Sandeep Kala’s journey from petty crime to being the most wanted
In Delhi’s Mandoli jail complex, wrestler Sushil Kumar, a two-time Olympic medallist, is watched round-the-clock through CCTV cameras inside his cell. There is a guard outside his cell too. The prison officers are on high alert. Last week, gangster Lawrence Bishnoi, who was seen as a potential threat to Kumar’s life, was shifted to Tihar jail, about 32km from Mandoli. Delhi Police and Intelligence Bureau officials alerted the prison department that Kumar, arrested for murder, has a threat to his life from Sandeep Kala, 36, the most wanted man by the police. Kala is Bishnoi’s top lieutenant, who is currently running their gang’s operation.
In the last two years, Kala has become the most wanted man, accused of crimes such as murder, extortion, and robbery. He carries a reward of ₹7 lakh for his arrest and is wanted by the police of four states. Kala was first arrested by a police constable while snatching a cell phone 17 years ago. It was his first crime and the start of a second life, in which he would be feared and become the most wanted fugitive in the national Capital.
Born in 1984 in Jatheri in Sonipat, Haryana, about 69km from the National Capital, he completed schooling from his village before taking admission to an Industrial Training Institute in Sonipat. His police dossier says he fell in bad company and started demanding money from his parents, “who were not rich enough.”
To earn money, Kala worked as a cable operator in his village during the early 2000s and came in touch with the cable mafia. “Those were days before Netflix and Amazon. Many local criminal gangs made money by wielding their influence over cable operations in a particular area. Every gang had dominance in a particular area. The power of a gang was gauged by the number of houses to which they provided cable networks. It was then that Kala came in touch with criminal elements,” said an officer of the crime branch, who has seen files on Kala.
With the money earned from the cable business not enough, Kala tried his hand at snatching. It is unclear how many phones or gold chains he had snatched before being arrested for the first time outside a wine shop in Delhi’s Samaipur Badli.
On September 29, 2004, he snatched the phone but was caught. For this crime, he spent four months in jail. These four months, police believe, would be Kala’s most formative years in his transition. “He did not look back or get reformed after coming out of Tihar jail. In fact, he graduated to bigger crimes such as robbery and extortion with his accomplices within a few months. But he was still a low-level criminal until that time,” the officer added.
In 2012, his name made it to the list of the Haryana Police most wanted when he along with his three associates rammed a prison van with a truck near Dulina village of Jhajjar district and opened fire, killing three prisoners and injuring two policemen. “The killed prisoners were Bhagwan gang members, including the kingpin Shree Bhagwan, his brother Dilbagh and Anil Fauji. The attack was the fallout of a longstanding rivalry between the Bhagwan gang and Anil Chippi, for whom Kala was working,” said assistant commissioner of police Preetpal Singh Sangwan from Gurugram (Haryana) Police’s crime branch.
Kala was later arrested and convicted for life in that case. He remained in jail for nearly eight years – from 2012 till February 2020, when he was released by his associates following a dramatic attack on the prison van in which he was being taken to Bhondsi jail from Faridabad court. Three assailants were chased and arrested but Kala managed to escape.
His return to crime in Delhi
“The bullet this time has hit the glass, next time it will hit your chest. Find someone who can save your life.” This was a handwritten message on a small piece of paper that a group of assailants left on the windscreen of a jeweller’s car after firing several bullets outside his shop in southwest Delhi’s Najafgarh in June last year. The same month, six similar threatening slips were thrown outside business establishments or houses of businessmen in southwest Delhi’s Najafgarh, Bindapur, and Baba Haridas Nagar within a week. There slips mentioned the name of “Kala Jatheri Group.” Also, all the firing and threatening slip-throwing incidents followed calls made through encrypted internet-calling platforms by persons who identified themselves as Kala Jatheri.
“The back-to-back firing incidents left us as well as the higher-ups baffled not because they all were committed for extortion but the fact that the crimes were seen as an alert about the entry of a new player (Kala Jatheri) who was desperate to fill the void created in Delhi’s crime world after the arrest of some top wanted gangsters such as Jitender alias Gogi and Neeraj Bawana,” said a crime branch officer, who has arrested members of Kala’s gang.
Such calls and threats spread fear among traders in outer Delhi, police said.
“Apart from the extortion cases registered at different police stations, we know that there are nearly a dozen instances wherein traders succumbed to Kala’s extortion demands and never reported the matter. His gang is mostly targeting bookies, jewellers, and property dealers,” a second officer said.
Deputy commissioner of police (special cell) Sanjeev Kumar Yadav said Kala is the most wanted gangster and multiple teams from Delhi and the adjoining states are looking for him and his gang members. “We have arrested many of Kala’s associates in the past few months and our operation against them is continuing.”
From the interrogation of his gang members, police have learnt that during his stay in Haryana jails between 2012 and 2020, Kala come in close contact with members of the Bishnoi gang.
“As per our intelligence inputs, as Bishnoi learnt about the deportation of key aide Raju Basodi’s from Thailand, he did not want to lose his grip on the extortion and contract killing business in the north Indian states. So, he planned Kala’s release from Faridabad court last year. Our informers say that after his escape Kala fled to Punjab and started working to expand the syndicate’s footprints in Delhi-NCR as well,” an officer from the special cell, who wished not to be named, said.
In less than a year, the Kala gang has committed several heinous crimes, including extortion as well as contract and revenge killings in Delhi, Haryana, Rajasthan, and Punjab. His name also emerged in the killing of youth Congress leader Gurlal Singh Bhalwan in Punjab’s Faridkot in February. His involvement is suspected in nearly 300 such cases, said Sangwan.
Though no police officer, authorised to issue press statements, confirmed that Kala has fled abroad, many mid level officers said Kala has fled to Dubai and he is running his operations from there. His gang members have confirmed this. With over 200 known members, Kala Jathedi gang is the biggest and strongest gang in Delhi and its adjoining states.
“Kala is a gangster with whom no criminal in the NCR region wants enmity. Even criminal Jitender Gogi, who was until last year Delhi police most wanted, supports Kala.It is evident from the fact that Kala’s involvement also surfaced in the release of Gogi’s key hitman, Kuldeep Maan, from police’s custody following a gunfight at GTB Hospital on March 25,” a crime branch officer, who probed the escape case, said.
Kala’s name surfaces again in Sushil Kumar case
Sushil Kumar has been arrested for allegedly murdering fellow wrestler Sagar Dhankad on May 4. That evening along with Dhankad, Kumar allegedly beat another person, Sonu Mahal. Mahal is Kala’s nephew.
Sensing a threat to Kumar’s life, during his court hearings, Kumar was guarded by commandos from the police’s Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team. Such commandos are used only in cases of high threat. SWAT teams have in the past been used to escort gangster Abu Salem and Indian Mujahideen terrorist Yasin Bhatkal.
On June 3, when Kumar was sent to Mandoli jail in judicial custody, police handed the jail authorities a file with the names of all suspected members of Kala’s gang. For his safety, Kumar has been allotted a single cell and is constantly watched. Over the last few days, prison authorities have held many closed-door meetings to decide if Kumar should be kept in Mandoli or be transferred to the more secure Tihar jail. The Tihar complex is bigger (spread over 400 acres) and has better security, but it also has many jailed prisoners who belong to the Kala gang. The jail authorities will take a call next week.
A prison officer, who was part of the meetings, said on condition of anonymity, “Kumar may be caged but he is the safest inside the prison. The real threat is outside when he steps out on bail.”
Please sign in to continue reading
- Get access to exclusive articles, newsletters, alerts and recommendations
- Read, share and save articles of enduring value