From akhara to extorsion, Sushil’s arrest has shamed the wrestling world

A household in India's wrestling circles, Sushil Kumar is in police custody for his alleged involvement in a murder case and links with goons in Delhi PHOTO:Getty

On World Wrestling Day, two time Olympic Game’s medallist Shushil Kumar was arrested and sent to six-day police custody in connection with the murder of wrestler Sagar Dhankar

It was sometime in 2019, much before the Covid-19 lockdown in India, that I was taken to the basement parking of Chhatrasal Stadium by Sushil Kumar ‘Pehelwan’ to show his practice arena during one of my casual visits there. A dark and dingy place, was originally being built to park vehicles of officials but was never used for the original purpose. When did Sushil convert it as his practice arena was not known to me, but the two wrestling mats there were enough to understand that “arena is being used by none other but two-time Olympic Games’ medallist.”

Later-on, there were many stories in the media about how a 36-year-old Sushil is training hard at the same converted parking lot for the Tokyo Olympics. Sushil preferred to train alone and away from many of his other colleagues at the Chhatrasal akhara ever since he got transferred there on deputation as Officer on Special Duty from his parent employers, Northern Railways. This parking lot suddenly came into limelight on May 5, when a midnight brawl with young wrestler Sagar Dhankar resulted in his death.  According to many of Sushil’s close associates, the incident occurred over a dispute related to a property located in the Model Town area.

Whatever the reason, Sushil was arrested on May 23, the World Wrestling Day. A day which was celebrated in India for his achievements. With two Olympic medals, a World Championship gold and three gold medals in the Commonwealth Games, Sushil is a household name and has been for the last decade. The way he was hiding his face with a towel after his arrest by Delhi Police on this day also reminded us how proudly he used to wrap himself in Indian Tricolour after winning international laurels.

Sushil has been sent to a six-day police custody. He is now facing allegations of having connections with several gangsters, like Sundar Bhati, Neeraj Bawaniya and Kala Jathedi. It is being alleged that several wrestlers and gangsters including Sushil worked together to capture and recover land in Delhi and Gurgaon. It is also being told that when Sagar was beaten inside stadium premises, Sushil was accompanied by another person named Sonu. And Sonu is none other but nephew of the famous gangster Jathedi.

 

Humble background

Coming from a humble background, Sushil mastered his wrestling skills at the akhara in Chhatrasal at the tender age of 14. It was under his guru and now his father-in-law, Satpal, that he became India’s most decorated wrestler of all time. He could still be seen, till he fled this place, imparting wrestling nuances to his junior fellow wrestlers in the morning.  Not to forget that Sushil got married to his coach Satpal’s daughter Savi in 2011. The couple are blessed with two sons. Anyone wanted to hear “Guru-ji” sharing his stories from around the world. Be it an eight-year-old or the senior pehelwan getting ready for Tokyo Games, Sushil has been everyone’s favourite around that mud pit outside the wrestling hall at the Chhatrasal stadium. 

Being the boss of Delhi sports, Sushil has always been on the move during the day times. He made several surprise visits to various sporting facilities of the Delhi Government, including those cricket academies run on govt lands. But the 2008 Beijing Games have been the most important for him. The bronze medal he won changed his entire life. From a small room in Sonepat, he got a separate single cooler-cooled room now at all national camps. He also started getting endorsements which were hard to come by before his Olympic medal. 

Costly gifts from his hardcore fans also started pouring in. But the wrestler Sushil remained the same, a soft-spoken son of a bus conductor. However, it was only after winning his second Olympic medal at the London 2012 Olympic Games, that Sushil’s aura grew further along with his lust for power and money. Things in the wrestling world also changed after 2012, when weight categories at the Olympics were tweaked. 

He had to move from 66-kg to 74-kg. He won a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014 but then his career was punctuated by controversies. 

In 2016, the big controversy was the Narsingh Yadav-Sushil one. Narsingh won an Olympic berth winning bronze at the world championships in 2015 but Sushil wanted further trials to ascertain who should represent India at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Like any cheap third-grade soap opera, the tussle between the two turned ugly. Narsingh tested positive for doping and had to miss the Rio Olympics because he was forced to serve a four-year ban after a CAS hearing there. Narsingh blamed it entirely on Sushil and alleged that he and his father-in-law mixed a banned substance in his drink while he was not in his room. 

The allegation remained an allegation as Sushil was cleared of all charges. After missing 2016 Rio, Sushil lost in the first round of the Asian Games in 2018. Before this, there were instances which were noticed by everyone around. During the national championships in 2017, Sushil became champion without fighting a single fight. 

His opponents then, Parveen and Sachin Rathi, gave walkovers before the final. 

In the gold medal round too, Parveen Rana did not turn up citing injury. And when Rana later turned up for trials for the 2018 Commonwealth Games, he lost but was attacked by ‘Sushil’s supporters’. Rana and his brother required hospital treatment and an FIR was filed against Sushil and his supporters. Sushil failed to get qualification for Tokyo Games after suffering a shock defeat in the 74-kg weight category in the qualifying round in Jakarta. He felt further humiliated when Sports Authority of India dropped him from the TOPS scheme, indicating the end of his professional career.

 

Entry into crime world

It has been for the last half-a-decade now that there were murmurs over the company Sushil had been keeping.  The police are focusing on unearthing the crime network that Sushil was allegedly part of along with jailed gangster Neeraj Bawana. Police are claiming to have found more evidence of his links with Bawana as one of the vehicles, a Scorpio SUV, which was seized from the spot where wrestler Sagar Dhankad was murdered, has been found linked to a Bawana’s close associate, Mohit. Sushil’s footprints had also surfaced in many extortion cases reported from the Model Town and adjoining areas in the recent past. And the investigation over how fugitive gangster Sandeep alias Kala Jathedi, who had demanded Rs one crore as protection money from a cable businessman, also pointed fingers towards Sushil.

Jathedi, though, made phone calls from an international number. But Sushil has always been in the forefront while helping this gangster take control of “toll tax booths” in Delhi, UP and Haryana in recent years. However, the two had reportedly parted ways a few months back. And the star wrestler allegedly joined hands with jailed gangster Neeraj Bawana and Naveen Bali. Though all this is now part of investigation or judicial process, the latest controversy has shamed the entire wrestling world who were all in awe of Sushil and his stature as an ideal role model for the next generation!

 

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Chander Shekhar Luthra
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