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From Games To Guns: Why Many Of Punjab’s Sportsmen Are Turning To Crime

Arrests of Sampat Nehra, a former national decathlon athlete, and Rakesh Mokhriya, a former national gold medalist wrestler, sheds light on troubling trend in state.

CHANDIGARH – In 2004, a national-level discus thrower at the inter-state school games, Harjinder Singh from Sarawan Bodla village of Muktsar district, was admitted to the Government Sports College in Jalandhar.

Unfortunately, the institute where this teenager could have fulfilled his father’s dream of winning accolades internationally, turned out to be the launch pad for Harjinder’s career in crime. By 2010, he had come to be known as Vicky Gounder, a dreaded criminal who masterminded the Nabha jailbreak in 2016, helping two militants and four gangsters escape.

He was killed in an encounter by Punjab Police on January 26 this year.

Gounder is not an exception. He, in fact, exemplifies the trend of professional sportspersons taking to crime. The latest entrants to the hall of infamy are two sportspersons-turned-gangsters – Sampat Nehra, a former national level decathlon athlete, and Rakesh Mokhriya, a former national gold medallist wrestler – who fell into the police net recently.

Many men from the testosterone-fuelled field of sports in Punjab and Haryana have given up their passion for sports to step into the murky world of crime. Prema Lahoria, Shera Khuban and Jaswinder Rocky are some of the prominent names, as notorious as Rakesh Malik, alias Mokhariya and Shani Dev, alias Kuki.

One of North India’s shrewdest criminals, Jaipal Singh Bhullar from Ferozepur is also a national-level hammer thrower. On top of Punjab Police’s most wanted list, he remains on the run after killing Rocky at Parwanoo in Solan district in 2015.

Bhullar’s gangster mentor, Gurshahid Singh, alias Shera Khuban, killed in a police encounter in 2012, was also a hammer thrower. Their association began after they met at a sports tournament in Ferozepur.

Tirath Dhilwan, who now runs the Shera Khuban gang, was known in Malwa as a kabaddi player.

Gounder’s life changed after he met Navpreet Singh, alias Lovely Baba, also a trainee at the college. Baba introduced him to Jalandhar-based sportsperson Prema Lahoriya, a silver medallist at an inter-state college championship in 2006, and the trio became friends.

Lahoria, killed with Gounder on January 26, was also a friend of Sukha Kahlwan, who belonged to a wealthy NRI family of Jalandhar district.In 2010, Kahlwan killed Baba, once his friend, because of internal rivalry and a clash of egos.

A furious Gounder then swore he would kill Kahlwan to avenge his friend’s death. Lahoriya supported him and both joined the Shera Khuban gang and in 2014 killed Kahlwan near Phagwara, dancing around his body in a bizarre show of might.

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