SIM card gangs prey on Marwaris in Nepal
Mar 25, 2007 - 9:11:42 AM

Kathmandu, March 25 - Summer began on a tense note for Marwari businessman Narendra Kumar Gupta with a phone call at his shop in Kathmandu.

Gupta, whose grandfather came to Kathmandu from Sirsa district in India's Haryana state looking for fresh pastures, runs a thriving jewellery shop in Bishal Bazar, a shopping complex at the heart of Kathmandu's commercial area, frequented by Indian buyers and sellers.

On March 2, a day before the Indian festival of Holi, a man called him up at the shop to warn Gupta he had a 'locha with D Company'.

The caller, identifying himself as Rohit Sharma, spoke in Hindi, using the slang immortalised by Bollywood films on the underworld.

'Locha' meant serious trouble, while D Company stands for the gang of Dawood Ibrahim, the notorious mafia don wanted by the Indian government.

The jeweller was told if he valued his life, he would call up 'Vickibhai' and ask to be put through to 'Nanabhai'.

'Nanabhai', using a Hong Kong phone number, told Gupta he was a member of the gang of Chhota Rajan, another notorious Indian mobster who was formerly with Dawood Ibrahim.

Since then, the 40-year-old Marwari businessman has had his life invaded by strange callers, who plied him with phone numbers in Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia and urged him to pay up.

'If you don't, we will make you stop breathing,' the callers warned him.

The calls came at a time Nepal's wealthy Marwari community has been beset with kidnappings and extortion.

In the border towns like Birgunj and Biratnagar, businessmen have been receiving calls from people describing themselves as Indian don Babloo Shrivastav's henchmen.

Though Shrivastav is currently in an Indian prison, there have been tales of his carrying on his extortion racket with the help of mobile phones and aides.

In Kathmandu, considered the most secure city in Nepal, gangs have been kidnapping businessmen in broad daylight with impunity.

Though there have been at least 40 abductions this year, the government is yet to bring a single perpetrator to book.

Disheartened Marwari businessmen, who allege discrimination by the government because of their Indian origin, now prefer not to go to police, paying up silently to get their abducted kin released.

However, Gupta chose to fight back.

First, he complained to police and then, Nepal's top rights body, the National Human Rights Commission.

Next, he called a press conference, throwing a blaze of publicity on the callers and the international numbers they had used.

Since then, the calls have stopped.

Gupta says police sources told him the calls have been made from Kathmandu, using mobile phone SIM cards bought in Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia.

They have also told him the calls can be traced to the place from where they are being made but the cash-strapped Nepal Police lack the expensive equipment.

Gupta made enquiries on his own and found at least five other Marwari businessmen had been receiving the same threats. While one managed to get a reprieve by changing all his phone numbers, the others quietly paid up.

So now, the intrepid businessman is mulling ways to stop the menacing calls.

'If the government asks the Marwari community, I think we will be only too glad to raise funds for the equipment,' he says.

'Meanwhile, this is also an SOS to the governments of India, Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong.

'Since SIM cards from these countries are being used for crime in Nepal, the governments of these countries should keep tighter check on the sale of such cards.'

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