Mumabi, March 20: Considering how witnesses turned hostile in the Jessica Lal murder and the Best Bakery case, every move of 49-year-old Sudhakar Bhujha Shetty will be closely watched.
Shetty has been called to testify later this month in the murder of Suresh Dube in which the main accused is Jayendra 'Bhai' Thakur, whose name spells terror in the Vasai-Virar belt, about 50 km north of Mumbai. Dube, a Vasai-based builder, was killed on platform number two of Nalasopara railway station on October 9, 1989 at 10 am, an hour when the station is packed with commuters.
Shetty is the only surviving witness who has not refused to testify or turned hostile.
"I have been receiving threats from Bhai Thakur's gang not to appear in court. I do not know if I will reach the court premises. But if I do, I will identify and name all those whom I had seen killing Dube," he says.
He was summoned to the TADA court in February this year. After he insisted on proper security, the TADA court ensured that he was escorted by two carbine-wielding policemen to court. He was in court from 11 am to five pm but his testimony was not recorded. The court told him he will be called again to testify in the last week of March. Shetty is awaiting his turn to testify.
ANOTHER WITNESS WAS KILLED
Shetty's decision is unenviable. The last time a witness to the Dube murder stepped into a court to testify, she was killed.
Navleen Kumar, a social activist, testified against Bhai Thakur and four others in February 1999. Based on her testimony, the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities [Prevention] Act (TADA) court in Pune framed charges against Bhai Thakur on June 18, 2002.
A day later, 54-year-old Kumar was brutally murdered. Some people stabbed her frail body 19 times. Her body was found on the terrace of her building in Nalasopara.
The murder still sends shivers down the spine of the people in the region.
WHO IS SUDHAKAR SHETTY?
Sudhakar Shetty runs a small hotel outside Nalasopara railway station for the last 30 years. "I know all the Bhai Thakur gang members who operate in the area. On October 9, 1989, I saw six men running after killing Suresh Dube. Their names are Narendra Balchandra Bhoir, Sanjay Kadu, Narayan Gowda, Ullas Rane alias Gotiya, Patrick Tuscano and Yeda Panlya. I also saw Gyaneshwar Patil and Rajamaruti Yadav at the murder spot along with the six men.
"Twice, I was beaten for refusing to pay hafta to his men. I paid up till 1992 but stopped after that and decided not to live in fear any more.
"We all (in the Vasai-Virar belt) have been living in fear for the last two and half decades, suppressed and scared by his reign of terror. If I will not testify, he will be out of jail and then nothing can hold him back."
Despite appeals to Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh and Home Minister R R Patil, Shetty has not been given any security.
WHY DUBE WAS KILLED
Suresh Dube's murder was allegedly a clear message to all the builders - if you want to do business in Vasai-Virar, share the profits with Bhai Thakur. Since then, Bhai Thakur has a stake in every business, legal or illegal, in the region - from construction to cable television, bootlegging to gambling.
THE DUBE FAMILY
Suresh Dube's family lives in perennial fear.
"My father did not come out of the house for two years after the murder of my uncle. We all know that we would be killed sooner or later. However, if he (Bhai Thakur) is convicted in this case, it will be some justice for my family," says 27-year-old Naveen Dube, nephew of Suresh Dube.
WHERE IS BHAI THAKUR NOW?
He has been behind bars since October 1993 after being arrested in Delhi with lethal arms and ammunition, including hand grenades. It is the only case in which he was convicted. The Supreme Court sentenced him to 10 years. The sentence ended on September 2, 2001 but he is being detained in the Suresh Dube murder case.
BHAI THAKUR'S POLITICAL ARM
Younger brother Hitendra Thakur has won the Vasai seat in four consecutive Assembly elections over the last 18 years. Initially, he was in the Congress party but later contested as an independent. In view of the fractured verdicts in the state in the last decade, political parties have been tripping over one another seeking his support to prop up their coalition governments. In the last election, he was supported by the ruling Democratic Front alliance.