Delhi’s gangsters are getting younger by the year, and also more ruthless as they start targeting the family members of their rivals, a no-go territory until a few years ago even among the most notorious of them. Drawn by the sheer power of money and clout that the underworld attracts, many young boys belonging to the rural parts of the national capital, particularly in south-west Delhi, are finding this “profession” far more lucrative than pursuing a college education or a regular job.
“We have come across boys as young as 17-18 years indulging in gang activities, directly or indirectly. Although we have not yet arrested anyone that young for gang related crimes, but there are suspects,” said a police officer investigating such activities in south-west Delhi.
“The average age of the major gangsters in Delhi is between 20 and 30 years at present. The small-time criminals who become a part of these gangs generally remain active for 5-10 years and make as much money as possible during that period. After that, they may go into hibernation or get caught or may even get killed by their rivals, thus putting an end to their ‘careers’. The ‘charm’ of the gun culture apparently attracts these young boys towards gang activities. The influx of youth into Delhi’s gangs has emerged over the past four-five years,” said the officer.
Sandeep, alias Kale (29), an associate of the gangster Kapil Sangwan, alias Nandu, who was arrested last week, too, started his criminal activities when he was in his early 20s, but began committing heinous crimes 2013 onwards. Born in Silothi village in Haryana, Kale was sent to the Jhajjar jail in Rajasthan, in 2014 for attempting to kill a man in Najafgarh in south-west Delhi. In jail, Kale met Jyoti Parkash, alias Baba, the elder brother of Nandu. A Class 12 dropout, Kale joined the Jyoti-Nandu gang (named after the two brothers). The gang is now known only as the “Nandu gang”, since he took over after the arrest of Baba in 2013. Baba is expected to come out of the Bhonsi jail this year.
“Among these gangs, one comes across many criminals who have stories similar to Kale’s. Some of them either dropped out of school or never had the chance of an education. Even if they finished school, education was never a priority. Without any work, these empty minds get attracted to a Bollywood-style action-filled life. The fact that most of them come from backgrounds of excessive poverty only encourages them to survive in bad company,” another police officer said.
The counter killings in Chhawla last year, for which Kale was arrested, were the result of gang rivalries in south-west Delhi, that have been going on for the past 25 years. Land is the primary reason behind these rivalries. The land dispute in this case started with the rivalry between Anoop Balraj and Kishan Pehelwan, who belonged to the two nearby villages of Mitraon and Dichaun Kalan, respectively, in Najafgarh. Balraj was killed in an encounter by the Delhi police in 2013, but Kishan Pehelwan is still operating in the region. Over the years, the power equations underwent a change with lead gangsters either dead or in jail, and that eventually provided a convenient environment for the small criminals to come together to form smaller gangs. These subsidiaries were generally affiliated to the bigger gangs, thus continuing the enmity.
The other major gangsters operating across south-west Delhi at present are Manjeet Mahal, Udaiveer Singh, Nandu and Vikas Langarpuria. Manjeet Mahal and Udaiveer Singh belong to Mitraun village and both are supporters of Balraj’s gang. On the other hand, Nandu’s gang and Langarpuria’s gang belong to Dichaun village and support Kishan Pehelwan’s gang.
In April 2015, Udaiveer Singh, along with three sharpshooters, was arrested for the murder of then Najafgargh MLA, Bharat Singh, who was Kishan Pehelwan’s brother. In the same year, Gapchu Pehelwan, a notorious muscleman belonging to Manjeet Mahal’s gang, was killed by Vikas Langarpuria. In order to avenge Gapchu’s death, Mahal approached Nafe Singh, alias Mantri, another gangster from the area. Mantri is the son of a retired Delhi police constable and belongs to Ghummanhera village in south-west Delhi. He told Mahal about Nandu’s brother-in-law, Sunil. “Since Nandu and Langarpuria were associates, Sunil became an easy target for Mahal,” sources said. Sunil was not a gangster, but used to look after the legal affairs of the Nandu gang. On the night of 20 December 2015, two men from Mantri’s gang and three men from Mahal’s gang ambushed Sunil and murdered him, thus avenging Gapchu’s death by widowing Nandu’s only sister. “Someone from Nandu’s gang may have witnessed Sunil’s murder, but gave to the police the names of only those who belonged to Mantri’s gang. Mahal’s name did not come up perhaps because Mahal is far more powerful than Mantri,” a police officer said. After midnight, on 21 December 2015, Langarpuria’s men attacked Mantri’s home, seeking revenge. “Earlier, when we had gone to Mantri’s place to warn his family about a possible attack, Mantri’s mother denied us entry. We warned them about the danger and left since they were sure that nothing would happen to them. But to gain entry into Mantri’s house, Langarpuria’s men pretended to be Mantri’s men and when the women of the house opened the front door, they fired at them indiscriminately,” a police source said. Mantri’s father, Hari Kishan, and mother were severely injured in the attack, while his wife got hit with a bullet in her head. Hari Kishan died. “Surprisingly though, Mantri’s wife is still alive and the bullet has not been removed from her head. The doctors said that she would not survive the surgery, so the family didn’t go through the procedure. She has no memory of the day she was attacked, but other than that, her memory is said to be intact. She now lives with a bullet in her head,” the source said.
“The womenfolk in these gangster households, too, have developed a carefree attitude towards these rivalries. Murders and bloodshed are part of their lives. The next morning we saw Mantri’s widowed mother smoking a bidi nonchalantly in the winter sun. It was as if nothing had happened,” said the police officer.
But with three deaths and two injuries, the gang war got aggravated and then resulted in two more deaths. Dharmender, a close aide of Mantri, was arrested by the Delhi police for the murder of Sunil, Nandu’s brother-in-law. After this, Nandu’s gang members attacked Dharmender’s house in Shikarpur village in south-west Delhi on 11 January 2016. Nandu’s men shot dead Dharmender’s father Vinod Kumar and brother Kamal Kumar by spraying them with bullets.
“This never used to happen before. Family members were always kept off the radar. It was almost a criminal’s code of conduct to never harm the women in the family because of gang rivalries. But these young men lack the ‘ethics’ that their predecessors had. These new gangsters are desperate. The minors that we have got to know about also do not care about the law. They cannot even spell a word correctly, but they have hired expensive lawyers who teach them the law all too well. This is the reason why in all these years, not even a single gangster in Delhi has been convicted. In addition to that, nobody wants to be a witness. No common man would come forward to testify against the gangsters or their men. That is why they operate the way they do,” said a police officer.
“There is a popular saying in rural Delhi that anyone who has night vision security cameras at one’s place can only be a gangster. The gangsters here have installed the most advanced security equipment possible. They live in homes that are worth crores of rupees and are decorated with exotic stuff. The families of the veteran gangsters still live in their plush houses, but the families of the new gangsters have relocated to other places,” sources told this correspondent.
Taj Hassan, Special Commissioner of Police, Crime, said, “Since the 1990s, 50 people in all have been killed in Delhi’s gang wars. The gang wars took a new turn last year with the families of gangsters being made the targets, but the police is working to keep the situation under control.”
Even though the gangs in Mumbai have been popular for their notoriety, one cannot help but compare the situation with Delhi. “There is no comparison between the gangs of Delhi and those in Mumbai. Here the crimes are land encroachment, extortion, betting, etc. Here gangs have nothing to do with the international mafia. The common man in Delhi can feel safe, because he knows he is not the target. Gangs in Delhi are invested in rivalry for power among themselves. The city people at large are not exposed to any threat as such,” said a police officer.