Police investigating the role of the country’s only two-time Olympic medal winner in the murder of a fellow sportsman believe they have uncovered a nexus between wrestlers and criminal gangs operating in and around Delhi.
Sushil Kumar was arrested on May 23 in connection with the death of 23-year-old wrestler Sagar Dhankhar inside Chhatrasal Stadium in the capital. The 37-year-old, who won a bronze in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and a silver in London four years later – had been on the run since May 4, when the incident took place. Two friends of Dhankhar, Sonu Mahal and Amit Kumar, were hospitalised following the brawl.
The police now say both Kumar and Dhankhar were associated with rival gangs operating in north India.
During their investigation so far, the police have arrested four men working for well-known gangster Neeraj Bawana, who allegedly took part in the stadium attack. Kumar is alleged to have sought the help of Bhupinder Bhupi, Mohit Bholi, Gulab Pehelwan and Manjeet Chhunilal – all from Haryana – in the attack.
Pranav Tayal, DCP (Rohini, Delhi), told The Federal that when his team reached the stadium on the night of the fight, “we found three cars there, out of which two were registered in the names of relatives of Neeraj Bawana”. The police also found a gun in one of the vehicles, he said.
“We sent teams to Ghevra Village in Haryana, where these gangsters were hiding, on the evening of May 25 and arrested them. These men helped Sushil murder Sagar. All four have cases against them and were on the run,” he said.
Meanwhile, the police say Sonu Mahal, who was injured in the attack, is the nephew of Sandeep Kala, aka Kala Jathedi, another feared criminal who currently operates two gangs – his own and one belonging to a man named Lawrence Bishnoi.
Both Bawana and Bishnoi are currently in jail, but continue to direct criminal activities from behind bars, according to the police.
Bawana, from Bawana Village in Delhi, has several cases registered against him, including murder, robbery and extortion, in not just Delhi but 11 other states. He is in Tihar Jail in Delhi.
Several members of Bawana’s gang were once on the payroll of Neetu Dabodia, a feared gangster who was accused in more than 50 cases of murder, extortion and kidnapping, and carried a reward of ₹1 lakh. After Dabodia’s death in a ‘police encounter’ in 2013, they joined Bawana’s gang.
Bishnoi was wanted in at least five states – Delhi, Punjab, Haryana, Chandigarh and Rajasthan – for murder, carjacking and extortion and other criminal activities. One of his associates, Sampat Nehra, was allegedly involved in a plot to kill Bollywood star Salman Khan. He was caught in Bengaluru in 2018.
Kala Jathedi used to work for Bishnoi, but has now taken over Bishnoi’s gang and also leads his own outfit. He is in Malaysia.
The Bishnoi-Jathedi gang and the Bawana gang have been battling for control of criminal business in north India for several years, according to officials.
According to a police official, a long-running dispute between Kumar and Dhankhar over a flat in Delhi culminated in the stadium brawl on May 4.
“The flat was registered in the name of Sushil’s wife,” he said. “Sagar encroached on the flat with the help of the Bishnoi gang. Sushil is a member of the Bawana gang. They planned this attack to eliminate Sagar and certain members of the Bishnoi gang.”
A source in Chhatrasal Stadium told The Federal: “Wrestlers [in north India] and gangsters share a unique relationship. The wrestlers need gangsters to earn money, and the gangsters need the wrestlers to provide muscle.”
“Sushil was in touch with Bawana as well as Bishnoi. He often mediated between the two. Sushil used to work with Kala Jathedi. Kala wanted to take over the tolls in Delhi, Haryana and UP with the help of Sushil. Sushil also used to ask for extortion money in the name of Kala. But Kala and Sushil had a fight and Sushil left the Bishnoi gang and joined Bawana two months ago,” the police official said.