Dagdi Chawl was once a criminal den, even police used to get scared of entering here. A chawl known for its chambers, home and origin of the mafia dons and queens of Mumbai. Dagdi Chawl, then, was infamous for another reason, immense grime. Those days of muck are the ones that the streets of Byculla wish were a nightmare.
A chawl that sheltered around 150 families in its small kholis (rooms). A street with overflowing sewers, urine smelling houses, garbage collected at every corner of the chawl. People had to see their children die of starvation. Men killed their wives so that they have one less to feed. Sons let their mothers get laid for some currency. Poverty and filth pushed many youngsters towards crime and gangsters like Arun Gawli became their leader.
Arun Gawli alias Arun Gulab Ahir alias Daddy was an Indian politician, and former gangster. Gawli and his brother (Pappa) Kishor Ahir entered the Mumbai underworld in the 1970s when they joined the “Byculla Company”, a criminal gang led by Rama Naik and Babu Reshim, operating in the central Mumbai areas of Byculla, Parel and Saat Rasta.
Rama Naik was killed in 1988 in a police encounter, Gawli took over the gang and began operating it from his kholi in Dagdi Chawl. The gang controlled most criminal activities in the central Mumbai areas. Throughout the late eighties and nineties, Gawli’s gang was involved in a supremacy scuffle with Dawood Ibrahim’s D-Company gang.
In the late 1980s, a time when the old order of dons like Haji Mastan, Vardarajan Mudaliar and Karim Lala was being replaced by a ruthless new and gangland wars were breaking out across the city, Gawli was in the thick of things. Many years later, he adopted the politician’s garb — white kurta-pyjama and Gandhi topi — as he tried to reinvent himself as a political leader.
He was a trivial, wiry man back then — long-haired, dressed in floral shirts, who was moving up from being a small-time protector of Dawood Ibrahim’s smuggled consignments to his foremost rival. It was around this period of the internecine gang wars in Mumbai’s streets, and a bit later when he decided to contest elections, that his house in Dagdi Chawl was first opened up for journalists.
And those who came back from his lair returned with the most fabulous stories. They spoke of a chawl altered as a fortress, complete with metal detectors and multiple layers of security, of a neighbourhood that insisted he be called Daddy, of free medical centres and darbars where instant rough justice was dispensed, of negotiating rooms and torture chambers, and of buttons which when pressed would reveal secret enclosures and hidden passageways.
Gawli worked in textile mills, located in the central areas of Parel, Chinchpokli, Byculla and Cotton Green. From the 1970s to the late 1980s, Mumbai’s textile mill industry witnessed mass strikes and eventual lock-outs. As a result, many young adults (including Gawli) had no employment and eventually found a shortcut to quick money through Matka gambling and hafta-vasuli. Gawli then joined the “Byculla Company” gang led by gangsters Rama Naik and Babu Reshim and supervised their illegal liquor dens.
Mumbai police raided the premises of Dagdi Chawl several times and finally broke Gawli’s underworld operations. Gawli was arrested several times for criminal activities and was detained for long periods during the trial. However, he could not be convicted in most of the cases as witnesses would not depose against him for fear of retaliation. He was finally convicted of the murder of Shiv Sena leader Kamlakar Jamsandekar by a court in August 2012. Gawli and eleven others were found guilty of Jamsandekar’s murder, but later on, he got interim bail.
Gawli got political patronage in the 1980s, when the then Shiv Sena chief, Bal Thackeray, criticised the Mumbai police for taking stringent action against Hindu gangsters like Arun Gawli and Sai Bansod, referring to them as amchi muley (our boys). Thackeray was challenged by a rival gangster in an open letter carried on the front page of a city tabloid. However, Gawli fell out with Shiv Sena in the mid-1990s, murdered Shiv Sena men and formed his own political party, the Akhil Bharatiya Sena.
While his activities were on peak, he met Zubeida Mujawar and married her who later became Asha Gawli after Marriage. She was a Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) for Maharashtra and they both have two children, Mahesh and Geeta. Geeta is a first-term Akhil Bhartiya Sena corporator from the Chinchpokli assembly constituency. Gawli’s nephew Sachin Ahir is now a minister and former Maharashtra Minister of State for Housing. Gawli’s uncle Hukumchand Yadav was a legislator from Khandwa in Madhya Pradesh. He was very much influential.
In 2004, Gawli was elected as a Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) from the Mumbai Chinchpokli constituency as an Akhil Bharatiya Sena candidate. Gawli’s rise in prominence is believed to be due to his “native roots” as a local lad, which makes him distinct from most other non-Marathi-speaking politicians. Gawli’s political designs suffered a major blow when his nephew and party legislator, Sachin Ahir, came out openly against him and joined Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party.
Ahir even contested against Gawli in the subsequent Lok Sabha elections on a Nationalist Congress Party ticket, resulting in defeat for them both, but a victory for the Shiv Sena’s late Mohan Rawale. Gawli’s daughter Geeta was recently elected as a corporator to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation.
Now 65-year-old Arun Gawli’s life has been a roller coaster of sorts. The man famous as ‘Daddy’ in the underworld has been seen hiding inside boxes, climbing up his bathroom window to escape raiding policemen, and providing residents of the infamous Dagdi Chawl a proper place to live which in turn ensured that he stayed safe within.
Now, this very historic chawl would be developed and reconstructed, meanwhile, the scenario is now completely changed. There are no stinking lanes, houses are neat and clean, no garbage or stink. Gawli did a lot of development in Dagdi chawl. His wife and daughter took up social work by helping women of the chawl. Educating their children, and somehow they tried repairing their karma. Modification of chawl is one more step ahead to uplift the lives of people.
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