They are reckless, armed and trigger-happy. With innocence lost young, they are now hardcore criminals with little likelihood of reform. Death at the hands of the police or a rival is how their short deviant life ends.
The gangsters of Punjab are grabbing headlines. The trend is worrying with their numbers on the rise, weapons upgraded, youngsters hired as sharpshooters, entry into the drug trade and worse a cult following on social media.
Engaged in a constant cat and mouse chase with the police in Punjab and its neighbouring states, the odds, police claim, are still against the gangsters. Punjab gangsters operate in specific areas and are not well organised. The leaders are mostly in jail and don’t have significant political backing, at least for the time being. They are fighting each other for supremacy, which for the police is half the job done.
Punjab Police have shortlisted 50 men, loosely bound under two main gangs, out to kill one another in a bid to dominate the multi-crore ‘scare business’ in the state.
“The larger of the two gangs owes its allegiance to slain gangster Gurshahid Singh alias Shera Khuban who was killed by Punjab police in September, 2012. This gang is now led by Gurpreet Singh Sekhon alias Sekhon Mudki. Shera was once an accomplice of Jaipal, member of the notorious gang of highway robbers behind 40 robberies, murders, kidnappings, extortion and bank heists. While Jaipal is on the run, Sekhon is now in jail,” says Gaurav Yadav, IG, counter intelligence, Punjab.
The other gang considers Jaswinder Singh ‘Rocky’ as its role model. Rocky, a former accomplice of gangster Prabhjinder Singh Dimpy, is now a politician. Dimpy is said to be among the earliest to have grouped together an organised gang in Punjab with links in Uttar Pradesh.
When Dimpy was killed in a shootout outside Lake Club in Chandigarh in 2006, Rocky was booked for conspiring the murder,” Rocky, 43, faced six cases, including two of attempt to murder when he contested as an independent candidate from Fazilka in the 2012 Punjab assembly elections. He got over 30000 votes, while BJP candidate Surjit Jyani just about managed to win.
Rocky was later acquitted in most cases, including Dimpy’s murder, last year. He was arrested in March in an illegal arms case in which he is out on bail. “He has turned to politics and claims to keep away from criminal activities,” adds Yadav.
The area of operation of the two gangs is the Ferozepur- BathindaMuktsar belt, while a third gang led by Jagdeep Singh Jaggu, 25, operated in Batala, Majitha and Amritsar city. Jaggu was arrested by the Amritsar rural police on July 12.
“Older gangsters, mostly in jails, lead these loosely structured gangs. They plan contract killings, extortions, robberies etc in jail and have them executed by sharpshooters. They dabble in drug trade too,” says Fazilka SSP Swapan Sharma.
This picture is posted as 'Jalandhar's Lahoria group' on the Facebook page titled 'Gounder Gang' showing young boys flaunting weapons.
KIN OF COPS TO SPORTSMEN
“Punjab’s gangsters are not frustrated, jobless youth. Most are from middle class and farming families with some even leaving sporting careers to enter a life of crime. Lust for quick money, power and influence besides the love for sophisticated weapons, a flashy lifestyle and big cars attracts them,” says Bathinda police chief Inder Mohan Singh Bhatti.
Jaipal, the son of a Punjab Police sub-inspector, is an undergraduate from Ferozepur and a national-level hammer thrower. Shera, also a hammer thrower was the son of a Punjab government employee. Shera studied at Khalsa College, Ferozepur, and then came to Chandigarh. He was planning to migrate to New Zealand when he met Jaipal during a sports event in Patiala and was pulled into a life of crime.
Harinder Singh Tinu, a former shotputter in Jaipal’s gang, was pursuing law and is the son of a Chandigarh Police inspector.
Among the dozen persons who helped dreaded gangster Rajiv alias Raja escape from police custody in March last year were four kabbadi players and one class XII student.
“Jaggu was only 17 when he took to crime. He completed his Class 12 and joined a gang of musclemen. He was into drug trade and extortion,” says SSP, Amritsar rural, Jasdeep Singh Saini.
On July 14, Fazilka police arrested Anmol Bishnoi (18), the younger brother of gangster Lawrence Bishnoi, and six of his accomplices with arms. They were all under 21 years and operated in Haryana and Rajasthan as well.
While most have girlfriends, some are married and have children.
STRIKING TERROR IN COLLEGE POLLS
During a recent election at Rajindra College in Bathinda, one of the candidates posed with a photo of gangsters lodged in jails or on the run in the backdrop. The support of gangsters to candidates in such elections is on the rise.
In September 2014, the Jaggu gang allegedly injured two youths at Guru Nanak Dev University college campus at Verka. The incident was the outcome of a dispute over presidentship of the students’ body and one of the groups had sought help of gangsters to scare the other party’s candidates.
This April, members of the Sukhwinder Singh Lala gang allegedly fired shots outside VMS College in Batala following a dispute between students over the headship of the college union. The gangster was allegedly supporting a candidate and opened fire aimed at creating terror.
ARMS AND THE MEN
When gangster Lawrence Bishnoi was arrested this March, the Fazilka police recovered three .38-bore revolvers (made in the US), a .30-Mauser (made in China), a bullet-proof jacket, a 0.315bore rifle and an automatic US machine gun carbine.
“The person who has been providing these gangsters with foreign weapons is Ranjit Singh Dupla, who was arrested this February. A .30-bore pistol and a Smith & Wesson pistol (9mm) were recovered. Later, the police recovered eight more weapons from Chandigarh and Delhi, including a Beretta and a Finnish rifle,” said Muktsar SSP Kuldeep Singh Chahal.
“In July 2009, when Chandigarh Police rounded up Jaipal and Shera, we recovered two revolvers made by Germany’s Arminius Company and a Smith & Wesson pistol,” said inspector Amanjot Singh, then with the special crime investigation cell.
MAKING MOST OF SOCIAL MEDIA
“More than the lust for money, these gangsters vie for name and fame. They want to be known as dreaded so that they can scare people and extort money. Gang wars are aimed at asserting supremacy,” says Charanjit Singh SSP Faridkot.
The gangsters are active on social media, particularly Facebook. Many have their own pages on which they post pictures flaunting weapons, motorcycles and cars. Kahlwan tapped Facebook extensively. Photos of his in jail and being taken for hearings were put up on his fan page titled, ‘Sukha Kahlon sharpshooter’. When Kahlwan allegedly beat up one Jimmy in the Kapurthala jail, a video was made using a mobile phone and uploaded on his page. The fan page created in early 2013 has over 80,000 likes and is full of violent comments appreciating Kalhwan’s acts.
Kalhwan’s friend Bhana used Facebook to pay homage to him where he also declared that he would avenge his death. News of Jaggu’s arrest was posted on his Facebook profile page. His aide is said to be handling the page from Australia.
Gangster Kulbir Naruana, earlier housed in Bathinda jail, posted his picture with other inmates. Naruana is wanted in several cases, including attempt to murder.
YouTube has many tribute videos made by sympathisers and family members of the gangsters who have been killed. “Lucky Deora tribute to Happy Deora”, “Sukha Kalhon di yaad”, “The Legend Happy Deora”, “Shera khuban” are remembrance videos that have been watched by thousands.