Manohar Arjun Surve (1944 – 11 January 1982), popularly known as Manya Surve, was an infamous Indian urban dacoit and gangster in the Mumbai underworld. His death in 1982 during an encounter with the Maharashtra police became known as the city's first recorded encounter killing. However, the spate of encounter killings only increased in the late 1980s and further rose after the 1993 Mumbai bombings; a total of 622 alleged criminals were killed in police encounters from 1982 to 2004.
Born in 1944, Surve moved to Mumbai with his mother and stepfather. He was a B.A. graduate from Kirti College and formed a gang of students during his years there, through influence of his stepbrother Bhargav Dada. Bhargav was a feared thug from Agar Bazar in Dadar. Surve won "Mumbai Shri" title in body building. In 1969, Surve was involved in the murder of a man named Dandekar, along with his step brother and an associate, Manya Podhkar. The trio were soon arrested by Police Inspector E.S. Dabholkar and were subsequently sentenced to life imprisonment.
Imprisonment and escape
While incarcerated at the Yerwada Central Jail in Pune, Manohar Arjun Surve developed a fierce rivalry with another gangster, Suhas Bhatkar a.k.a. "Potya Bhai". Annoyed by Surve’s terror tactics, the prison authorities had him transferred to Ratnagiri jail. There, he took part in a hunger strike and lost almost 20 kg, before being shifted to the local civil hospital. Surve utilised this opportunity to successfully evade custody on 14 November 1979, and returned to Mumbai, having served over nine years of his sentence.
After his return to Mumbai, Surve formed a gang of robbers and recruited his two trusted lieutenants, Sheikh Munir from Dharavi and Vishnu Patil from Dombivili. They were soon joined by another hood, Uday Shetty in March, 1980.
The gang's first robbery took place on 5 April 1980, in which they stole an Ambassador car. The vehicle was later used to loot Rs 5,700 from Laxmi Trading Company near Currey Road. On 15 April, the gang savagely assaulted and almost killed Sheikh Aziz, an enemy of Sheikh Munir, near Kala Killa in the Dharavi slum. On 30 April, they stabbed a police constable when he was escorting gang rival, Vijay Ghadge to a police station in Dadar.
Borrowing the plot from a James Hadley Chase novel which he had read in prison, Surve decided to loot money from the government milk scheme in a bid to gain recognition from the leaders of the Mumbai underworld. The gang with the addition of Dayanand Shetty, Parshuram Katkar,Moreshwar Narvekar, and Kishore Sawant stole a car near Badal Bijlee Barkha in Mahim, and went on to execute a heist of Rs 1.26 lakh near Govandi. The stolen vehicle was later found abandoned near National College in Bandra, exactly as penned in the Chase novel.
Another famous robbery undertaken by Manya Surve's gang included Rs 1.6 lakh from Canara Bank’s branch on Sion-Trombay road and Duke and Sons Company at Deonar. Manya Surve's criminal activities was not only confined to heists and robberies. He was also involved in narcotics trafficking, as he saw that the profits derived from it was considerable.
The gang's various successful heists and robberies brought a tremendous amount of heat on Manya Surve and his gang. As a result, the police were put under great pressure and they launched Operation Manya Surve to capture Surve and curb his gang's activities.
On 22 June 1981, Sheikh Munir was picked up from a chemical company near Kalyan. A few days later, Dayanand Shetty and Parshuram Katkar were arrested at a lodge in Goregoan. Anticipating his capture, Surve slipped into an aide’s hideout in Bhiwandi on 19 November 1981. When police squads finally broke into the apartment, they recovered a hand grenade, a country-made revolver and some live ammunition.
Surve was finished after systematic police operations led to a breakdown of his gang's activities. After the arrest of his cohort Uday Shetty, he was the only remaining member of the gang who was not in prison.
On 11 January 1982, Mumbai police received a tip off from Varadarajan Mudaliar that Manya Surve would be arriving at a beauty parlour near the Ambedkar College junction in Wadala. At around 1.30 pm, 18 Crime Branch officers split into three crack teams and waited for him to arrive. After twenty minutes, Surve was spotted coming out a taxi to pick up his girlfriend, a widow with two children.
After noticing the squad closed in and took positions, Surve took out his Webley and Scott revolver. However, before he could squeeze the trigger, Surve was mortally wounded by two police officers Raja Tambat and Isaque Bagwan, who fired five bullets into his chest and shoulder.
Surve was dragged from the scene and put on an ambulance. While on the way to KEM Hospital, he kept screaming that the police had not given him a fair chance to defend himself. He succumbed to his injuries a few minutes later. This encounter was the end of Surve's two year spree of urban dacoity and crime. It is generally believed that it was the underworld don Varadarajan Mudaliar who tipped off the police about his whereabouts, after finding his position being challenged by Surve.
In popular culture
The life of Manya Surve is the basis for the 1991 Bollywood film Agneepath. The movie's main character, Vijay Dinanath Chauhan (played by Amitabh Bachchan), was based on Surve. The film earned Bachchan a National Award for Best Actor and later went on to become a cult movie. A heavily fictionalized movie about Manya Surve's killing Shootout at Wadala, starring John Abraham was released on 3 May 2013.
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