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Karim Lala (1911 – 19 February 2002), born as Abdul Karim Sher Khan in Kunar province of Afghanistan, was infamous as one of the three "mafia dons" of Mumbai" in India for more than two decades from the sixties to the early eighties. The other two being Mastan Mirza aka Haji Mastan and Varadarajan Mudaliar.

Karim Lala
کریم لالا
Born1911
Died19 February 2002 (aged 90–91)
Mumbai, India
OccupationSmuggling, narcotics, extortion, contract killing,illegalgambling, forced property evictions

For over two decades, he was the leader of the dreaded "Pathan Gang" that operated from impoverished and crime infested Muslim ghettos of South Mumbai like Dongri, Nagpada, Bhendi Bazaar and Mohammad Ali Road. The Pathan Gang was involved in operating illegal gambling (satta) and liquor dens, illegal money recovery, illegal land evictions, kidnapping, protection racket (hafta), contract killing (supari), distribution of narcotics and counterfeit currency.

Karim Lala was a Pashto speaking Pathan (Pashtun) who came with his extended family from Pakhtunkhwa (in present Pakistan) to Mumbai (then Bombay) in the nineteen twenties. His family settled in one of the most densely populated and impoverished Muslim ghetto of Bhendi Bazaar in south Mumbai. Starting as an ordinary worker in the Mumbai docks, he later joined a gang of ethnic Pathans who worked as illegal recovery agents for Marwari and Gujarati money lenders, landlords and businessmen. These money lenders and landlords employed the burly Pathans whose tall imposing size and intimidating demeanor made it easy to recover money from defaulting debtors and evicting tenants and owners from prime properties in expensive south Mumbai.

Lala soon rose up the ranks to be the chief of the "Pathan Gang" that became notorious for contract killings, forced evictions from property, kidnapping and extortion. The gang operated several "carrom clubs" that were a facade for illegal moneylending, gambling and betting rackets.

From the seventies, Lala agreed to a pact with the other two ganglords, Haji Mastan and Varadarajan (Varada bhai) to divide Mumbai amongst themselves so that they could freely run their crime activities without any conflict between each other.

Due to failing health during the late seventies, Lala gradually transferred the leadership of the Pathan gang to his nephew, Samad Khan and then managed his hotel and transport business. Although Lala had several illegitimate businesses, his legitimate business included two hotels (Al Karim Hotel and New India Hotel) and a travel and passport agency called New India Tours and Travels.

Lala remained friendly with his other counterparts- Haji Mastan and Varadarajan. In 1980, Lala unsuccessfully tried to mediate peace between his nephew, Samad Khan and his rivals, Saabir Ibrahim Kaskar and Dawood Ibrahim Kaskar.

During his peak, Lala frequently invited several personalities from Bollywood (Hindi film industry) to his daawats (parties) and Eid celebrations. Many characters from Bollywood movies closely resemble Karim Lala and his mannerisms and accent. for eg: In the 1973 super-hit movie, Zanjeer, the writer duo, Salim-Javed created a Pathan character called Sher Khan (played by actor Pran) whose mannerisms closely resembled Karim Lala.

Lala also held a weekly "durbar" where people from different walks of life narrated their grievances to Lala and he helped them financially or to get justice using his gang's muscle power.

He died on 19 February 2002 at the age of 90.

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