Most of the courts of law in Mumbai are housed in beautiful British-era buildings constructed in the Victorian-Gothic style of architecture. They are grand, strong and reminiscent of the imperial power that dominated the city for over two centuries. But I also see them as some of the most depressing places in Mumbai.
Thousands of litigants, making adjustments to their routine life, with some sacrificing their daily earnings, make rounds of these stone buildings to seek justice. But in India, the speed of justice is slower than that of a snail and often it takes aeons for courts to deliver the judgments. It is this pitiable judicial system that led to the manifestation of “Underworld Courts” in the decades of 1980s and 1990s, where disputes were settled swiftly in one or two dates, there was no scope for appeal and there was no contempt of court as it meant “death penalty” to the violator.
However, such courts were like double-edged swords, which often brought more trouble than relief to the litigants.
Recently, one person named JM Joshi had to face the repercussions of approaching such an underworld court to sort out a dispute with his professional rival. Joshi worked with Pune-based Gutkha baron Rasiklal Dhariwal, who owned Manikchand Gutkha. In 1997, Joshi broke off with him to start his own brand, named Goa Gutkha.
Some monetary dispute cropped up between the two and they purportedly landed up at mafia Dawood Ibrahim’s door in Karachi to settle it. Dawood intervened in the matter but asked that the duo must help him in setting up a gutkha factory in Pakistan. His younger brother Anees had launched a gutkha brand “Fire”. The duo were asked to provide machinery and skilled manpower for the same.
Meanwhile, a hitman of the D-Company named Jamiruddin aka Jumbo was arrested by the Mumbai cops. Jumbo’s interrogation disclosed Dawood’s gutkha factory plan, and the help offered by Joshi and Dhariwal for the same. They, too, were booked, and the case was transferred to the CBI.
Recently, after around two decades of the judicial process, Joshi was sentenced to ten years of imprisonment and a penalty of Rs 5 lakh was imposed on him. Dhariwal died in 2017.
In the 1980s and 1990s, it was common for businessmen to approach underworld dons to settle their disputes. In the underworld parlance, such resolution of disputes was known as “Matter Patana”.
Most of the people who approached mafias for dispute resolution were themselves involved in some sort of illegal business. The mafia took some amount of money from both parties or asked for some gratification as its “Court Fees”.
Many big faces of the underworld, like Dawood Ibrahim, Chhota Rajan and Arun Gawli, used to run parallel courts. Dawood used to call the warring parties in Dubai or Karachi to hear them. Chhota Rajan conducted the “proceedings” on phone and Arun Gawli organised his court at his bastion Dagdi Chawl.
Sometimes ex parte orders were also passed when the other party didn’t turn up for the hearing. Most of the cases that came up before these gangsters pertained to the recovery of money. Apart from smuggling, extortion, gambling and bootlegging, settling such disputes was another source of income for these gangs.
With the collapse of the Mumbai underworld, these courts have also faded away. However, the factors that led to the emergence of such courts still exist. In the Hindi movie “Damini” , actor Sunny Deol had summed them up in a dialogue — “Tareekh pe tareekh pe tareekh…”