The sports fraternity in India is shocked and is in grief over the arrest of India’s most successful Olympian Sushil Kumar in connection with a murder case. For all Indians it is a devastating sight to behold the hands that had once triumphantly held aloft the Indian tricolour, today wearing handcuffs.
It is a rare feat for any Indian player to win a medal at the Olympic Games. But Sushil did it twice. However, today he has fallen from grace and done so spectacularly. The case will now have to be tried and it remains to be seen to what extent he was responsible for the death of another wrestler by the name of Sagar Rana.
Initial police investigations have begun to unravel a murky world of criminals and their links to some wrestlers. The involvement of a notorious Dubai based gangster Sandeep Kaala has come up in the police reports. Apparently when Sushil Kumar was trying to evade arrest for several days, he was also trying to escape the clutches of this don whose nephew had been injured in the brawl which resulted in the death of Rana.
For many years there had been whispers about the close connections between the land mafia and wrestlers. Usually, it is the small-time wrestlers who often fall prey to the lure of quick money and are hired by racketeers to carry out deeds such as extortion and eviction. But this is the first time that a big fish has landed in the net.
But now that it has happened, no effort should be spared to unearth the full story and uproot the malady completely. For too long has the mafia used wrestlers to do their dirty deeds, often with the blessings of political bigwigs. The malpractice is particularly widespread in the regions of Delhi, UP and Haryana.
The services of wrestlers and musclemen are often used by hoodlums who lend money at colossal rates of interest. When a borrower fails to repay on time, these wrestlers are sent to threaten and arm twist the borrower into submission and take away his property by force.
The concept is a very old one. In 1995 when I was covering the South Asian Federation Games in Chennai, I had a conversation with a manager of a wrestling team from another country. At first sight, the man seemed to be a jovial and affable person. He told me that he was not just the team manager but also the promoter of many wrestlers in his home town. At his own cost he housed them, fed them and trained them in wrestling, he said.
But as he kept talking to me, I began to realise the true picture of the facts that he was revealing to me. He told me that he was a wealthy zamindar whose property included several villages. Much like the jagirdars of the olden days. And as his story unfolded, I realised that the reason why he looked after the wrestlers and trained them was because they would carry out his strong arm tactics for him.
But now that the Sushil Kumar case has exposed the deals that happen behind closed doors, the police and the Delhi administration should take all necessary steps to sort out this mess and eradicate the malpractices forever. It is high time that the sport was cleaned up and law breakers put in the right place. And the right place for them is inside the prison, not inside the wrestling ring.
Abhijit Sen Gupta is a seasoned journalist who writes on Sports and various other subjects.