Delhi

A tale of reverence and betrayal

Olympics medal-winning wrestler Sushil Kumar and his associate Ajay Kumar who have been arrested in connection with the Chhatrasal Stadium brawl that led to the death of a wrestler, in New Delhi, Sunday, May 23, 2021.  

Two-time Olympic medallist and Padma Shri awardee Sushil Kumar was an inspiration for many budding wrestlers at the Chhatrasal Stadium in north-west Delhi.

Among them was Sagar Dhankar, a 23-year-old, who was allegedly bludgeoned to death at the stadium on May 4 by Sushil Kumar and other wrestlers at the stadium.

If Mr. Kumar was moving backstage in the wresting arena as an administrator, Sagar had a promising career ahead and would have learnt wrestling tactics from Mr. Kumar, who was an Officer on Special Duty at the stadium.

The relationship between the two, according to other wrestlers at the stadium, was that of a teacher and a disciple, leaving many shocked as to how the ties between them turned so bitter.

Just like home

Mr. Kumar’s friends, who requested anonymity, said that the stadium was like a home to the Olympic medallist over the past two decades and the only thing he spoke about was wrestling and coaching young wrestlers to qualify for national and international events.

“The May 4 incident has damaged Sushil’s image that he earned over the years by winning two Olympic medals consecutively. His achievements can never be matched or compared, but the brawl that night has ended everything for him. Sagar was trained by Sushil but God knows what happened that night,” said a friend of Sushil.

He added that Mr. Kumar’s life was going smooth. He had opened a school and other businesses were being run by his family members so that he could concentrate in wrestling and never detach himself from Chhatrasal Stadium.

Events of the night when Sagar was killed hurts more because Sagar considered Sushil Kumar his guru, the deceased’s friends said. “It’s not just killing a national wrestling prodigy or our beloved family member, it’s also an act of betrayal by someone Sagar revered,” says a wrestler who practises at the stadium.

An inspiration

Sagar’s friend who used to practice with him at Chhatrasal Stadium said that they all used to learn wrestling from Mr. Kumar as he was their hero. All the wrestlers in the stadium were inspired by him and wanted to represent the nation in the Olympics Games and other international sports events.

“We never expected this could happen. It is beyond our imagination. Sagar used to respect Sushil and had always obeyed his orders. We have no clue what tension was growing between them and what were they involved in,” said the man, who wished not to be named.

Mr. Kumar’s coach and father-in-law Satpal Singh, who is a 1982 Asian Games gold medallist, was the brain behind making Chhatrasal Stadium, the best wrestling stadium in the country. Both of them had a good hold on akhara from where they used to hunt the best talent and train them in the stadium.

“In his entire career from junior level to the Olympic Games, Suhsil Kumar has won 29 gold medals, six silver and six bronze medals. He was a gifted player with some extraordinary capabilities that made him a world-class player. After he won a silver medal in the 2012 Olympic Games, he last fought in the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Glasgow, where he won a gold medal. Thereafter, he got distracted from wrestling and failed to qualify for the Tokyo Olympic Games, citing fitness as the reason,” said a player, who used to practise with him in the stadium. Sushil Kumar, who was a senior commercial manager with the Northern Railways, joined the stadium on deputation by the Delhi government.

Similar backgrounds

For both wrestlers, the journey towards the wrestling ring began at a very young age, they both came from similar backgrounds. Mr. Kumar lives in Baprola village in west Delhi and his father is a driver in a government department. He comes from a rural and simple background. He entered the wrestling ring when he was just 14 years old. He won his first gold medal in 1998 in the National Cadet Wrestling Championship held at Mathura in Uttar Pradesh, when he was just 16 years old. He entered the ring after getting inspired by his father Diwan Singh and cousin Sandeep Singh who used to practise wrestling.

Sagar’s family is from Rohtak in Haryana. His uncle Narendra Kumar said that when Sagar was in Class 6, he used to visit the akhara with his grandfather Rameshwar Dhankar and took inspiration from him. When he showed interest in wrestling, he was sent to a boarding school for further studies and better training.

“After completing his Class 10, Sagar completely engaged himself in wrestling and participated in the junior-level national tournament. He won several medals and represented the country at men’s national and international events,” said Mr. Narendra.

He added that because of Sagar’s outstanding performance, the latter got admission in Chhatrasal Stadium where he got an opportunity to learn wrestling tactics from Sushil Kumar. He always dreamt of becoming like Sushil and win Olympic medals for the country too.

Heavy competition

Ashok Dhankar, Sagar’s father, said that his son’s wrestling career began at Pratap School in Kharkhoda and since 2013, he was practising at Chhatrasal Stadium. “Sagar, a former junior national champion, wanted to go to Georgia for practice as he told me that there is heavy competition in the senior category and he needed to prepare himself. However, due to COVID-19, he could not go. He has 10 to 12 medals including, four to five gold medals,” Mr. Dhankar said.

“Sagar was practising at the stadium for eight years. I had a chance to meet Mr. Satpal who praised Sagar’s performance and said he would become a world champion one day. He was confident that my son was getting trained by the best wrestlers in Delhi,” said Mr. Dhankar.

Mr. Dhankar, who is in Delhi Police, said, “We demand a fair probe in the case and strict punishment should be given to Sushil Kumar for the offence. No guru should do this to his disciple. The government should also take back all awards which were given to him,” he said.

Never stayed at hotel

A police officer said that when Mr. Kumar was evading arrest, he never stayed in a hotel, he always stayed at akhara or in the house of players who were in touch with him. A day before he was arrested by the police, he stayed in the house of a national-level player in west Delhi.

The police said that they have come across a piece of information that a day before the brawl, there was a verbal argument between Sushil Kumar and Sagar at the stadium. Sushil had felt humiliated. The following day, he asked help from gangster Neeraj Bawana and reached to teach a lesson to Sagar and his friends.


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Printable version | Oct 25, 2021 4:24:44 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Delhi/a-tale-of-reverence-and-betrayal/article34678784.ece

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