National boxer helped gangster escape: Police

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New Delhi: Boxing coach Anil Malik has an old, scanned photograph on his mobile phone. A time stamp on the bottom right corner displays the date: 28-August-2011. It’s a group portrait of victorious boxers at the 2011 junior nationals held in Pune. One of the winners, with a gold medal around his neck and a big smile on his face, is Deepak Pahal.

“When he won the national junior gold, he wasn’t satisfied. His goal was always to participate in the Olympics. He told me, ‘Coach saab, ab mujhe Rio Olympics khelna hai (I have to participate in the Rio Olympics)’. It was a big goal for a 16-year-old but I believed it was possible,” says Malik.

Five years later, the Rio Olympics are just a few days away, and Pahal is in police custody.

The boxer was arrested by Haryana Police for helping a gangster escape on July 30. Police say Deepak was part of a 10-member gang that helped Jitender, a gangster, flee while he was being taken on a bus from Rohini jail in north Delhi to a Sonepat court. The gang threw chilli powder in the eyes of the policemen escorting Jitender before robbing a gun and cartridges from them, say police.

Deepak is also accused of arranging the two cars — one of them a stolen Hyundai i20 — in which the gang members blocked the bus and drove away with Jitender.

A photograph released by police shows Deepak, his face covered with a towel, being led away.

It’s a sorry turn for a career that had begun with so much promise. “It’s very disappointing. He was such a talented boxer,” says Malik, now a coach at the Indira Gandhi Stadium.

Pahal, from Gannaur village, began training under Malik at the SAI Sonepat centre in 2006. “He was quiet outside the ring but had a lot of energy. He was able to think quickly under pressure,” says Malik.

But what really made Pahal stand out was his aggressiveness. “That helped him during his bouts. He just wouldn’t give up,” says Malik.

The junior national gold wasn’t a one-off achievement. Pahal, who competed in the lightweight division (60kg), won the state title in 2011 and another in 2013. He even represented India in the prestigious President’s Hayder Aliyev Cup Boxing Tournament in Uzbekistan in 2012, and was a regular member of junior national camps.

But Pahal’s career crumbled as quickly. In December 2012, the Indian boxing federation was banned by the international body for rigging elections, putting an end to all national tournaments. Medals in the nationals had traditionally served as a way for boxers to get government jobs in the sports quota, mostly in the Army and Railways.

With this option shut, Pahal, the son of a small-time farmer, had no real prospects. “He was under a lot of stress. There was no tournament happening and he had no job. He was looking for a job,” says Bala Devi, Pahal’s mother. According to Pahal’s family members, his father had “mental issues”.

The stabilising influence in Pahal’s life was coach Malik but he, too, was transferred from the Sonepat centre in 2014. Pahal began getting into trouble soon after. The same year he had the first case registered against him for breaking the jaw of another boxer in a brawl, according to Joint Commissioner of Police (Crime Branch) Ravindra Singh Yadav. Pahal was soon expelled from the SAI Sonepat hostel.

Malik says the lack of competitions had other consequences as well. “If you aren’t training for a tournament and if you don’t have any goals, you get distracted. Deepak had a lot of energy and he didn’t have a way to channelise it,” he says.

As the promising young boxer began drifting away from training, Malik says he did his best to get him back on track. He tried to bring him to Delhi but failed. He then tried to push for his inclusion in the senior national camp in Patiala but Pahal didn’t show up for selection trials.

“Last year, I suggested that perhaps, he should try out professional boxing. He seemed keen but it didn’t happen,” he says.

Police say it was during this period that Pahal began associating with local criminals of his village.

Malik says Pahal made one more attempt to get his career back on track. He began training again in his village, but that lasted only a few months before he allegedly assaulted his coach in July.
Even Pahal seemed to know this might have been the final nail in his career. In Facebook chats at the time with his coach, Pahal wrote: “Maine us coach ko mar diya. Ab main boxer nahi ban sakta, na (I hit that coach. Now I can’t become a boxer, isn’t it).”

But he still held out hope. “Ek baar batao, main practice karunga to badiya boxer ban jaunga (Tell me once that if I practise well, I will become a good boxer),” he wrote. His coach’s reply? “Kyun nahin (why not)?”
Says Malik: “He always wanted to make a name for himself. But it wasn’t supposed to be like this.”