Dhanbad: Faizan Ali, a Class 11 student based in Wasseypur, says the infamy of the Dhanbad neighbourhood courts hangs like a dark shadow over him. When he gained admission in a school in the nearby town of Nirsa in 2018, he said, he was “immediately outcast” by schoolmates.
“It was hurtful. Where I come from should not be held against me.”
Wasseypur, a locality comprising approximately 2 lakh residents, has had a notorious image for decades. But residents say things reached a head with the 2012 release of Anurag Kashyap’s cult classic Gangs of Wasseypur — a two-part fictional movie loosely based on local crime.
The people of Wasseypur say the film shows their area in a poor light. While some say the blow has eased over the years, others claim they are still bearing the consequences a decade since its release.
The image of the locality may have been poor to begin with, but the “masala” of the movie took it to a whole other level, they add.
The news media, social activists claim, stoke Wasseypur’s notoriety by referencing the movie for every local crime story.
According to residents, the criminal image of the locality chases them in schools, drives away marriage prospects, and even shuts them out of accessing bank loans — an allegation denied by banks.
In order to lose the constant association with crime, several families have moved out, residents say.
‘Dumped by prospective groom’
Wasseypur constitutes ward no. 17 under the Dhanbad Municipal Corporation. As in many other cities across India, the roads of this area are marked by open drains and garbage dumps. Multiple fruit and vegetable vendors offer their wares on both sides of the narrow roads.
Speaking to ThePrint, activist Irshad Alam said over 60 per cent of the area’s population is Muslim.
Insham Jahan, a 16-year-old whose family has lived in Wasseypur for the last three generations, said she is “very frequently alienated in school because of where her family lives”.
“My friends often meet after school at their homes for group study. They sometimes invite me too, but refuse to come to my house. Their parents think my house is not a safe place for them,” she added. “This is why I often get left out of extracurricular activities that require group practice.”
Wasseypur, which is located around 150 km away from Jharkhand capital Ranchi, derives much of its notoriety from two rival gangs — run by Faheem Khan and Shabir Alam — who feuded over the scrap business. While the former is in jail, the latter was reportedly sentenced to a life term.
Gangs of Wasseypur, where the story is underpinned by a narration, seeks to delve into an inter-generational feud involving vengeful killings between three families, while also depicting the brutal ways of the local coal mafia. The voiceover starts with the line “Yahaan ek se ek h********e rehte hain (this is a den of rascals).”
The story was penned by Zeishan Quadri, who was born in Wasseypur in the early 1980s, when it was a part of Bihar. Quadri has earlier defended the movie against criticism from Wasseypur residents, telling news agency IANS in a 2012 interview that the “film is 80 per cent real and 20 per cent fiction”.
Such is the stigma associated with Wasseypur, said Sania Ashique, another student, that a prospective groom dumped her sister because of their roots in the area.
“Two years back, my sister’s marriage was fixed with a boy from another state, but the minute they got to know that we live in Wasseypur, the family became apprehensive,” she said. “Despite my parents trying very hard to convince them, the boy’s family withdrew the proposal.”
Elders in the area say the problem of withdrawn marriage proposals started after the film was released in 2012, but has reduced significantly since.
“The mafia in Wasseypur has always existed, the film put the shameful side of our history on national television,” said one elderly resident who didn’t wish to be named. “What ensued was a lot of pointed fingers and estrangement … our relatives from outside the area did not want to be associated with us.”
He alleged Wasseypur was still not a safe place altogether. “Even now, it is not safe for me to publicly condemn the crimes that happen here because that puts me at risk.”
While the exact crime figures for Wasseypur couldn’t be determined, a 2016 article in the Hindustan Times said Dhanbad had the lowest crime rate among 53 major cities tracked in the 2015 report of the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB). “The rate of murder per lakh people in the city was 2.4 while that of rape was 2.1, much lower than the national average of 3.7, the NCRB report said,” it said.
A profile of the Dhanbad district on the Jharkhand Police website shows an uptick in crime between 2013 and 2020 — while 2013 saw 47 “general murders”, 2020 saw 77. Dacoity numbers for the same years are 13 and 19, respectively. The district, known as the coal capital of India, altogether has a population of approximately 26.8 lakh.
Taufique Siddiqie, a local tuition teacher, alleged that “none of the food apps and e-commerce platforms wants to deliver in our area”. “They only do so after much persuasion, only when the order is prepaid,” he added.
“It is not so much about wanting to eat outside food but about the social boycott, which hurts our sentiments.”
Getting a bank loan is another headache, said Istiyak, a theatre artiste, and Mohammad Ali, a mechanic.
“The minute they see that our Aadhaar card has Wasseypur listed as the address, they deny us loans,” said Ali.
Blacklisting of areas based on certain criteria is a practice that banks follow privately, according to a 2008 report in Mint. However, banks deny this.
“We would like to confirm that we have disbursed various loans, including home loans and auto loans, to residents of Wasseypur in the recent past,” said a spokesperson of ICICI Bank, which has a branch in Dhanbad, when reached for comment. “We treat the loan applications of residents of Wasseypur purely on merit, as we do across the country.”
ThePrint also reached food apps Swiggy and Zomato for a comment on the residents’ allegations. While a Swiggy spokesperson, reached by call and email, refused to answer queries sent by ThePrint, emails and calls to a Zomato PR representative went unanswered.
Khushboo Jahan, a former resident of the area, said her family decided to move out because of the problems they faced here.
“After living in Wasseypur for 20 years, my family decided to shift out two years back. The extra scrutiny that comes from living in Wasseypur is frustrating and my parents don’t want me to suffer the way they did,” she added.
Aslam, the social activist quoted above, added, “Whenever any crime takes place in Dhanbad, either it is linked to Wasseypur or a headline like ‘Gangs of Wasseypur’ is run by networks. Even if the area wants to change its image, it becomes difficult to do so.”
Former Dhanbad mayor Chandrashekhar Agrawal said Gangs of Wasseypur “worsened the general perception of the area”, but added that the area’s reputation “is in need of a major overhaul”.
“During my term, I was able to connect several women with self-help groups but it still is in need of major infrastructural development. The bottle-necked entrance to Wasseypur needs correction. Better connectivity to the rest of Dhanbad will work in reducing the divide between people,” he said.
However, Ankit Rajgadiya, a Dhanbad-based social worker, said Wasseypur has come far from its previous reputation as “chhota Pakistan (little Pakistan)”.
“As children, we were restricted from going inside the neighbourhood and the film made people more wary of stepping into Wasseypur. However, in the past three-four years, several social workers have joined hands in Wasseypur and are trying to change the perception of the area.”
Abu Imran, a Wasseypur native who is currently the deputy commissioner of Latehar and director of higher education in Jharkhand, said the perception of the area has always been bad, but the “masala of the film made it worse”.
“In order to overcome the image of the area, it is important that people know their rights. They should fight when they are being wronged, they should resort to constitutional, legal machinery,” he added.
On his part, Kashyap said it is “unfortunate” people feel as they do. “I can’t undo the film or the history of it. I can only offer an apology and acknowledge the progress it has made,” he told ThePrint. “The film was clearly based in the past and was only telling a story from the place without commenting on it.”
Kashyap said Gangs of Wasseypur has, over time, become “so much larger than life that I also cannot fathom the reach of it, and that puts extra attention on it”.
“While making the film, we didn’t think it would become what it has. But I guess we all have to deal with how someone perceives us,” he added.
(Edited by Sunanda Ranjan)