More than a decade in journalism and six years of crime and security reporting, Krishna Prasad Dhungana alias KP draws from his experiences and passion to report on crimes to write his first book “Open Secret.” Focusing on the murder cases of alleged underworld criminals operating in Nepal, Dhungana delves into the core of these crimes often connected to fake currency racketing, terrorism and underworld connections. Through intensive content analysis, digging up classified high-level investigation commission reports and exclusive interviews, he exposes what is reality and what is rumor.
With the book set to release on July 19th, The Week’s Ujjwala Maharjan met Dhungana, currently a senior reporter at the Nagarik daily, to talk about what readers have in store for themselves.
Please tell us about your book “Open Secret.”
This book deals with seven real-life murder cases in Nepal – six murders and one attempted murder.
All the seven targeted victims in the incidents – Mirza Dilshad Beg, Kamal Singh Nepali, Majid Munihar, Shaukat Beg, Jamim Shah, Yunus Ansari, and Faizan Ahmed – were alleged of having links with the criminal underworld in India.
The high-level investigation commission reports on these cases often point to the involvement of international outfits such as the Indian Secret Agency (ISA), Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and the Indian mafia.
This book is an attempt to disclose and analyze if these events were interlinked, if they were a part of an organized crime, and if they really have any connections with the underworld. I try to explain if the underworld and international forces are really active in Nepal, to what extent, or are they all just cooked up stories to avoid further investigations.
Though it’s a non-fiction book, based entirely on facts, the style I’ve adopted is story-like narration. Divided into three sections and seven chapters, the book will also let the readers in on the investigation teams in Nepal, how the investigations were carried out, what conclusions were drawn from their reports and whether the government has taken any actions to stop the chain of events.
How did the book happen?
The day Jamim Shah was murdered – on February 7, 2010 – I covered the entire incident for the paper. The next day, I tried to analyze the murder and found out that the pattern of Shah’s killing exactly matched Mirza Dilshad Beg’s killing that happened a decade ago.
When I tried to gather more information on Beg’s killing, I found out that neither our police records nor public archives had much information about the incident. As I dug deeper, I found out that there had been a series of such murders within the decade, and the cases mostly swept under the rug.
So I set out to write the book with the initial objective that this could be a reference book for anyone trying to find out about the series of killings and the reality behind the rumors and official statements regarding these crimes. I wanted to document whatever information was available and what new information I could dig out on the matters.
How did you choose the title “Open Secret” for your book?
Almost everybody at the high level, from security officers to ministers and prime ministers seem to know the causes behind these crimes, the people involved and how these can be solved. But they have chosen to remain silent.
However, ordinary people like us who see and hear about these shootouts in broad daylight in public places have no idea why such incidents happen.
You read reports stating underworld dons like Chhota Rajan and Dawood Ibrahim were involved in the crimes, names you had heard only in movies. But there’s so much kept hidden from the public they can never clearly understand why all these killings happened and in such manners in Nepal. Do these have anything to do with the country; do these pose any threat to their personal security?
So while the killings and other activities seem to be transparently out in open view for the high level authorities, it’s still a mystery and a secret for common people. Hence, the issue is an “Open Secret.”
Besides, though it’s a book written in Nepali, I chose the English phrase because it’s commonly used in everyday Nepali language, you even hear it at teashops. And it carries more meaning when you leave it at “Open secret” than trying to translate it or have a Nepali alternative of the phrase.
The challenges in writing this book?
The major challenge was content collection as there is very less detailed information available to the public about the incidents. Finding materials related to Mirza’s murder was the hardest.
Then, all these high-level commission report are classified. So it’s really hard to get information easily. My objective was also to talk to the family members and relatives of the victims. But they were too scared to reveal anything. I also wanted to have firsthand experience of the Mumbai underworld but it couldn’t’ be possible due to time and financial constraints and it was too risky as well.
So I had to resort to content analysis. But I talked to many people – from junior to high-level officers and people who were in the investigation commissions. I found many officers were unwilling to share information on these organized crimes.
They didn’t care that bringing out related facts to public or for publishing would help future studies and dealing with the issues. There were times I sat down with some officers but couldn’t take notes in front of them. So with an excuse to go to the bathroom, I would leave the table to write notes on napkins. Once, I had 50 napkins full of information.
But some of my sources were also very helpful when I told them I was writing a book. They gave details after details and then my challenge was to fact-check all of that from another trusted source. I’ve made sure I fact-checked every detail. It also keeps me safe from blames once the book is released.
Expectations from the book?
There is a trend to hide details of such crimes happening in our land and most of it does not even have anything to do with Nepal. It’s an India-Pakistan issue and Nepal has been caught in between. My ultimate expectation from this book is that it makes our high level government and security officials think harder and pressurizes to take matters into their hands so that such heinous crimes don’t happen in Nepal again.
I also hope that it breaks the trend of hiding details of such crimes. It is important to share such information for a conscious and aware society. This book, I hope, will open doors for more crime and security books, as the Nepali readers are craving for a mix of reading materials and not just fiction.
I wish to see as many copies of the book sold on street sidewalks as possible. The more common people it reaches out to, the better, because it’s them who need to know what is being hidden.
How do you think the book is different? How content are you with it?
As far as I know, this will be the first crime and security book published in Nepal that deals with transnational crime of such magnitude.
As for how content I am regarding the book, I’m happy I’ve put in all my efforts to fact-check every detail that has gone into the book. Does the book feel complete? For now, it does. But as much as I would like to believe that the most recent murder of Faizan Ahmed was the end of the crime series, it’s only a matter of who is next. So this book definitely does not end here.
Writing about the operations of the underworld, ISA, ISI and all the high-level security officers, is there any threat involved in writing the book?
The book presents what the facts present. It’s not directed at any person, organization or nation. It’s an unbiased presentation of what facts and information I could gather regarding the murder events I followed to write this book. I haven’t tried to defame anyone with my personal motives, but worked only with facts. In that, I think I should be free of any blame or threat.
But in the course of writing the book and discussing it with my sources, some high-level security officers have expressed their concerns about my safety time and again. That sometimes makes me think if I should feel any threat. But I’m not sure. We’ll have to wait until the book is out.
How was the experience of writing a crime book different from reporting on crimes for newspapers everyday? What would you say to the readers as an author?
It was an entirely different experience. While reporting, you tend to know how many words the story will take and you can frame the entire story in your head easily. But while writing a book, right from framing it to filtering the contents from the massive amount you’ve gathered, the presentation is broader and more difficult. And while you write, you can’t divert your mind. Take as many breaks, and it tends to break the flow.
However, you develop skills you never knew you had. You develop new methods of approaching subjects and sources. It gives you a deeper understanding of your subject. I now think, you can’t become a perfect journalist unless you write a book on the subject you’ve been reporting about day in day out.
I think I enjoyed writing the book more than I have enjoyed reporting on its contents. I would recommend everyone, especially journalists who have been following one issue passionately, to write one book at least. If you work on it honestly and passionately, there’s no dearth of publishers or readers.