Delhi’s gangs, wars and rivalries
Criminal gangs in Delhi are of a much younger vintage, have more local ambitions and their rivalries bear largely personal origin stories
Mumbai, with its underworld gangs and once all-pervasive criminal networks conjure instant images of globally notorious mobsters. Think Dawood Ibrahim, Chhota Rajan, Haji Mastan. Their aspirations spread far and wide, with ambitions of influencing the financial capital’s film industry and were characterised by contract killings and vast quantities of contraband. Criminal gangs in Delhi, however, are of a much younger vintage, have more local ambitions and their rivalries bear largely personal origin stories.
According to Delhi Police officers, the Capital has around 15 active gangs operating within its borders. Of these, the police say around six “matter the most” and are under constant surveillance. And even then, rather than criminal activities, what keeps the police most occupied, they say, is the blood lost over their internecine tussles.
Tillu’s murder by associates of slain gangster Gogi (who was shot dead by members of Tillu’s gang in September 2021) has turned the spotlight on these groups and their tussles. Here’s a snapshot of Delhi’s five other gang rivalries, where they began and how they ended, if at all.
Anoop-Balraj vs Krishan Pehalwan
The conflict between siblings Anoop and Balraj on one side and Krishan Pehalwan on the other in the mid-1990s is one of the Capital’s older gang rivalries. Balraj, from Mitraon village and Pehalawan, from nearby Dichaon Kalan (both localities in the Najafgarh neighbourhood) were inseparably close. Partners in Najafgarh’s wrestling rings and a duo that used to extort local landlords and municipal contractors, the two grew up into the business of brawn together. Till 1994, when Pehalwan was hired by one landlord to protect him and fight the demand of a three-acre land made by Anoop and Balraj’s father, Surat Singh alias Kana. The friendship fell apart and bloomed into one of Delhi’s bloodiest rivalries.
Over the next 12 years, six people from both groups were murdered as the conflict spiralled.
Beyond their own turf war, the groups killed several people in their quest for claiming dominance in property grabbing business and seeking protection money.
In 1998, Pehalwan and his associates gunned down Balraj, and eight years later they murdered Anoop, both in quests for supremacy of the Capital’s crime rings and to avenge the death of their friends and family. In the absence of Anoop and Balraj, their deputy, Manjeet Mahal took over, extending the rivalry with Pehalwan.
Their rivalry’s final casualty was Pehalwan’s brother Bharat Singh, a former Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) MLA from Najafgarh, who was killed in March 2015.
Having lost his two brothers to gangwars, Pehalwan has, since, refrained from further revenge killings and confined himself to Delhi politics.
Kapil-Jyoti Sangwan v Manjeet Mahal-Nafe Mantri
The animosity between the two already notorious groups began eight years ago over a financial dispute of ₹2.5 lakh. Kapil Sangwan alias Nandu and Jyoti Sangwan operated from a village in Najafgarh. Nafe Mantri, Manjeet Mahal and their associates shot dead Sangwans’ brother-in-law Sunil in December 2015, over the pending payment.
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Enraged, Jyoti Sangwan, who by then had become a key member of Manoj Morkheri’s gang, asked his brother, Kapil Sangwan, to take revenge without a delay. The same night (December 20), Kapil and his associates killed Mantri’s father Hari Kishan, a retired Delhi Police assistant sub-inspector (ASI) in their home in Chhawla and injured his mother, Kamla Devi, and wife Sharmila.
Less than a fortnight later, Nandu along with his gang members killed Vinod, father of Dharmender, who was involved in Sunil Doctor’s murder. Nandu became the most sought-after criminal for the city police that also announced ₹1 lakh reward on his arrest. Nandu was arrested three months later but the revenge killings between the two gangs continued.
Jyoti was imprisoned for life in Tihar Jail, while Nandu is suspected to have fled to Dubai. However, the conflict between the two groups, which claimed nearly 20 lives in the past eight years rumbles on. Nandu joined Gogi’s gang and has been supported by gangsters from Haryana and Punjab such as Kala Jatheri, Lawrence Bishnoi, and Goldy Brar.
Both groups remain active, controlling betting and bootlegging syndicates in Delhi and its neighbouring states.
Neeraj Bawana v Neetu Dabodia-Rajesh Bawana
Surender Malik and jailed gangster Neeraj Bawana were friends from Delhi’s Bawana. Together they executed a series of murders, kidnappings for ransom, and robberies for nearly 12 years, before mistrust over share in crime proceeds crept in and led to a split. Their rivalry mainly started as they sought control of the extortion business in outer and west Delhi around 2011, when Dabodia was lodged in Tihar jail and Bawana collected extortion money on his behalf but stopped paying him.
Dabodia sought revenge and killed Ajay alias Sonu Dada, who was appointed by Bawana for collecting extortion money from businessmen in 2012. He himself was killed in an encounter in October 2013. However, the feud worsened when Dabodia’s key aide Paras took over his gang.
In April 2015, Bawana was arrested for his alleged role in nearly 20 extortion, murder and attempt to murder cases. Paras was arrested around the same time, as the police looked to crack down on the groups. In August that year, Bawana and his four associates allegedly killed Paras and a key accomplice of his, Goldy, in a jail van while they were being moved to Tihar jail from Rohini court.
The killings of Paras and Goldy led to the emergence of Rajesh Bawania alias Karambir, who was among the four inmates who allegedly killed Tillu in Tihar Jail on Tuesday morning.
Neeraj Bawana continues to operate his gang from behind bars, supported by many of Delhi’s other criminal groups.
Abdul Nasir v Chhenu Pehalwan
In the 2010s, the rivalry between Abdul Nasir from Jafrabad and Irfan (better known as Chhenu Pehalwan of Seelampur) claimed 17-18 lives and kept police officers on tenterhooks.
Their conflict began in 2012 over a bid to control the trans-Yamuna betting network. It worsened when Atif from Nasir and Hashim Baba’s gang eloped with the daughter of a local businessman who financed Chhenu’s gang.
This led to Atif’s murder in 2012, which was countered by Irfan’s group killing Mateen, a key aide of Chhenu Pahalwan the same year. Akil, a key aide of Chhenu was killed in September that year.
The rivalry between the two gangs seemingly ended in 2019, when Nasir came out of jail on parole and found that his crime syndicate was taken over by his second in command, Hashim Baba.
Until his arrest in November 2020, Hashim ruled the crime syndicates of east Delhi. In jail, he joined hands with Lawrence Bishnoi’s gang, and still runs his outfit across the city
Ravi Gangwal-Rohit Chaudhary v Deepak Pandit-Prince Tewatia
Ravi Gangwal and Deepak Pandit gangs sparred over establishing control on pickpockets, cable operators, bootleggers, betting, and drug peddlers in south Delhi neighbourhoods like Ambedkar Nagar, Tigri, Khirki Extension, and Sangam Vihar.
Rohit Chaudhary joined Ravi Gangwal’s gang while Prince Tewatia, once his friend, took over Pandit’s gang. Tewatia was killed in Tihar jail last month and the police are probing Chaudhary’s role in the murder.
In 2018, Gangwal was booked under MCOCA for running the organised crimes in which he was assisted by gangsters Ankit Gurjar of Baghpat and Rohit Choudhary of Delhi’s Aya Nagar. Tewatia, who actually was a friend of Gangwal, found an opportunity to take control of the illegal activities and became his rival.