At 5 am on 10 September 2016, even as the dawn had barely broken, the Bhagalpur jail in Bihar was abuzz with frenzied activity. Nearly 11 years after he was imprisoned, Mohammad Shahabuddin, a former Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) parliamentarian, was being released from jail and walking out a free man. On 7 September, a Patna High Court had granted him bail in the murder case of Rajiv Roshan, who was a prime witness in another case: the brutal killings of his two brothers in Shahabuddin’s native village in Siwan district, on 16 August 2004.
On the day of his release, scores of Shahabuddin’s supporters thronged Bhagalpur jail, jubilantly shouting slogans to commemorate the return of their “Sahib”—as he is popularly known. They had orchestrated a grand welcome for their leader, replete with posters, banners and flags. Legislators from the collation government of Bihar, such as Giridhari Yadav from the Janata Dal (United), Harishankar Yadav from the RJD and Shailesh Kumar, an RJD Lok Sabha MP from Bhagalpur, were in eager attendance. At 7 am, Shahabuddin emerged from jail, wearing a crisp, white kurta-pyjama and the air of self-assurance. An entourage of nearly 400 SUVs reportedly accompanied him for the 374 kilometres that he covered from Bhagalpur to his home in Siwan. The journey, which took close to 13 hours, was punctuated by halts, during which Shahabuddin interacted with the media. These were no ordinary celebrations, because this was no ordinary man.
Infamous as the poster-child for criminal politicians, Shahabuddin rose to notoriety for the terror he wielded as a political administrator in Siwan. Over the past two decades, the four-time RJD MLA has been named in 39 cases, and charged with crimes that range from flouting jail rules and intimidating voters, to extortion, kidnapping and murder. At the Hussain Ganj police station in Siwan, where a record of all the major cases against Shahabuddin is maintained, he is listed as a “Type A” criminal, a classification reserved for habitual criminals who are considered to be beyond reform. Most people from Siwan are aware of Shahabuddin’s violent reputation, but perhaps none of them are as intimately acquainted with it as Chandrakeshwar Prasad.
On 4 August 2016, I reached Gaushala Road, located at the centre of the small, sluggish town of Siwan, looking for Prasad. Moving past the cacophony and chaos of the uncharacteristic traffic on the narrow street, I realised that the man and the residence I was searching for were not hard to find. Almost everyone living around Gaushala Road knew the way to Prasad’s house. For more than a decade now, he and his family have served as uncomfortable reminders of Siwan’s distinct place in the political and criminal history of Bihar.
In November 2005, a joint team of members from the New Delhi and Bihar police arrested Shahabuddin from his official residence at Bishambdar Dass Marg in Delhi. By this time, the police had been attempting to apprehend him for over three months—several non-bailable warrants had been issued against him for various criminal cases, including one for his role in an electricity-theft case. Less than two years later, in May 2007, Shahabuddin was convicted on the charges of abducting and killing Chotelal Gupta, a CPI-ML worker, in February 1999, and was sentenced to life imprisonment. He was in jail for 11 years after his arrest in 2005. During this time, he was accused of illegally possessing mobile phones on a number of occasions, and was recently transferred to the jail in Bhagalpur.
On 16 June 2014, Prasad’s eldest son, Rajiv, the sole eyewitness of the double acid-murders of Siwan—as they are now known—was allegedly shot dead by Shahabuddin’s men. Rajiv was killed three days before one of his depositions against Shahabuddin and his aides at the Siwan special sessions court. In December 2015, the court convicted the former RJD MLA and his men of the murders of Satish Raj and Girish Raj. Shahabuddin and his aides were sentenced to life imprisonment, but in March 2016, the Patna high court granted him bail in the case.
In 2014, since Shahabuddin was sentenced to prison in three other cases and was facing trial in several others, he continued to serve time in jail. During the two years that followed, these cases were swiftly dealt with. Until recently, Shahabuddin had been acquitted or granted bail in all but one of the 39 cases that have been filed against him. He was being held in jail for the thirty-ninth case—Rajiv’s murder. On 7 September 2016, the Patna High Court paved the way for Shahabuddin’s release on 10 September by granting him bail in this case as well.
Meanwhile, Prasad has emerged as one of the most prominent victims of the culture of crime in Bihar’s politics. The numerous tragedies of his life are often quoted to illustrate all that is wrong with the contemporary political history of the state. After losing three of his sons to the gunda raj of Siwan, he has become well versed with the perpetual threat of being next in line. Numb to the fear of death, he is no longer intimidated by the prospect. Having relinquished hope, faith and even the desire to seek justice, Prasad now lives the quiet life of an indifferent recluse in Siwan.
There is no nameplate or signage on the two-storey building in which Prasad and his family live. I entered the ground floor of the structure through a glass door and found a desolate shop selling mobile accessories and electronics. A few earphones and mobile chargers were exhibited on a wall next to an empty display case and cash counter. It took me a few seconds to spot Prasad. He was sleeping on the floor beneath the counter. After another worker in his shop alerted him to my arrival, Prasad, who is also called “Chanda babu” by those who are close to him, slowly got up. Collecting his checked lungi, he slumped into a chair next to him. He gasped for breath as he began to speak, and opened the conversation by complaining about the pain in the joints in his legs and the difficulties that he is facing in breathing and walking.
Perturbed by the pandemonium on the road, I asked Prasad whether we could conduct the interview at a quieter location. “I am not able to walk. My joints pain so much these days,” He said. Nevertheless, he began limping away from the shop, towards a narrow lane that led to a house with one room, constructed on the backside of the building. With his protruded potbelly, frazzled white hair and sunken eyes, the 68-year-old-man looked haggard and defeated. I walked past a wide iron gate into Prasad’s home, and was greeted by framed photographs of his three dead sons. Placed next to each other on top of a wooden cupboard, the images appeared to compress the long years of violence that the family has endured into a space that was one-meter wide.
Prasad’s wife, Kalawati Devi, who had first filed the FIR against Shahabuddin after Satish and Girish were killed, lay on a bed in the room. When I attempted to talk to her, she started crying. She said that she was feeling unwell and would not be able to speak to me.
Recalling the sequence of events that led to the deaths of his sons, Prasad said, “Just like the mid-nineties, Shahabuddin is still a terror in Siwan.” “And he will keep on ruling through his terror,” Prasad continued, “As long as he has the political protection of Lalu Prasad Yadav.”
Born on 10 May 1967, Shahabuddin has been elected as to the Parliament four times, and twice to Bihar’s Legislative Assembly. He fought and won most of these elections on RJD’s tickets in Siwan, and is known to enjoy the political patronage of Lalu Prasad Yadav—the RJD chief and former chief minister of Bihar. Shahabuddin first came into the limelight in the mid-eighties because of his aggressive opposition to the growing influence of CMI (ML) in Siwan. Riding on the wave of his growing clout as the “Bahubali”—which translates to “the one with strength” and is another moniker for him in the region—Shahabuddin first fought and won in a state assembly election as an independent candidate from Ziradei, in 1990. (Ziradei is also the birthplace of Rajendra Prasad, India’s first president.) In 1995, he contested and won from Ziradei once again, but on the ticket of the now-defunct Janata Dal party. A year later, Yadav inducted him into the RJD. As an RJD candidate, Shahabuddin went on to win four consecutive Lok Sabha elections in 1996, 1998, 1999, and 2004, from Siwan.
During this period, Shahabuddin was known for running a parallel administration in Siwan. He organised kangaroo courts and delivered justice as he deemed fit in matters of land and family disputes. At the peak of his political and criminal clout in Siwan, the district became synonymous with lawlessness; tales of abductions, extortions and murders were aplenty. In 2001, Shahabuddin also engaged in an infamous open-gun battle near his native village Pratappur, with the Bihar and Uttar Pradesh Police. Ten people, including two policemen, were killed during this clash, but the police failed to arrest him.
After Shahabuddin was convicted for Gupta’s abduction and murder in 2007, the Election Commission of India disqualified him from contesting elections in accordance with the Representation of People Act 1951. This act bars any person who has been convicted of any crime, and has been sentenced to more than two years of imprisonment, from contesting elections for at least six years from the date of their release. In April 2016, Yadav—whose party forms a part of the ruling coalition that was elected to power in Bihar last year—began the process of Shahabuddin’s political rehabilitation by inducting him as a member of the RJD’s national executive.
Shahabuddin is staunchly loyal to Yadav. In fact, after he was released on 10 September, Shahabuddin minced no words in making his distaste for Nitish Kumar, the chief minister of Bihar, apparent. Pledging his allegiance to Yadav, Shahabhuddin described Kumar as a leader born out of circumstance. He added, “I don’t consider him as my leader. I never worked under him in the past, nor working [sic] in the present, and will not work in future.”
“Everything happened here, where you’re sitting right now,” Prasad said when I met him. “I used to run two grocery shops here on the ground floor, while a portion of the first floor of my house used to be rented off.” He said that Satish ran the first shop, and Girish, the second. “A week before my children were killed, three of Shahabuddin’s men had come to my shops and had asked me for two lakh rupees as “rangdaari”—protection tax. A few days later, Prasad went to meet Shahabuddin in Siwan jail. Describing the visit, he said, “I clearly remember, Awadh Bihari Chaudhry and Azazul Haque [local RJD politicians] were also present that day in his jail durbar. “They were all talking when I reached. With folded hands, I told Shahabuddin that his men had come to my shops asking for two lakh rupees. I pleaded that, ‘Sahib, though I do not have two lakh rupees right now but I will do as you say.’” Shahabuddin brushed him aside angrily, Prasad said, and asked him to leave. “I came back home from Siwan jail. After two days I went to Patna to attend a family function organised after the birth of a child in my extended family,” Prasad continued. “It was 16 August 2004. By night, I got a phone call saying that my sons have been killed and that I should dare not return to Patna. Otherwise, I would also be killed.”
During Shahabuddin’s political reign in the region, his men would regularly extort money from local businessmen and shopkeepers in the name of “submitting protection taxes to Sahib.” It was with this purpose that Shahabuddin’s aides returned to Prasad’s shops on the night of 16 August 2004. Prasad said, “Initially, there were three of them. Raj Kumar Shah, Sheikh Aslam and Arif Hussain,” Prasad said. “They went to my son Girish and ordered him to give them 2 lakh rupees. Since I was in Patna then, Girish said,‘Papaji abhi naikhi’—Father is not at home—and asked them to come back later.” The men began exerting pressure on Girish, they screamed at him, telling him that they had come to collect the money on Sahib’s orders. Prasad continued, “Girish clearly told them, ‘We can give you twenty or thirty thousand rupees maximum for your regular expenses, but we don’t have two lakh rupees.’ After this, they started beating Girish. We had kept around Rs 2.5 lakh in the cash box of the shop to pay for a huge consignment of dalda ghee that was to arrive the next morning. After a few minutes they spotted the cash box and looted all the money.”
During this time, more men had entered the shop. Rajiv, Prasad’s eldest son, who had seen the commotion unfold, tried calling the police station from his mobile phone. Prasad told me, “Shahabuddin’s brother, Tunna saw this and grabbed him by his collar.” Tunna shouted: “‘Thana phone karat bade be, cheenhat naikhe kekar aadmi bada san’” (you dare calling the police station, don’t you know whose men we are. Meanwhile, Prasad said, Girish saw that Shahabuddin’s men had plundered the family’s shop and were beating his brother. “Out of anger and helplessness, he bought the toilet cleaning acid from washroom in a mug and threw it on the goons.” A few drops also fell on Rajiv. “After this,” Prasad continued, “All hell broke loose.” The men retaliated with revived brutality, and called more people to the shop. Prasad said they “destroyed everything that was in the shop and put it on fire. By now, they had captured Girish and Rajiv, and next, they went looking for my second shop on the other side of the building. Satish was sitting at that shop and at the first sight he misunderstood the goons for customers.” He said that the men went on a rampage in the second shop as well. “They put it on fire, captured Satish, covered his face with a gamcha”—a piece of checked cloth made of cotton—“and made him sit on a motorbike sandwiched between Bacchu miyan and Aftab. All three of my sons were brutally beaten before they took them to Pratappur,” Prasad said.
Shahabuddin’s native village, Pratappur, is located seven kilometres away from the town of Siwan. Satish and Girish were murdered that night, but the men decided to spare Rajiv. Prasad said, “Rajiv saw everything. He told me and also said everything before the court. He was there when his younger brothers were murdered.” The men, Prasad alleged, had called Shahabuddin, “and informed him about the abduction of my three sons and mayhem they had caused at my shops from Siwan town only.” Prasad believed that Shahabuddin “was angry that my son dared to fight back.” When Shahabuddin’s men reached Pratappur, Prasad said, their leader was already present. “Rajiv saw Shahabuddin ordering his aides that no member of my family should be left alive because we dared to defy them. His men then doused Girish and Satish with acid.” Their dead bodies were never found. “Rajiv was left alive so that they can manipulate me into begging for his life and handing over whatever little property I have, to them,” Prasad added. “But Rajiv somehow managed to escape a day after. Later, despite threats to his own life, he spoke the truth as the lone eyewitness of the case—only because he wanted justice for his dead brothers. But eventually, he was also killed a decade later. Shahabuddin eliminated him to destroy all evidence of what he did to my children. Na rahega baans na bajegi bansuri.” (If there is no witness, there will be no conviction).
Prasad described the months that followed the murders of Satish and Girish as a “black-out phase.” Their extended family was scattered and living in hiding across the state. He grew a beard to conceal his identity and started living at obscure places in Patna. His elder brother, who worked with the Reserve Bank of India, began receiving phone calls with threats from Shahabuddin. He panicked and applied for a transfer to Mumbai, but the calls continued there too. Soon after, he died of a heart attack.
Meanwhile, Chandrakeshwar Prasad embarked upon the arduous journey of meeting high-ranking officials from the state police and administration to seek justice for his two sons’ murders. These included the inspector general of police in Siwan, deputy inspector general of police, superintendents of police and district collectors. He asked them to provide his remaining family and him with some security. Different officers would give him different letters. He would ferry these documents to their subordinates, requesting them for their co-operation, but to no avail. Chandrakeshwar told me that he even went to Rabri Yadav, the-then chief minister of Bihar, and Lalu Prasad. Lalu Prasad, he said, told him, “Yeh Siwan ka maamla hai, Bihar ka nahi” (This is Siwan’s matter, not Bihar’s.) “This explains that he”—Lalu Prasad—“clearly accepted Shahabuddin’s parallel rule in Siwan, fully functional and operational even from Siwan jail,” Prasad added.
Prasad told me that Jaglal Choudhary, then the superintendent of police at Siwan, refused to give him any protection. “The SP said that he is not capable of protecting me within the limits of Siwan,” he said. “He said if he protected me, his own life would be in danger. He agreed to escort me with my luggage to any other place in Bihar or Uttar Pradesh. But I had no other place to go! Where could I have gone? How would I have earned a living?” Prasad told me that when he insisted on staying at Siwan, Choudhary decided to keep him under house arrest. “We were living secretly and I was not allowed to go out,” Prasad continued, “But later, when officers such as collector CK Anil and SP Sanjay Katiyar came in, then things improved a bit. And there was Sudheer babu who was SDPO”—the sub-divisional police officer at the time. “These officers really helped me in going back to my house,” Prasad told me. “They gave me three guards. Sudheer babu especially gave a lot of emotional strength too. He insisted that I go back to living in my own house at Gowshala road. I was very scared but I had no other option. I had nothing except this house. Even today, I only get by with the little money that comes from renting my shops and house.”
So, a few months after Satish and Girish were killed, Prasad and his family began living in their old house, imposing upon themselves a sense of normalcy. The trial began and dragged on for a decade. Rajiv went to the special court of Siwan and give his statement whenever he was called. At that time, Prasad recalled, he felt fortunate that his eldest son had escaped the fate his brothers had suffered on that night in 2004. But this relief was short-lived. “I was living under the fear of losing him for years and finally it happened,” Prasad said.
On 16 June 2014, 18 days after Rajiv got married, he was shot dead by three assailants driving by on a motorcycle. Rajiv, who had been deposing in the Siwan special sessions court as an eyewitness in his brothers’ murders case, was scheduled to appear in court for a subsequent hearing, three days later.
Rajiv earned a living by selling mobile phones and accessories through small shopkeepers in Siwan. Every evening, Prasad said, his son would go to all of them to collect any money that had accrued from the sale of these gadgets. “I would always feel scared whenever he would go to market so I used to follow him around,” Prasad told me. On 16 June, Prasad said, “Rajiv had to go to a shop near Shekhar Cinema to collect some money. I was around, some distance away, when I saw Shahabuddin’s son Osama was coming this way on a bike. Two other people were riding pillion. I got scared, so I started following their bike.” A few minutes later, Prasad told me, Osama “punched Rajiv and pinned him down amid busy running traffic. Then he shot him with a silencer-equipped gun and ran away.” Prasad said he was suffering from blood-pressure problems, “So, I fainted there. Later, people took both Rajiv and me to a district hospital.” “I clearly remember Rajiv’s last minutes,” Prasad told me. “He was alive in the hospital and was making crying sounds, saying, ‘Oi-Oi,’ because of the pain and bleeding. Doctors asked us to take him to Patna and we immediately moved. But he passed away before we could cross the boundaries of Siwan.” He reiterated, once again, that his sons had been killed out of vengeance. “It was not about money,” Prasad said. Shahabuddin, he believed, “was offended because my children dared to question and retaliate when whole of Siwan keeps on giving him whatever amount of money he asks for.”
Beleaguered by severe health problems, Prasad and his wife now live with Nitish Raj, their youngest son. Nitish Raj is differently-abled. Prasad told me that Nitish regularly struggles with the fragmented memories of his dead brothers and the psychological demons of being the only child still alive in the family.
When I asked Prasad why he had not left Siwan yet, he slipped back into his characteristic indifference. “My two children were murdered by being doused acid. My third son was an eyewitness in the case of their killings. Now, I am an eyewitness in the murder case of my third son. What is left to lose? For what should I be scared now?” he said. “I do not care if Shahabuddin kills me tomorrow, I died with the pyres of my sons.”
Even the idea of retribution provides him little solace now. “What can justice do?” he said, “I have lost three sons to political murders. Nothing is going to bring them back. Neither do I have the strength, will power and money to fight these court cases of my dead children, nor do I have any desire to fight. I have no hopes for anything in life, not even justice,” he told me. “You know we have survived scary and painful pressures and direct intimidation from Shahabuddin’s men to take the acid murder case back. But I never backed off. I was also happy when the lower court sentenced him and his aides to life prison last year.” “Now, I do not have any desire for going and fighting in high court left,” Prasad continued “I have left myself in the hands of god and I will die they day he calls me. And now I do not even care about whether I get justice or not. Because, does it even matter now?”
On 12 September 2016, I spoke to Prasad over the phone about Shahabuddin’s release. He had lost the composure he had maintained during our meeting, and sounded terrified. “Obviously, I am very scared,” he said, “He has got back-to-back two bails in past seven months, and both bails were in the matter of the murder of my three sons. So, I strongly feel that I might be his next target.” Prasad added, “Though the number of cops posted to guard my house has been increased from two to four, I feel that my wife and I can be killed at any moment now. My neighbors and friends are coming and advising me to leave Siwan now, but where should I go?” He concluded by saying that the reception Shahabuddin had received in Siwan, “is very scary. I don’t know why Nitish Kumar, who boasts about sushasan”—good governance—“is letting this happen under his regime?”
Priyanka Dubey is a staff writer at The Caravan.