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Sushil Kumar case exposes the links between Indian organized crime and wrestling

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Olympian Sushil Kumar is accused of beating a fellow wrestler to death. Both he and the victim have alleged ties to organized crimes.

Sushil Kumar - Wrestling - Commonwealth Games Day 8
Sushil Kumar with his gold medal at the 2018 Commonwealth games.
Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images

Freestyle wrestler Sushil Kumar—India’s most successful solo Olympian—is currently in a jail cell awaiting trial. He is accused of leading a gang of men to abduct former junior wrestling champion Sagar Dhankad (aka Sagar Rana) and his friends and drive them to the Chhatrasal Stadium in New Delhi. At the stadium, it is alleged, Kumar and the others beat Dhankad to death with sticks. One of the alleged attackers recorded the incident on their cellphone. That footage has been widely circulated on Indian news programmes.

After this incident, which occurred on May 4, Kumar lead authorities on a 20 day manhunt before eventually being captured.

Since his capture Indian press outlets have shared a number of details regarding the police investigation into this incident.

The prevailing theory is that Kumar and Dhankad became bitter rivals after their respective friend groups squabbled over the attention of a woman. This feud lead to Kumar evicting Dhankad from an apartment he owned. This was followed by Dhankad leaving the Chhatrasal training facility and attempting to set up his own wrestling team. It is alleged that Dhankad tried to recruit wrestlers from Chhatrasal and that his pitch included a promise that they could get out from under Kumar’s thumb—Kumar had trained at Chhatrasal since he was 14 and he held a lot of power there.

Police believe all these incidents lead to Kumar becoming enraged at the perceived disrespect Dhankad was showing and that this motivated him towards wanting to teach the younger man a lesson.

Since Dhankad’s death Indian press has also been printing story after story demonstrating how Kumar, Dhankad and many other wrestlers in and around Delhi have had concerning links to organized crime.

In a feature titled Delhi’s Wrestlers and Gangsters News18 reports that Dhankad is the nephew of alleged gang leader Kala Jathedi. However, other reports have stated that one of Dhankad’s friends, who survived the beating at the stadium, is Jathedi’s nephew. India Today reports that Dhankad is the son of a Delhi police head constable and that he may have had links to Jathedi.

Jathedi is one of northern India’s most wanted gangsters. He is believed to have a stranglehold over the criminal gangs of Delhi and neighbouring Rajasthan, Haryana and Western Uttar Pradesh.

Reports have stated that Kumar and Jathedi had been on good terms and that Jathedi even helped Kumar acquire the apartment that he would one day evict Dhankad from. It has been reported that Jathedi was upset about that eviction.

After Dhankad was killed, it is alleged that Jathedi threatened Kumar’s life. However, according to News18, Kumar has acquired some measure of protection from Neeraj Bawana, another one of Delhi’s most notorious gangsters.

Bawana, who is accused of murders, extortion and abductions, is currently imprisoned in Tihar Jail. Kumar was recently relocated to Tihar. India Today reports that Kumar began seeking out Bawana after Jathedi was forced underground after a shootout with police in Haryana.

It has previously been alleged that Kumar became involved with organized crime figures after establishing a toll booth business. Kumar reportedly left that business after accusations of criminal involvement. Kumar’s toll booth workers had been accused of robberies and even murders.

News18 reports that these connections to Kumar and Dhankad are not surprising given the rich history of intermingling between northern India’s sport scene and the criminal underworld.

Their reporting lists of a number of national level wrestlers, boxers and powerlifters who have all been involved in criminal cases.

One of the earlier examples is that of Kishan Pehalwan; a wrestler turned gangster who was a key figure in the brutal gang wars that erupted in Delhi in the 1980s. Pehalwan was eventually convicted of seven murders and four attempted murders.

Pehalwan’s gang war was fought against a group lead by another former wrestler, named Anoop. Those two were reportedly friends until a land dispute tore them apart. Their gang war bled into the 90s and resulted in more than 100 killings.

In the late 90s wrestlers Irfan Chhenu and Ranveer Dhillu, a former Asian games gold medallist, set up their own gangs. In 2013 wrestler Rakesh Kumar was gunned down in a police shootout.

Kumar is, by far, the highest profile wrestler to be charged with a violent crime and be linked to Delhi’s notorious gangs. Pundits in India have called his arrest yet another black-eye on the sport of wrestling in the country.