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Gangs of Delhi: from rustic law-breaking to ‘glamorous’ contract killings

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By Sidharth Mishra

Crime in Delhi has travelled a long way from rustic law-breaking of 1990s to the glamorous gang wars of today. At the turn of the century when then Police Commissioner Ajay Raj Sharma had persuaded central government to extend Maharashtra Control of Organized Crime Act (MCOCA) to the national Capital, it had raised many an eye brows as Delhi was not known to have any organized gang.

Other than the terror-related cases, the outskirts of the national Capital and then emerging satellite hubs of Noida and Gurgaon were known for crime committed by the de-notified criminal tribe gangs. Sharma, who had vast experience of policing interiors of Uttar Pradesh found that the offenders after committing crime in the city easily escaped to the neighbouring states of UP and Haryana, shielding themselves from the Delhi Police.

To chase these gangs into the hinterlands and neutralize them could be done only by empowering Delhi Police with MCOCA. Sharma had realised that though Delhi did not have glamorous crime syndicates like the Mumbai underworld, it did have gangs which had roots in history and social topography of the region – the gangs associated with the tribes which had been notified under an act by the British as criminal tribes. Post-independence this act was de-notified, thus these tribes came to be known by the acronym DNT.

These gangs were associated majorly with three different tribes involved in three different types of crimes. The Gilharas were into poaching and trading animal parts, the Sansi gangs were into bootlegging and smuggling liquor and the Bawariyas into robbery and dacoity. Gang wars and ‘supari’ (contract) killings were not known in the national Capital in those days though some famous crimes with suspicion of involving gangs did take place but it had least to do with Delhi’s underbelly.

Bootlegging and liquor smuggling was largely associated with the gangs belonging to the Sansi tribe. The existing excise laws were too weak to control these gangs. MCOCA helped in a big way to control the activities of these gangs especially bootlegging. A credit must also go the excise reforms introduced by the Sheila Dikshit government which made liquor smuggling almost redundant.

The Gilhara gang was led by one Sansar Chand, who operated out of Sadar Bazar area of old Delhi trading in animal parts. A big time poacher, Sansar Chand was often infamously credited for emptying Sariksha tiger sanctuary of all its residents with stripes. 

Diaries seized from Sansar Chand's family by the Rajasthan Police in 2004 had shown transactions of 40 tiger skins and 400 leopard skins in a period of just 11 months from October 2003 to September 2004. An interrogation by the Central Bureau of Investigation later had revealed that Sansar Chand sold 470 tiger skins and 2130 leopard skins to just four clients in Nepal and Tibet. With Sansar Chand’s death and a tougher law in place, this organized illegal trade too declined.

The most fearsome gangs belonged to the Bawariya tribe. They specialized in house break and dacoity. They wore undergarments while carrying out the crime and this gave them the sobriquet of ‘Kacha-Baniyan’ gangs. The last big crime where they figured after a long hiatus was gang highway robbery and rape of a woman and her teenage daughter in 2016. They waylaid the family which was on way to Shahjahanpur from Noida, robbed them and also gang-raped the two women.

Fast forward to 2022, now we live in the era of Lawrence Bishnoi, who is allegedly managing a crime syndicate spread across the country sitting inside a jail. Something which even a Dawood Ibrahim could not achieve, he could do it only after leaving the Indian shores. 

(The writer is Author and President, Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice)  


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