With the most infamous names of the Mumbai underworld incarcerated in various prisons across Maharashtra, gang wars had become common place in these places. However, after peaking for a period from 2000 to 2016, the later years have seen lesser gang fights inside the prisons of Maharashtra. Even high security Arthur Road Jail, a holding facility for undertrials including high profile prisoners, has seen its share of gang wars.
Then the sidekicks of Chhota Rajan and Dawood Ibrahim and infamous gangsters Arun Gawli and Santosh Shetty, hardened criminals and terrorists, were housed inside the Arthur Road Jail. The gangsters brought their inter-gang rivalries and hostilities into the prisons. Turf wars inside the prisons became common. Cross-gang recruitments led to tensions and assaults took place. From the early 1990s, members of the well-entrenched gangs were arrested and lodged primarily in the Arthur Road Jail, leading to tensions, skirmishes, and assaults.
Some notable gang conflicts in prisons
In September 2002, a notorious prison war broke out in the Nashik Central Jail in Maharashtra. The one-time trusted aide of Chhota Rajan, O P Singh was brutally murdered by the henchmen of another Rajan aide, D K Rao. Singh, who was a confidante of Rajan, had a fallout with his boss and thought that prison would be safe for him. However, the conspiracy to kill him was reportedly hatched in the Nashik Central Jail after Rajan had communicated the same to his incarcerated aide D K Rao via different channels of verbal communication.
Back then, Singh, who was employed with the Mazgaon Docks as a quality control officer, joined the Rajan gang after his brother was killed by the Ashwin Naik gang. Soon he rose to the upper echelons of the gang and became a close associate of Rajan. However, due to trust deficit on both sides, there was a falling out. The murder of Singh in prison by rivals caused a furore and there was shuffling of officials.
In December 2006, small-time criminals John D’Souza and Asghar Ali Mehndi were killed in the Arthur Road Jail. D’Souza was attacked by Mehndi with razors inside the prison near barrack four and succumbed to his injuries. A month later, members of the D’Souza gang, who too were lodged in the same prison, attacked Mehndi in a similar manner and killed him.
In July 2010, gangster Abu Salem was assaulted with a sharpened spoon by his rival Mustafa Dossa alias Mustafa Majnu. The assault took place at breakfast time inside the jail canteen. Dossa had used a sharpened spoon to assault Salem who was injured in the face and neck. Both Salem and Dossa were facing trial in the 1993 Bombay bomb blasts case. Salem was later shifted to another prison.
Right after the attack on Salem, his aide Mehendi Hasan —then an undertrial in the Pradeep Jain murder case— too was attacked in the Arthur Road Jail by two other undertrials. He sustained injuries on his hands and chin.
In 2012, murder accused Akram Khan was attacked and killed by another prisoner Kashinath Jadhav inside the Arthur Road Jail.
In October 2016, an inmate of the Thane Central Jail had attacked a jail doctor as the latter refused to give him a medical certificate. This would have enabled that prisoner to be sent to a government hospital outside the jail. This incident saw that prisoner being shifted to the Nashik Central Jail.
The riot in Thane Central Jail
In November 2016, a film on gang wars that was screened inside the Thane Central Jail led to a fist fight between two infamous gangsters lodged there. The jail guard had to sound the alarm and the whole facility was surrounded by the prison guards as about 500 prisoners fought with each other, leading to a riot like situation inside the prison.
At the time, the prison had an estimated 2,950 inmates, some with the kind of track record that would instill fear just by listening to it. The prisoners were distributed across the six barracks that made up the Thane Central Jail.
On that day, there was a screening of a Bollywood flick on gang wars in barrack number four. Though all the six barracks had independent TV sets, only the one in barrack four was functional. Therefore, the film screening saw the sneaky entry of some prisoners from barrack six. The prison officials had brought a DVD set and had connected it to the TV set.
As the screening progressed, two gangsters, Shekhar Shettiyar and Shiva Shetty, got into a verbal altercation. Both Shettiyar and Shetty were accused of serious crimes. Soon, they were beating up each other and this led to the participation of other prisoners.
Shetty had been transferred to the Thane Central Jail from the Arthur Road Jail due to his assaulting other prisoners and igniting gang fights, narrated an official in the know of the case.
Prison fights in recent years
In July 2021, two gangs fought each other within the confines of the Nagpur Central Jail. Two prisoners, Shaikh Rizwan Mujif and Monu Manoj Samudre, who were part of this fight were injured.
There were two rival gangs involved in this attack and assault. One gang constituted Saurabh Raja Taywade, Monu Manoj Samudre, and Mohammed Amir Jahir Patel. The rival gang included Prajwal Vishal Shende, Shaikh Rizwan Mujif, and Santosh Achhelal Gond. All of them faced serious charges of murder and were held under the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA).
Shende, Mujif and Gond had beaten up Amir Jahir Patel in prison. The members of his gang Taywade and Samudre were waiting for a chance to strike back. They got their revenge when they saw Rizwan near barrack five. This was about 4 p.m. According to sources, they assaulted Rizwan with iron bars and injured him grievously. Samudre too was injured in this attack. Since this incident, fights between the two gangs and some others continued for over a month.
The Covid years have not seen any major eruptions of violence within the prisons’ walls.
“The prisons are over-crowded. There is no leg space for new prisoners. Over-crowding and hostilities arising out of such stressful conditions have heightened the tensions inside the prisons, specifically the Arthur Road Jail. Attacks on each other cannot be stopped unless the numbers inside the prisons are reduced,” said a senior police officer.