A two-month investigation by Ajit Sahi and Rana Ayyub found that MCOCA has only pinned the small fry while failing to nail gangsters’ kin
CASE STUDY 13
RUBINA SYED, Alleged girlfriend of gangster Chhota Shakeel
PEOPLE THINK Rubina Syed is gangster Chhota Shakeel’s girlfriend. Whereas she is hurting that he betrayed her and owes her money.
Excessively theatrical and with a love for filthiest Hindi profanities that she spits in a masculine drawl, Rubina’s is a made-for-Bollywood caper. Raised in central Mumbai’s Muslim neighbourhood of Nagpada, Rubina, now 40, fell madly in love with a classmate and married him when both were 18. They had a son and a daughter. Her husband, Siraj, had no fixed job. She set up shop as a beautician.
In April 2000, police came to Rubina’s building and arrested her father’s sister’s son, Obaid, who lived in a one-room tenement like hers a floor above. Booked in a murder case, Obaid sent for Rubina: “We will rot here if money doesn’t come soon.” Obaid asked her to call up his boss, Chhota Shakeel, in Dubai. Thus began Rubina’s life in crime, if it can be called that.
“How dare you use the boys like tissue paper,” Rubina claims she roared into the phone. Shakeel began sending Rs 35,000 a month as legal fees and expenses for seven ‘boys’. Every month, she would drive up to a different street corner where a man would hand her a packet of money.
Over time, Shakeel began calling her ‘Aapa’, the Urdu word for older sister. “Are you a housewife?” he asked her. Once, he asked her to send him Hyderabadi pickles. “I made them myself,” she says, her eyes twinkling. Of course, she never heard Shakeel speak, for he spoke through a sidekick, Faheem Machmach.
Meanwhile, Rubina began to suspect that while she worked at her beauty parlour, her husband, Siraj, was fooling around with Obaid’s wife, Rizwana. One morning, years earlier, Obaid had brought Rizwana home as his wife. She had been a beer bar dancer and Obaid had taken to her on a night out. Rubina says Rizwana’s mother’s mother ran a shady matrimonial business fixing teenage Muslim girls for old Arabs for marriage as a cover for prostitution.
• Rubina began receiving money from Shakeel in 2000 to pay the legal fees for her cousin Obaid
• Police recorded her phone conversations with Shakeel. She was arrested in May 2004 and booked under MCOCA
• Police claimed she was Shakeel’s girlfriend. She says she never met the don. She was convicted under MCOCA
“How dare she eye my husband,” says Rubina of Rizwana. “I slapped her.” This proved costly. Rizwana went to the police. For months, police recorded Rubina’s phone conversations with Dubai. On May 26, 2004, police landed at Rubina’s house and arrested her . “It was my daughter’s birthday,” Rubina remembers. “I came home after buying chicken and found the police swarming.”
Crazily, Rubina refused to abscond although someone told her the previous night that the man who gave her money each month had been arrested. “I hadn’t done any wrong,” she says. Rubina was booked under MCOCA. “The police said my chats with Shakeel about the Hyderabadi pickles were codes for something,” she says.
Fed salacious stories of her romancing the don, television news sensationally ran her videos all day long. “I cried nights at this character assassination,” she says with rage.
RUBINA CLAIMS Shakeel was yet to reimburse the Rs 2.6 lakh she had spent on the lawyer, so she asked her husband to phone Shakeel: “I told him to only use payphones.” But the don would take calls only after midnight in India. So Siraj called him from his mobile phone. Police recorded his conversations. He was arrested and booked under MCOCA. Police had no proof of Machmach’s voice. A policeman who had heard Machmach speak 17 years earlier turned witness.
Ironically, the police did a terrible job of searching her house. “I threw my mobile phone under the gas stove,” she says. Despite turning her house upside down, they didn’t find it, as they didn’t find the diary in which she recorded the money transactions, which she hid under a pillow. The police also did not find the Rs 1.5 lakh of Shakeel’s money she hid under the kitchen shelves.
The High Court turned down Rubina’s bail plea five times, although a co-accused got bail from the Supreme Court. Finally, she, too, got bail from the Supreme Court in December 2008. But this was of no use, as just months later, the MCOCA court convicted her and sentenced her to five years in prison. By then, she had already done five years in jail.
“I never saw Shakeel,” Rubina says sadly. “I was never his girlfriend.” Her husband Siraj died in May 2009. Rizwana, who had turned approver, vanished. Rubina’s cousin Obaid is now free, having served out his sentence. He now has a new wife — in fact, two of them.