What is the extreme a thief can do in a conflict ridden place like Kashmir? Meet Deena, who literally vanished with an army officer’s service pistol. After persuasions and promises of anonymity Jibran Nazir got him talking
The snow on the roads has become hard and crisp due to overnight chill. Barring a few pedestrians, the roads are almost deserted. While he walks down to the bus-stand in north Kashmir’s Sopore, amid a shut-down, the sound of his screeching footsteps keeps people away, while he is in constant quest for his prey.
Before reading on, those who know Deena Kandur, 29, will check their pockets, at least once!
It might sound unreal, but it is true: Deena’s famous exploits, which include making an army officer’s pistol go ‘vanish’, in a blink, makes him the most notorious pick-pocket in the entire town.
When I met Deena, at the graveyard behind Iqbal Market, Sopore, he was warming his hand on a fire he had lit. Around him sat many young boys whom he taught the art of making things vanish from people’s pockets.
He agreed to talk about that famous pistol episode, on conditions of not to reveal his identity.
That day, Deena was standing near the road, when an army convoy crossed past him. Instantly, Deena raised his right hand, and showed his middle finger towards the Jeep carrying an officer. It was for the third time Deena had done so. However, unlike past times, this time the army vehicle stopped, and the soldiers got down, and began chasing him. Deena Kandur was caught.
“I thought they will beat me and then put me in jail,” he says, “But, I carried no remorse.”
When the army officer asked Deena why he showed such an obscene gesture, his reply astounded him. “Because, I hate you,” he shouted at the officer, leaving him red-faced. “I don’t have a gun to fight, else I would.”
Within a few minutes, people started to gather around.
The army officer, sensing trouble, took Deena’s phone and identity card, and left. They asked Deena to visit their camp.
“Looking at his (army official’s) distraught face, gave me immense pleasure,” Deena winks but remembers what army officer had told him before leaving: “Had you not been a Kashmiri and done this to army anywhere else in India, they (army) would have chopped your fingers.”
Once the officer left, Deena walked away carelessly, as he didn’t worry about his phone: “It wasn’t mine, I had obtained (read stolen) it. I was only a bit worried as they had my identity card. I thought, I was going in for a long time.”
The next day, Deena woke up, put some water in his mouth, grabbed a piece of bread, and headed to the army camp.
The mastery in “obtaining things”, like he had “obtained” the phone, picked pockets, or looted shops etc. has made Deena notorious in Sopore town.
The army officer, who Deena had just met, didn’t know that he was the same guy who had duped his predecessor. “I had taken Rs 65,000 from his predecessor promising to help him build local network,” Deena says, “They are always so desperate for catching a militant. And in their quest to do so, they sometimes end up meeting people like me.”
Ask Deena how he managed to dupe an army officer of such a huge amount and he giggles before replying. “I had been out of jail and had no money then,” recalls Deena. “I took the offer and his money because I was in need.”
But in fact Deena knew nothing about building a local network base, as asked by the officer. “I just took the money and gave it to my mother and left. I didn’t know where to go.”
He is quick to add, “Don’t think I am a traitor. I am more pro-azaadi than those who usually throw stones. But I have my own way of frustrating them, and very substantially.”
Now the question was how to save himself from the officers wrath? “I found a policeman on road, and for no reasons, I punched him in the nose and he started bleeding. I was laughing at him and didn’t run away. I waited for them to arrest me, and they did. I was taken to Baramulla Sub-Jail,” said Deena. “My mom had the money and I was back to the jail. Safe.”
Deena was in and out of jail quite often; and every time he would come out more resolute and intelligent!
“Jail only makes him more dauntless,” says a police official who has been his keeper several times.
Deena’s regular encounters with law has made his mother Khatija, who is in her late 60’s, worry for him. “Had his father been alive, he wouldn’t have been like this,” she accepts.
Deena lives with his mother and a younger brother in a small two-room house with earthen walls and a thatched roof, given to them by Auqaf.
His father was allegedly killed by BSF men, in his shop, along with fifty-four other civilians in January 1993. At that time, Deena was six-year-old.
Once grown up, when Deena came to know that his father’s shop at Main Chowk, Sopore, was sold by his cash starved mother for a paltry amount; he went to the new owner to talk! It was 2012. The new owner deals in mobile phones and accessories.
“I told him to return my father’s shop, but he took it very lightly,” says Deena. “I know filing a law suit and following up the same is a hectic task, so I struck him a quick deal.”
Deena had told him: “Either, return my shop or I will take everything you have here. Go call the police…I am warning you….”
The new owner took Deena’s challenge lightly and shooed him off.
Next morning, the shop owner got a phone call from his neighbouring shop-keeper who told him that his shop has been looted.
“When I approached the police station, I was amazed to see that Deena was already in the lock-up,” recalls the shop owner, who refused to be named.
When asked how he managed to loot his mobile store while being in jail, Deena giggles and says, “I didn’t do it. Even if I did, that’s for the shop owner and Police to find out.”
Once inside the camp, where Deena had gone to retrieve his Identity card, the army officer looked at him and started laughing. “I figured out there was something wrong with me,” recalls Deena. “He was laughing at my unkempt hair and shabby looks. He also asked me about my torn Pheran, I had put across my shoulder.”
To Deena’s surprise the army official was very nice and polite to him. Within no time Deena figured out that the officer is desperate to build some local contacts, just like his predecessor.
“He was trying to convince me that army men are our saviors and I feigned conviction,” recalls Deena.
As the officer offered Deena a drink, he rose up and said that he hasn’t even washed properly. “So the army officer let me use his washroom.”
When Deena came out, he unexpectedly found that there was no one in the officer’s room. “I quickly started frisking the drawers of his table and found a pistol. I hid it inside my Pheran and didn’t make haste to leave,” said Deena. “I got extremely nervous but I remained calm and contended.”
Fifteen minutes later when the army officer came back, he suspected nothing. Both of us sat down and had a few drinks together.
“He was making me an offer,” Deena remembers, “He said that I should work for him and he will provide me with everything I need.”
In the same room where Deena casually agreed to the officer’s offer, he had agreed to his predecessor and duped him.
“He returned my phone and identity card and saw me off to the camp’s main gate.”
The same evening Deena got a phone call from the officer, “I thought he would ask about the pistol, but he didn’t. Rather, he asked me to come to the camp again.”
Deena went there. But this time the army officer had all his details. Now, he knew that Deena had taken Rs 65,000 from his predecessor. And he also knew about the pistol.
“I had to suffer extreme torture before I admitted that I had his pistol,” he says.
Still, Deena kept the pistol for almost a week after that and returned it only after the officer agreed to pay Rs 10,000.
“I didn’t want him to lose his job or get angry and kill me in a fake encounter.”
When asked what next? Deena admits that he now plans to retire anytime soon. “This is what I am good at. This is what I must do to survive,” he says, before pursuing another passerby’s pocket.
Note: All names in the story have been changed on request.