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Former Olympic hero Sushil Kumar to face trial on murder and rioting charges

Sushil Kumar is accused of killing a junior wrestler at Delhi’s Chhatrasal Stadium.

Sushil Kumar at the 2014 Commonwealth Games.
Sushil Kumar at the 2014 Commonwealth Games.
Photo credit should read Andy Buchanan/AFP via Getty Images

Sushil Kumar, 39, one of India’s most decorated athletes, was arrested in May 2021 shortly after the death of fellow wrestler Sagar Dhankar (sometimes written as Sagar Dhankad or Sagar Rana). The 23-year-old Dhankar had been beaten to death with sticks by a gang of men within Delhi’s famed Chhatrasal Stadium.

Kumar was named a suspect in the attack by police who claimed to have obtained cell phone camera footage from the incident. After he was named Kumar lead police on a 20 day manhunt before being captured.

Kumar has remained in jail since his arrest. He has repeatedly been denied bail on grounds that witnesses are ‘terrified’ of Kumar and his alleged connections to organized crime in Delhi and the neighbouring states of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh.

India Today reports that a Delhi court has now charged Kumar with Dhankar’s murder, as well as attempt to murder, rioting and unlawful assembly. Kumar, and 17 co-defendants, will now go to trial to answer these charges.

Prosecutors believe that Kumar assembled a mob, that included fellow wrestlers from the Chhatrasal Stadium stable, and then lead them in abducting Dhankar and four others. Dhankar used to wrestler at Chhatrasal Stadium, too, but had recently left to join a rival stable.

It is alleged that Kumar’s group brought Dhankar and the others to Chhatrasal and then beat them with various weapons. Dhankar, the main target of the attack, was killed while the others sustained non-life-threatening injuries.

Indian media outlets have printed a number of possible motives for the attack, each time citing police sources.

Among the possible motives are that Kumar and Dhankar’s relationship deteriorated after Dhankar refused to pay rent on an apartment he had leased from Kumar. This lead Kumar to evict Dhankar. And, allegedly, this lead to Dhankar bad-mouthing Kumar. Kumar is accused of reacting to this disrespect by wanting to “teach Dhankar a lesson”.

It has also been floated that there was a love triangle involving an unnamed Ukrainian woman and members from both Kumar and Dhankar’s friend groups. The late Dhankar has also been accused of trying to poach wrestlers from Chhatrasal to join his new team.

Kumar’s arrest also prompted a number of stories alleging that he has ties to organized crime. One of those reports claimed that Kumar once owned a toll-booth operation in partnership with notorious gang leader Anil Bhati. The attendants working at these booths have been accused of robbery, kidnapping and murder.

It has also been alleged that the apartment Kumar leased to Dhankar was secured for Kumar by another notorious gangster: Kala Jathedi (whose nephew was one of the friends beaten alongside Dhankar).

It was reported that Jathedi threatened Kumar’s life after the death of Dhankar. However, Kumar reportedly acquired protection from yet another well-known criminal — Neeraj Bawana. Last year Kumar was relocated to the same jail as Bawana, who is incarcerated on suspicion of multiple murders.

Before his fall from grace, Kumar was a popular athlete and celebrity in India. He is the only Indian to win two medals in an individual sport at the Olympics. Kumar won silver at the 2012 games in London and a bronze at the 2008 games in Beijing. Both times he competed in the 66kg category for freestyle wrestling. He was the flag bearer for India’s Olympic team at the 2012 games.

Kumar has also won a World Championship, Asian Championship and multiple Commonwealth Games Championships. In 2009 he received the Khel Ratna Award, India’s highest sporting honour.