A gangster who struck terror in Odisha by murders and abductions over a decade ago has shot back to limelight after making a daring escape from a hospital ward and then being arrested in Telangana six days later. With Sheikh Hyder now back in jail, it is his rise from being a poor rickshaw-puller to a dreaded gangster that has gripped popular imagination in the State.
For 58-year-old Hyder, the shortcut path to wealth and a life of power and luxury was through crime. The twice-married gangster earned infamy in the 1990s and 2000s for a string of murders and abductions for ransom executed by his gang and also for the gang wars he put his men into. Hyder was convicted in two murder cases and sentenced to life in jail both times. But he allegedly orchestrated murders and ransom crimes from inside the jail through his men across Odisha.
Born and brought up in Odisha’s Kendrapara town, long known as a hub of formidable criminals, the unschooled Hyder used to pull a rickshaw to earn a livelihood in the 1980s. It was his ill-gotten wealth, say people familiar with his rise and fall, enabled him to replace his humble family cottage at Ranapara with a two-storey house.
“Sheikh Hyder was very poor and had to push his rickshaw’s pedals all day to earn money to feed his family. But his contacts with local criminal Rabin (Rabindra Behera) led him into the world of crime and eventually saw his rise in the ranks of gangsters,” said Rabi Pati, 66, a retired teacher in Kendrapara town.
It was Rabin who mentored Tito, Sulaiman and Hyder, at his home in Gulnagar locality of Kendrapara. The trio became dreaded gangsters in Odisha later. Tito, whose official name is Syed Usman Ali, has been in jail for several years.
He hails from Dilharpur locality of Kendrapara town. Sulaiman hailed from Garapur area of Kendrapara town.
“While Tito, Sulaiman and Hyder learned the tricks of crime from Rabin, it was rivalry among them that had led to Rabin’s murder near his house and the rise of Tito as the gang’s head. Further rivalry among the three led to the murder of Sulaiman, a B-class contractor, by Tito’s henchman near Marshaghai in July 2009 and separation between Tito and Hyder,” said Pradip Das, a veteran Kendrapara lawyer who has closely studied the activities of the town’s criminals.
Hyder’s notoriety had spread overnight after he shot dead criminal Bula Sethi on the Kendrapara court premises in 1991. He was injured in an encounter with police in 1997. He and Tito had come together in 1999, but fell out in about two years following disputes over contract work for big government projects. With Hyder’s enmity with Tito and Sulaiman growing, he was also attacked by their gangs several times.
In May 2005, Hyder’s men shot dead Sulaiman’s younger brother, Sheikh Chuna, near Stewart School in Bhubaneswar. Hyder was arrested and put in jail in this case. In March 2011, he was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. Hyder was also named as an accused in Sulaiman’s murder case, but he was acquitted.
Hyder led his gang from inside Bhubaneswar jail. He masterminded the abduction of Keonjhar mining businessman Rashmi Ranjan Mohapatra and his driver with a Rs 2 crore ransom demand in Bhubaneswar in May 2007. They killed Mohapatra and his driver allegedly despite receiving Rs 1.12 crore as ransom. Hyder and two of his accomplices were sentenced to life imprisonment in this case in October 2015.
Odisha’s police and jail departments have had to shift Hyder from jail to jail – Bhubaneswar, Balangir and Sambalpur – over the years with the aim of cutting down his crime networks and preventing chances of gang skirmishes inside the jails. Hyder was brought to SCB Medical College and Hospital in Cuttack last month following his complaints of pain in internal organs and admitted in the surgery ward. But he escaped from there on April 10 after feeding biriyani laced with sedatives to policemen guarding him there. Six police constables were placed under suspension for dereliction of duty.
A joint operation by the police of Odisha and Telangana succeeded in nabbing Hyder in Sangareddy district on April 15. Now back in jail again, Hyder will have to spend years in jails and face trial in scores of criminal cases which are at different stages at courts across Odisha.