It is on account of her efforts that Arun Gawli is today a part of the Legislative Assembly in the state government. It is Ashas image that helps support Aruns case as that of a social worker husband who is being framed wrongly by the cops.


While Arun and Asha Gawlis story sounds so much like a fairytale, the same is not the case with Neeta Naik, the wife of the most educated don Ashwin Naik. Neeta Naik was a convent educated girl who grew up to become a shrewd political leader, a member of the Shiv Sena party and an excellent orator with the BMC. What saddens me the most is the fact that her death was plotted by her own husband, a man whom she herself pushed forward to join the mafia for his own safety. Neeta is projected as a woman of substance who cordially supported her husband, but was keen on obtaining a strong foothold in politics and making her presence felt, all by herself. Even as her husband continued to attract trouble, Neeta is seen as a woman who managed to loosen her ties with Ashwin as she did not want to jeopardize her position as a political leader. A human before being a woman, Neeta developed extra martial relations with her private bodyguard while Ashwin was serving his time in Tihar jail. Upon getting to know of this, a very possessive Ashwin plotted the murder of his own wife, for which he was acquitted in the year 2009 due to lack of evidence. I breathe Ashwin. I dont need food or water to survive; only my fond memories of him are sufficient, said Neeta Naik, a woman who looked after her family, a strong willed politician and a commanding civic corporator. Sujata Nikhalje alias Nani, wife of Chhota Rajan, is the perfect example of a simple middle class Maharashtrian woman who in the absence of her husband, taking complete understanding of the gravity of the situation, learns the tricks of the trade and continues to expand the power and business of her husband, financially. The name of Chhota Rajan sent shivers down the spines of many in the Tilak nagar area of Mumbai and sensing this, Sujata continued to invest the ill-gotten money of her husband in the real estate business. Her aim of trying to convert Tilak Nagar into an upscale locality in Mumbai was almost achieved on account of her smart moves, but the police managed to crack down upon her and she had to slowly lay low for the longest time. An extract from the book goes as follows: Question: Where does an educated, crafty and ambitious woman with dreams of possessing a fortune of billions do if she ends up marrying a small time thug with no identity of his own? Answer: She uses her skills to shape her husband into a hardened gangster who ends up breathing fear into the moneyed class of the very city where he first began as a nobody The extract above mostly sums up the life of Padma Poojary, wife of the infamous don Ravi Poojary. While Padma and Ravi were childhood sweathearts, she did not know about his criminal activities until she married him. Once she found out, she had an option to leave him, but like other wives, she continued to stick around her husband keeping in mind the possibility of earning immense wealth, in the authors opinion. Padma, on the outside a simple housewife living in the ordinary suburb of Andheri escaped the attention


of the police and managed to assist her husband in extorting money from the rich and the famous of the glamour industry. While she is not known to have operated all by herself on a very large scale, she was involved in the crime of procuring her passport using forged documents. Since then, she has been absconding, along with her husband. In case of wives who were involved in politics, they were well aware of the fact that their political clout could be used to legitimize the ill activities of their husbands. In case of the others, they were lured in by the possibility of earning money that could help them provide their children a better and far more secure future. All in all, hardly can one say that the women are in it to win it. It is more of a moral obligation of sorts for them to protect their husbands.