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Family thought he was settled in Italy, but Punjab youth was making his bones as gangster Shera

Twenty-one-year-old Hardeep Singh is the son of a farmer and moved to Italy with his uncle as a child. However, his family didn’t know he was back as ‘Shera’ and was on the police’s most wanted list.

punjab Updated: Nov 24, 2017 10:57 IST
Nirupama Dutt
Nirupama Dutt
Hindustan Times, Fatehgarh Sahib
Hardeep Singh alias Shera(HT Photo)

Sorrow sits still in the courtyard of a two-room home in the fields of Majri Kishnewali village near Amloh in Punjab’s Fatehgarh Sahib district. It is the abode of Balvinder Singh, 43, a retrenched worker from Saudi Arabia because of a chronic heart problem and his wife Surinder Kaur, 41.

The two seem shocked into resignation that their son, just 21 years old, who they thought was ‘set’ (Punjabi usage for settled) in Italy, has been arrested for seven high-profile killings since 2016.

At the Bajwa Gym in Fatehgarh Sahib, opposite the Banda Bahadur College where the police claim to have arrested him, he was known for his prowess at working out with the 100kg bench press.

“We did not even know that he was here. We have not seen him since last year but on video calls,” says Balvinder. “His name was Hardeep Singh and this ‘Shera’ (is something) we are just hearing of now,” says Surinder, almost unable to relate the two faces of her son.

Police sources say Hardeep took on the name Shera after Khuban Shera, a gangster of Khuban village in Fazilka, who was allegedly killed in an encounter with the Punjab police in Bathinda in 2012. Hardeep even had a lion tattooed on his chest, which, besides his bushy eyebrows, was what helped the police in tracing him.

No one in the village wishes to talk about Hardeep, even if it was merely to enquire the route to his home. Brusquely, villagers either point to areas beyond into the fields, or simply, “No Hardeep Singh or his family have ever lived in this village.”

Fall of fortune

However, Baba Jeet Singh, an old village preacher, opens up to tell of the woes that befell the family and how they lost their land. Singh now owns the other half of the divided home that is more posh with sloping, tiled roof and a swan-shaped water tank. This portion belonged to Daljit Singh, the elder brother of Balvinder, until he sold it off to build a home in Amloh town.

“The fields surrounding the two homes were sold off though their grandfather had a large land-holding here,” says Singh.

Shera: The man with a lion tattoo
  • Hardeep Singh Shera’s uncle Daljit Singh adopted him when he was nine or 10 and took him to Italy
  • Though fluent in speaking Italian, he dropped out of school and worked with his uncle for some years
  • He met KLF militant Harminder Singh Mintoo when he was 18, who ‘convinced’ him to avenge the killing of Sikhs during 1984 riots
  • Inspired by gangster Khuban Shera, who was killed in an encounter in 2012, Hardeep started using ‘Shera’ with his name
  • He was arrested by Punjab Police for seven high-profile killings in the state since 2016
  • Hardeep’s lion-tattooed chest and bushy eyebrows helped police nab him

Hardeep’s story of moving away from his biological parents begins when he was barely nine or 10, when his father’s elder brother Daljit Singh took him while going to Italy. “Our fortunes were completely fallen and we were left with a small land holding. My brother decided to move to Italy and I twice went to Saudi Arabia,” says Balvinder.

He says he worked there for eight years the first time and went back to work for two more years before he was relieved by the company after suffering a heart attack. “He was told to undergo operation but we did not have the money so he is just taking medicine,” says Surinder.

Fitness freak

Their son, fluent in Italian, dropped out of school and worked with his uncle. A few years ago, they had a falling-out over differences between the uncle and the father over a small piece of land. Hardeep just left.

“Two years ago, he told us that he was going to work on his own. He also said that he was cutting off his hair as he was not getting a job with his turban,” the mother says. When asked what he did in Italy, she hesitates and adds: “He told us that he was working as an electrician.”

At the Bajwa Gym in Fatehgarh Sahib, from where Shera was arrested, a notice says no one will be allowed to work out without showing their I-cards. (HT Photo)

Did he take to addiction of alcohol or something else? To this question her answer is firm, “Not at all. He would fight with anyone who took a drink, even his own father. When visiting us, he would mostly stay at home and only in the evenings would he go to the gym. He was always fond of running and exercising.”

When asked if they have a picture of him, the mother says softly: “There were seven pictures of him in one fancy frame in the living room but the police took them,” she says, and then adds as though she is asking herself, “Why did they take all of them?” However, the two add that they have not been troubled by the police in any way.

The father shares some pictures of him sent on his phone that shows him posing with fitness machines and a board in the background has ‘Hawai Gym’ written on it. The mother’s last plea to us is not to take her husband’s or her picture as they already felt humiliated enough.

At the Bajwa Gym in Fatehgarh Sahib, opposite the Banda Bahadur College where the police claim to have arrested him, he was known for his prowess at working out with the 100kg bench press and said to have been living in a rented room.

The owner is not there but a notice in the state-of-the-art gym says no one will be allowed to work out without registering their identity cards. The front-desk boy says, “We are more careful after the Shera incident”.

Yet another story of a young man becoming an incident.

Next: Is the gangster in Punjab the new youth icon?

First Published: Nov 24, 2017 09:04 IST