Sushil: The case against one of India’s iconic Olympic athletes

ByAvishek Roy, Anvit Srivastava
May 08, 2021 07:06 AM IST

As police try to find wrestler, how did the two-time Olympic medallist become a wanted man?

From being post-Independence India’s only double Olympic medallist in an individual event, to being an absconder wanted for questioning in a murder by Delhi Police, it has been a long, strange road for wrestler Sushil Kumar.

Sushil Kumar, wrestler (HT File)(File)
Sushil Kumar, wrestler (HT File)(File)

How did this come to pass? What exactly happened that has led to one of India’s most iconic athletes becoming the subject of police raids for the last three days?

The murder

On 4 May, Sagar Dhankad, a former junior national champion and a part of India’s senior national camp, was beaten to death in a clash between two groups outside Delhi’s Chhatrasal Stadium. Dhankad competed in the 97kg Greco-Roman category.

Delhi Police claims that their initial investigations revealed that the violence was a fallout of a property dispute—Dhankad lived in a rented apartment owned by Kumar, according to the police, and had been asked to vacate the place.

On Friday, Delhi police said that they have recovered cell phone footage

in which Kumar and other men can be seen assaulting Dhankad and his friends inside the stadium complex.

The initial police statement says that they received information about a firing incident inside Chhatrasal Stadium late in the night. On reaching the stadium, the police team found and seized five vehicles parked inside the stadium. One of the cars had a double-barrel gun with seven 12 bore cartridges. Three injured persons had already been taken by a police patrol van to the nearby hospital, where Dhankad succumbed to his injuries. The police has not given a cause of death yet.

One of the injured, Sonu, told the police about the altercation and named Kumar as being involved in the clash. The police named five other people apart from Kumar in their FIR and one of them, a 24-year-old man named Prince Dalal, was arrested on Wednesday from the stadium and another gun was found in his possession.

Police said that Dalal’s phone had footage of the attack where the faces of the perpetrators could be seen.

The police also claim that Dhankad’s friend Sonu, who was injured in the fight, is allegedly connected to a gangster called Kala Jathedi and has been previously involved in a murder and robbery case.

The probe is now also looking at a gang rivalry angle and multiple teams are said to be looking for Kumar and the other men.

The investigator in charge of the case said multiple teams of Delhi police are raiding areas in Haryana, Uttarakhand and Delhi NCR. “At least 8-10 teams from northwest district and other districts too have been roped in. At least 50 policemen are on the job. We’ve put all the identified suspects on surveillance. People known to them are being questioned and efforts to trace them are on. We had some recent leads on Kumar’s location and accordingly raids are being conducted to arrest him,” the officer said.

The wrestler

Kumar, or “Sushil pehelwan” as he is called by all those who know him, is undoubtedly India’s most iconic wrestler. At the 2008 Olympics, he became only the second Indian wrestler—after Kashabha Dadasaheb Jadhav in 1952—to win an Olympic medal. He followed up that bronze with a silver at the 2012 Olympics. In between, he also became the only Indian to win a world championship title, in 2010. Kumar also has three Commonwealth Games gold medals, and a spate of medals from Asian and Commonwealth wrestling championships. He was relentless in his pursuit; a wrestler who had the heart, muscles and guile to beat the world’s best and he inspired a revolution in Indian wrestling that saw many wrestlers follow in his footsteps and India become a force to reckon with on the international stage.

India’s most famous wrestling school

Kumar and the wrestling training centre at Chhatrasal stadium are synonymous. Kumar was 14 when he came to the stadium and began to live and train there under the tutelage of Satpal Singh, a famous former wrestler himself.

By 2012, Chhatrasal had become India’s premium centre for wrestling. That year, not just one but two of its trainees returned with Olympic medals—Kumar and Yogeshwar Dutt, a childhood friend of Kumar’s, who won a bronze. Another trainee from India’s most famous wrestling school, Amit Dahiya, became the youngest from India to compete at the Olympics at 18. He made it to the quarter-finals and was hailed as a future star.

Many more wrestling stars followed--a superb second line, that includes current Tokyo Olympic medal favourite Bajrang Punia. In fact, along with Punia, two other Tokyo-bound wrestlers—Ravi Dahiya and Deepak Punia—also learnt their wrestling at Chhatrasal.

Kumar’s life became even more entwined with Chhatrasal when he married Satpal’s daughter. At the moment, Kumar is an administrator at the Delhi-government run stadium that became famous because of him.

“Before Sushil’s Olympic medal even people in the vicinity did not know what Chhatrasal was all about,” said a former coach.

The scene of crime

Despite the fame and the stature, or perhaps because of it, deep cracks began to appear in the running of Chhatrasal’s wrestling school.

By the end of 2012, Dutt and Kumar had a public fall out, resulting in Dutt leaving the centre and opening his own wrestling school. There were fallouts with coaches too, including one incident where a senior coach alleged that Kumar had assaulted him. The coach left and joined Dutt.

By 2015, it had become an exodus, with many of the centre’s top wrestlers leaving, including Bajrang Punia.

There was more controversy for Kumar. In 2015, the Mumbai wrestler Narsingh Yadav won a quota for the Rio Olympics with a bronze at the 2015 World Championships. Since the quota goes to the country, Kumar, who was also preparing for Rio, wanted a selection trial. The Wrestling Federation of India refused it. Kumar moved a plea in Delhi High Court which was dismissed.

Yadav later tested positive for anabolic steroids and alleged that his food was contaminated at the national camp in Sonepat by a junior wrestler from Chhatrasal, insinuating that Kumar was involved. It led to a bitter, long-drawn fight with even the CBI getting involved. In 2019, the CBI dismissed Yadav’s sabotage theory.

In 2017, Parveen Rana, another international wrestler, who had been Kumar’s training partner for many years before leaving Chhatrasal, alleged that he and his brother were beaten up by Kumar’s men after the national selection trials.

At the 2019 World Championships, Kumar made his last appearance with an eye to compete in his fourth Olympics in Tokyo. He lost in the first round 9-11, after having a five-point lead at one point.

Kumar said he lacked in stamina and hoped to comeback stronger on the mat. It never happened.

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