In the early hours of 3 July 2020, a team of the Uttar Pradesh police went to the village of Bikru, in Kanpur Dehat district, to arrest the gangster Vikas Dubey on charges of attempted murder. Eight policemen, including a deputy superintendent, were killed in an ambush. A few hours later, the police killed two of Dubey’s relatives. Dubey was declared a fugitive and, six days later, was arrested in the town of Ujjain, in neighbouring Madhya Pradesh. On 10 July, as he was being transported back to Kanpur, the police shot him dead—they claimed he had been trying to escape.
Six months later, the terror of Vikas Dubey could still be felt in Bikru. Most villagers would ignore me, or abruptly end our conversation, whenever I brought his name up. There were few men in their twenties to be found, as everyone feared being connected to Dubey. “The police and administration are more vigilant about Vikas,” a villager told me on condition of anonymity. “Most of the people working with him have been picked up by the police or encountered. Those who are left are afraid that they could be arrested, so they have gone elsewhere.” Two policemen were guarding Dubey’s house. Having nothing else to do, they were killing time by listening to the Bhagwat Katha being performed nearby. “What will we do?” one of them said. “The one who had to be guarded has died.”
Among many youths—especially Brahmins—however, Dubey remains a popular figure. “Even though his deeds may have been wrong, he never disturbed the people of the village,” a Bikru resident told me. “For the last twenty-five years, either he or someone close to him was the pradhan of the village. He paved roads, provided water taps, solar lights at various places in the village.” Another resident said that, during the national lockdown imposed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic last year, which led to a rise in unemployment, Dubey had organised communal meals for all residents of the village. “He was a good man,” he added. “It was his destiny that the death of eight policemen was written by his hand. … Who can avoid destiny? He got the result of what he did.”