When former national-level weightlifter Anil Pehalwan was arrested last month on charges of murder, extortion and robbery, he became the latest in a string of sportsmen who have turned to crime after their dreams on the field were shattered.
In 2008, Anil took up weightlifting in the hope of winning an international medal and eventually, a job in the Railways or Services. Three years on, he entered the top three, not on any podium, but in Delhi Police’s list of most-wanted criminals.
Anil had become Anil Pehalwan alias Ganja, with a reward of Rs 1.5 lakh on his head.
The list of sportsmen behind bars in India is long and varied, dominated by boxers, lifters and wrestlers. While former India batsman Jacob Martin was arrested three years ago on charges of human trafficking, Arjuna Award-winning wrestler Jagdish Bhola was held last year for alleged links to a Rs 700 crore drug cartel that dealt with heroin and cocaine, among other things.
“Contact sports such as boxing, wrestling and weightlifting need a lot of power and aggression. Every wrong decision results in pain. So they develop a high risk, high reward way of thinking. When things don’t go accordingly, their minds veer off,” says Dr Nimesh G Desai, director, Institute of Human Behavior & Allied Science.
Anil’s rise in the crime world was meteoric. In 2011, his gang committed three kidnappings for ransom, allegedly extorting about Rs 5 crore in a span of few months.
Their first target was a student of Delhi’s Ram Lal Anand College who was picked up outside the college along with his Chevrolet Cruze car.
Police said Anil demanded Rs 1 crore ransom but settled for Rs 35 lakh.
A 22-member team of the police’s crime branch in October finally nabbed Anil in a shootout at Dwarka, near the Capital.
“Even after his arrest, Anil was very calm. He was very strong and adamant. I think that was only thing he learned from sports,” said DCP Bhisham Singh, who led the team.
Police led to Anil’s downfall. On the other hand, former international wrestler Jagdish Bhola was himself a deputy superintendent of police in Punjab when he was arrested last year.
“Bhola’s wrestling style was never attractive. But he always had a hunger to dominate at the highest level. Look, what he has achieved now!” said Kartar Singh, gold medallist at the 1978 Asian Games.
Arrested alongside Bhola was international boxer Ram Singh, also on charges of drug smuggling.
Ram Singh, a serving Punjab Police officer, was sharing a room with Olympic bronze medallist boxer Vijender Singh and 2010 Commonwealth Games bronze medallist Jai Bhagwan at the National Institute of Sports, Patiala, when he was arrested.