He is used to flashing smiles and flaunting medals for the cameras. But on Sunday, one of India’s most decorated Olympians, Sushil Kumar, hid his face behind a towel as a Delhi Police Special Cell team paraded him in front of the flashbulbs following his arrest over the murder of a 23-year-old former junior wrestling champion.
“We have arrested Sushil Kumar, who carried a reward of Rs 1 lakh, and Ajay Sherawat, who had a reward of Rs 50,000,” Delhi Police spokesperson, Chinmoy Biswal, said.
Kumar and Sherawat were produced in the Rohini court and sent to six days in police custody. The case has been transferred to the Crime Branch.
For close to three weeks, Kumar, the 38-year-old double Olympic medallist, had been on the run, sneaking past at least six state borders and evading a police dragnet, a senior officer told The Indian Express.
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Arrested in the capital Sunday morning, he is facing charges of murder, abduction and criminal conspiracy related to a violent clash on May 4 between two groups at Delhi’s Chhatrasal wrestling academy. Wrestler Sagar Dhankhar, who was involved in the clash, succumbed to his injuries in hospital.
Sherawat, Kumar’s friend and fellow wrestler from Chhatrasal academy who had also gone missing, is the son of Congress Councillor from Vikaspuri Suresh Kumar Sherawat.
“Sushil and Ajay had travelled between Delhi, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Chandigarh and Punjab while on the run,” the senior officer said.
“A team led by ACP Attar Singh and Inspector Shiv Kumar made the arrest from outside Mundka metro station. Sushil was driving a two-wheeler with Ajay riding pillion. They had come to collect money from one of their associates but police laid a trap and arrested them,” the officer said.
The two-wheeler is registered in the name of a Delhi-based national-level handball player who has been part of India’s Asian Games women’s team, sources said.
According to police, Dhankhar and his friends were staying in a house linked to Kumar near the stadium in the Model Town area and had been asked to vacate recently, which led to the clash on the night of May 4.
According to the police, Kumar left home a day after the incident. “On May 5, he left his house at around 9.30 am after he came to know that Sagar had succumbed to his injuries while undergoing treatment. He came to Shalimar Bagh where he met his old associate. Later, the two took a car and travelled to Uttarakhand. From there, they moved to Muzaffarnagar, and later they returned to Delhi. The police, during their investigation, have obtained CCTV footage from the Meerut toll point that shows Sushil entering Delhi on May 6,” the senior officer said.
Sunday’s image of Kumar sandwiched between policemen is a blow to the legacy of the world champion wrestler and his alma mater — Chhatrasal akhada, the famous assembly line of Indian wrestling. Successive Olympic medals for a country with an abysmal sporting record — India had just two individual medals in the last century — had turned him into an instant celebrity, an overnight youth icon and an influential figure wooed by political heavyweights.
Called “pehelwanji” on the wrestling circuit, his aura was such that the sight of his opponent getting on the mat, touching his feet and signalling a walkover before the bout began was common at domestic competitions.
Internationally, too, the 2010 world champion was highly respected for his incredible agility, all-out aggression and “win at all cost” strategy that made him a big-draw wrestler. His bouts, be at wrestling halls around the world or mud-pit dangals in rural India, guaranteed packed stands but also pindrop silence with fans focused on each move.
In the only statement that he has made about the incident, before he went underground, Kumar tried to distance himself from the incident. “They weren’t our wrestlers, it happened late last night. We have informed police officials that some unknown people jumped into our premises and fought. There is no connection of our stadium with this incident,” he had told ANI.
However, the public prosecutor, while opposing Sushil’s bail application, had informed court about the presence of “electronic evidence” that allegedly confirms the wrestler’s involvement in the crime.
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