Reporter's killing shines light on dark side of Mumbai

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The Independent Online

For much of the two decades he spent working as a crime reporter, Jyotirmoy Dey spent his time chronicling the dark underbelly of India's financial capital, Mumbai. He wrote about gangland killings and police hit squads, about gangster dons and movie-star beauties. A towering 6ft 3in and quietly spoken, his byline was always J Dey.

But then Mr Dey switched from reporting on the news to becoming the news. This weekend, as the 56-year-old was making his way home on his scooter to the Powai neighbourhood in the north of the city, he was approached by four men on motorbikes who took aim and fired at him. He was hit five times and pronounced dead on arrival at a local hospital.

"I promise you son, I will not breathe my last until I see all the murderers behind bars," Mr Dey's mother, Bina, wailed as her son was cremated on Sunday, an event that was attended by several hundred colleagues and friends.

The killing of Mr Dey has sparked outrage among the city's journalistic community as well as among its citizens. Yesterday, reporters marched in the city to protest against his killing and demand the local authorities do more to protect them.

"[This killing] underlines the increasing threat investigative journalists are being subjected to by powerful political and business interests indulging in illegal acts," the Mumbai Press Club said in a statement. "Scores of incidents of journalists being beaten or threatened by politicians and local mafia have been brought to the fore in recent weeks."

It has also highlighted the often deadly environment of Mumbai's underworld, a place often glamourised by the city's movie industry and a world of which Mr Dey had been an observer since he started working as a journalist in 1994.

After quitting a career with a major corporation, he threw himself into covering the crime scene and had served in that role for several of India's national newspapers. He was considered to have unparalleled contacts, both within the police and among the criminal world.

Over the years, the journalist with a taste for checked shirts, photography and trekking, had written about police encounter killings (when suspects were deliberately gunned down with no attempt made to arrest them), the network – known as the D-company – of the fugitive criminal Dawood Ibrahim, and links between criminals and Bollywood.

He famously revealed a purported tape of the leading actor Salman Khan boasting on the telephone to his former partner Aishwarya Rai of his links to leading Mumbai criminals. In addition to his newspaper reporting, he had written two books about the sprawling city's crime scene, one of which was entitled Zero Dial: The Dangerous World of Informers. He was often mistaken for a plain-clothes policeman and many of his colleagues referred to him by his nickname, "the Commander".

"Mr Dey had two personalities," said Sachin Kalbag, editor-in-chief of Mid Day, where the reporter was employed when he was murdered. "He was a very secretive crime reporter who could be working for months on a story. Then he was also a gentle giant. He referred to every male colleague as 'Sir', whether it was the most junior person or someone senior. He often shared jokes."

It is to the world of organised crime that Mumbai police are apparently looking for clues about the killers of Mr Dey, who was married to a fellow reporter. Mr Dey had recently been working on an investigation into a local oil mafia and had also written about an attack on the brother of Dawood Ibrahim, Iqbal Kaskar, in which one of his bodyguards was killed. The attack was apparently carried out by the gang of a criminal rival.

Other theories suggest the journalist may have angered a local senior policeman, a so-called encounter specialist who was moved from his position after a report the journalist had published.

Yesterday, the police in Mumbai issued an artist's impression of one of the men believed to have been involved in the shooting on Saturday afternoon. An analysis of CCTV footage taken at the scene suggests the attackers had shot Mr Dey and then fled in less than a minute.

So far, police say there are few clues, though they have begun extensive inquiries. It is just the sort of case Mr Dey would have relished investigating.