Fame lures youth to criminal gangs in Punjab

Fame lures youth to criminal gangs in Punjab

They aren't jilted lovers, neither the ones to have lived through years of appalling poverty growing up in slums, cursing the system with vows of revenge. Nor are they frustrated looking for jobs. Crime for them is child’s play and fame, superiority is much of all that counts. They are the gangs of Punjab.

Active, not just in real crime files, but even more on the social media. Flashy cars, king-size lifestyle, upgraded weapons, posts on Facebook- even from jails- and that condescending attitude is all what matters when it comes to the gangs of Punjab.

Border state Punjab is growing with this underbelly. They are in their mid-20s and 30s, some overgrown in the business that gangsters are hooked to perform and deliver. A few weeks ago, on the Chandigarh-Shimla highway near Parwanoo, a gang war lay it bare in broad daylight. Jaswinder Singh alias Rocky, a gangster turned Punjab politician, was shot dead. Posts from inside jails in Punjab showed just how there is little fear and how real is the rot in the system that exists. Gangsters from jail even claimed credit for killing Rocky.

Rocky's entry into the world of crime was arguably by choice. He reportedly owned 70 acres of land, good enough to lead a comfortable life. His aspirations grew and the gangster desired to turn into a politician. He contested as an independent from Fazilka in the 2012 Punjab Assembly elections. Interestingly, he got over 30,000 votes but BJP's Surjit Jyani managed to win.

Internet has been growing fad among almost all gangsters in Punjab. Jail or no jail, posts on social media do not end. Facebook is extensively used. Gangsters post their pictures from jail and many at times even when they are taken for hearings in courts. One gangster whose fan page was created in 2013 has over 80,000 likes. The worrisome part though is the manner in which the youth in Punjab from colleges to universities are following these people with admiration. It's the connection with a gangster that they often flaunt, perhaps, even make use of where ever needed. 

An estimated count of gangs in Punjab is nearly 60 with hundreds of members. Land and sand mafias are among those on whose payrolls many of these gangs thrive. The area of operation of some of the prominent gangs in Punjab is the Ferozepur-Bathinda-Muktsar belt and Batala, Majitha and Amritsar city too reflect their active presence.

The present order of many of these gangsters brings out a picture in contrast to their early life. Many led normal lives, belonged to good families and some of them were able sportspersons who aspired a career in sports, including cricket. One Jaipal is the son of a police sub-inspector. He was a national-level hammer thrower. Another Shera was also a worthy hammer thrower and son of a government employee who studied in college before moving to capital city Chandigarh. Another Tinu is a former shot putter. He is son of police inspector and was pursuing law before he looked the other way. Former kabaddi players are also part of musclemen gangs.

Jails in Punjab are allegedly turning into hotbeds for this thriving trade. The business goes on from inside the high security compounds of the prison. Mobile phone and internet are prohibited inside, yet rules are often flouted with impunity. Visuals of inmates lodged inside jail barracks are posted on the social media. A recent raid in several jails in Punjab was conducted by a joint team of the Punjab police and jail authorities. Mobile phones, smart phones, SIM cards were recovered at the end of the exercise.

Gangsters have been making their presence felt even on college and university campuses. In September 2014, 2 youths were injured on Guru Nanak Dev University college campus in Amritsar by members of a gang. Gun shots were fired outside a college in Batala this year by a gang on a dispute over presidentship of the union.

The police feel the business of musclemen and gangsters is not an organised one and marked by inter-gang rivalry which makes their task all the more easier. Just about 5 % of gangs in Punjab are structured, although many dread their activities--from murders, extortion, drugs to highway robberies--they indulge in fearlessly. Hundreds of gangsters are lodged in various jails in Punjab and many more are roaming freely outside.

The Army in Punjab, especially in border towns, too has taken note of the gangs operating in the state. The Military Intelligence (MI) wing recently wrote to the Punjab police expressing concern. It said criminals were running extortion rackets at military stations from state jails.

Post the 2 terror strikes in Punjab since summer of last year, the state has exposed its vulnerability to attacks from across the border. This border zone is also seen as the new expanded theatre of terror for Pakistan to aggrandise its ill-designs.  The MI note also details specific inputs of the nexus. It names gangsters and their activities in Ferozepur and talks about the extortion money taken from contractors at military stations. Many of the gangsters in Punjab have several dozens of cases against them.

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