If there’s one factor concerning the new Punjab underworld the younger and impressionable could discover dangerously engaging, it’s the truth that it’s so overground. No member of this gray, rough-hewn aristocracy is hiding behind a cave, or in rocky boondocks, or behind assumed identities. Not one in all them is a shrinking violet. They’re all on the market, strutting round within the open playground of social media—sporting typical gangsta monikers and DPs the place they strike macho poses, gun in hand.
Punjabi rapper Sidhu Moosewala, who was shot useless in his black Mahindra Thar on Might 29 in Jawaharke village of the southern district of Mansa, was no stranger to this world. In Might 2020, a few movies that went viral confirmed him making an attempt to get the cling of an AK-47 rifle, with the assistance of some pleasant cops. A case below the Arms Act adopted however didn’t deter him from releasing songs that forged a halo of swashbuckling derring-do round gun tradition. Amongst his chart-toppers are songs with titles like ‘Mafia Model’, ‘Murder’ and ‘Warning Shot’. Now, his killing has prised open an entire world the remainder of India could not have heard of, though it has pugmarks throughout the globe—in Canada, the UK and different hotspots warmed by the presence of Punjabi NRIs. A transnational gangland ecosystem with ties to a bewildering cocktail of pursuits.
The gangs have a hand within the music scene, in medicine and arms trafficking, and provide a contract military for Khalistani teams
Minutes after TV channels began flashing the information of Moosewala’s ugly finish, the screenshot of a Fb submit by Canada-based Satwinderjit Singh alias Goldy Brar began circulating on the WhatsApp packing containers of choose journalists. Goldy was plainly claiming accountability for the rapper’s homicide. His submit referred to as it an act of revenge for final 12 months’s homicide of youth Akali Dal chief Vikramjit Middukhera—who was thought of a patron of Goldy and his gang chief, Lawrence Bishnoi. The next day, one other submit appeared on Fb, this time apparently from Gaurav ‘Fortunate’ Patiyal, an Armenia-based Punjabi gangster. He vowed to avenge Moosewala’s homicide, for which he squarely blamed one other in style Punjabi singer, Mankirat Aulakh. The singer instantly went dwell on social media to make clear he had no position within the killing. However that, and subsequent expressions of fraternal emotions in direction of Moosewala—or Shubhdeep Sidhu, to take his actual identify—haven’t sufficed. Aulakh says he’s getting common threats from gangs in Punjab and Haryana.
In some ways, Goldy Brar’s FB submit is typical of how Punjab’s gangs function; they commit against the law after which brag about it on social media too. Up to now decade, this uncommon synergy has seen Punjab-based gangs develop greater when it comes to their attain in addition to numbers. Simply this April, state DGP V.Ok. Bhawra stated Punjab’s A, B and C class gangsters numbered 545 a couple of years again, and 515 had been neutralised—through arrests or bullets. Capt. Amarinder Singh’s tenure as chief minister noticed an actual crackdown. Eight gangsters have been gunned down in encounters, amongst them Vicky Grounder, Prema Lahoria and Jaipal. However that solely aided a kind of evolution. Many gangsters shifted their base exterior, shifting to Canada, Armenia, Dubai and Pakistan. And newer faces took their pla
ce on the planet of crime—brasher, hungrier, swimming deeper within the international networks. Moreover conventional gangland sport like theft, abduction, extortion, contract killings, land-grabbing and the liquor commerce, the arc of their bullets now defines the bounds of a complete set of globalised actions. Every thing from Punjab’s thriving music and film scene to drug and arms trafficking, and from kabaddi to Khalistani militancy has their imprimatur. They’re like a contract military that gives a straightforward workforce to Khalistani teams and drug lords working from overseas.
Investigations previously 5 years have revealed that Khalistani militants primarily based out of Lahore, Pakistan—akin to Lakhbir Singh Rode, Paramjit Panjwar, Wadhawa Singh Babbar and Ranjeet Singh Neeta—have been working intently with gangsters to push arms, ammunition and medicines, moreover controlling a few of their investments within the leisure business. Intelligence companies consider Bhagat Brar, Canada-based son of Lakhbir Rode, makes use of a clique of gangsters to extort cash from Punjabi singers and film stars—very similar to the D-Firm shadowed Bollywood within the ’80s-90s. Many Punjabi stars have been pictured with Bhagat and different gangsters whereas on tour to Canada. Final 12 months, the Mohali police cracked down on two music corporations, Thug Life and Gold Media, which they stated have been instantly run by gangsters overseas—the Davinder Bambiha gang was stated to be investing extortion cash in them. In 2018, singer-cum-actor Parmish Verma was shot at in Mohali by Dilpreet Singh Dalhan’s gang for refusing to pay extortion cash. Dalhan, a part of the Bambiha clique, had as soon as additionally threatened singer-cum-actor Gippy Grewal.
Weapons and Roses
What has led to this unusual marriage? An A-list star of Punjabi music instructed india at the moment that due to its new international appeal, it’s turn into very costly to make high quality movies to succeed in out to this market. “The gangs assist singers get well cash from producers, music corporations; at instances, they fund the movies…with black cash,” he says. There’s a deeper social logic at play. Says a prime Punjabi actor: “They could be gangsters now, however typically come from the identical social circles, a few of them would have been school mates. Sadly, artistes are unable to attract the road.” Thus it comes about that each gangster has his personal favorite singer or actor, relying on outdated affiliation, regional affiliation or plain utility.
This affiliation has seeped again into Punjabi popular culture, leaving its mark on all the oeuvre. Through the years, films and songs legitimising the gun cult, Jatt machismo and gangsters as Robinhoods or fashion icons flooded the market—which now spans the diaspora in Europe, US, UK, Canada, Southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand. The concept of a ‘insurgent’ is laced with a political frisson in these components, and that segues all too simply right into a type of latent militant consciousness, left over from the outdated Khalistan spirit. Even Akal Takht jathedar Giani Harpreet Singh advocated just lately that each Sikh hold licensed weapons “as a result of the time that’s coming, and the circumstances which might be going to prevail, demand it”. He was criticised for his phrases, however it revealed the edginess prevailing in Punjab.
A social media submit from 2016 of the ‘Grounder Gang’
The music helps to maintain the romance of weapons and gangsterism alive among the many younger. Moosewala’s final music, ‘Final Experience’, has strains romanticising the lives of gangsters who died younger—a motto straight out of Black American author Willard Motley’s 1947 cult novel, Knock On Any Door: “Reside quick, die younger, and have a handsome corpse.” Punjab’s gun-toters could not have learn the novel, however a worldwide gangsta spirit has washed over them. They’re typically decked out in T-shirts with such legends, or pictures idolising rebels who died younger, together with freedom fighters Udham Singh, Bhagat Singh, Kartar Singh Saraba; Latin American revolutionary Che Guevara; and, in fact, Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. From there to gangsta rap could sound a little bit of a leap, however the connection is natural. It wasn’t simply Moosewala. His rival Mankirat Aulakh had songs like ‘Ath Rafflan’ (Eight Rifles) and ‘Do Rafflan’ (Two Rifles), Karan Aujla did ‘Mitran Da Gangster Scene’, Nav Sandhu had ‘Gangster Yaar’…. It got here to some extent the place Amarinder, as CM, needed to actively put the leash on singers, together with Moosewala and Aulakh, for brandishing weapons and selling violence. The Punjab and Haryana Excessive Court docket too directed police to make sure no songs glorifying liquor, medicine or violence have been performed at dwell reveals.
Harvest of Weapons
Police knowledge present Punjab has over 425,000 licensed arms—the state police itself has lower than 125,000—not counting the unlicensed ones. These will not be the countrymade pistols one could discover in UP or Bihar. Moosewala—whose debut music as lyricist had the well-known line Derhndiya hikka oh license nahio lehnde (those that need to pierce the rival’s chest want no licence)—was gunned down with a Russian AN-94, one of the subtle items of ordnance on the market. Amarinder blames Pakistan’s ISI for utilizing drones to dump arms and ammunition (together with medicine) in border areas. Officers say at the least 20 drone-based consignments have been detected since September 2019. Punjab, subsequently, is awash with Beretta and Glock 17 pistols, C30R assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenades—and all the things in between. The AN-94, a double-burst assault rifle with a 1,800-bullets-per-minute hearth price, is so complex a weapon, requiring equally complicated skills to function, that only a few safety companies on the planet have employed. Even Pakistan doesn’t hold AN-94s, so the way it washed up in dusty Jawaharke is a thriller in itself. Anyway, the police’s older-generation armoury—AK-47s, 303s and LMGs—pales compared.
The proliferation of weaponry is not any figment of the creativeness. On Might 10, Punjab Police’s intelligence HQ in Mohali was hit by a Chinese language-made RPG. “It’s alarming this weapon has reached right here. It means the gangsters could have hyperlinks with international syndicates,” says ex-DGP Shashi Kant. The RPG, a standard sight within the Afghan and Syrian conflicts, had by no means been utilized by Khalistani outfits earlier than. Intelligence officers say it could have reached Naxal teams too, who nonetheless have a fragmented help base in Punjab. In January, Gurdaspur police recovered an under-barrel grenade launcher (UBGL) in Dinanagar that had been air-dropped through drones, apparently by Rode’s males.
The Start of Gangs
The primary gangster of modern-day Punjab, Prabhjinder Singh a.okay.a. Dimpy Chandbhan, shot to fame after killing pupil chief Makhan Singh in 1985. Singers then have been already idolising him with strains like Ni tedi pagg banne Dimpy Chandbhan wargi (He wears a tilted turban like Chandbhan). However such songs remained hyper-local, enjoying round Dimpy’s native Faridkot. Recently, Moosewala’s refurbished model, ‘Malwa Block’, grew to become a worldwide hit. Dimpy was killed exterior Chandigarh’s Lake Membership in 2006—Punjab’s first ‘gang battle’. His friend-turned-foe Jaswinder Singh, alias Rocky Fazilka, was stated to have had a job. The duo, as soon as a part of don-politician Mukhtar Ansari’s community of employed weapons, had fallen out after escaping from a Haryana jail in 2005.
Rocky then got here to dominate Punjab’s organised crime scene, earlier than drifting in direction of politics—whereas nonetheless controlling protégés like Lakha Sidhana and Lawrence Bishnoi. Rocky contested the 2012 meeting polls from Fazilka, and whereas Akali Dal cadre on the bottom favoured him, SAD chief Sukhbir Badal intervened to make sure the BJP’s Surjit Kumar Jyani received. Rocky additionally bonded with liquor baron Shiv Lal Doda, who earned infamy with the brutal homicide of Dalit activist Bhim Tank in 2015. Sidhana contested the latest meeting polls from Maur Mandi below Balbir Rajewal’s farm union-led Sanyukt Samaj Morcha; Rocky’s sister Rajdeep Kaur flitted from SAD to the Congress and is now with Amarinder’s Punjab Lok Congress. Rocky’s personal comet-like life got here to an finish in a gangland shootout at Parwanoo, Himachal Pradesh, in Might 2016. The hand of erstwhile companions, together with Harjinder Singh Bhullar alias Vicky Grounder, was suspected.
Beretta pistols, assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, even the 1,800-bpm AN-94… Punjab appears to be awash with arms
Grounder—a state-level discus thrower and a product of Authorities Arts & Sports activities Faculty, Jalandhar, one of many most interesting sports activities faculties in north India, a few of whose alumni like hurdle runner Lahoria and hammer thrower Jaipal have been his comrades-in-arms—had earned his moniker for the time he used to spend on the sports activities floor. Grounder’s notoriety peaked with the notorious Nabha jailbreak of 2016, the place pro-Khalistan militants Harminder Mintoo and Kashmir Singh Galwandi have been among the many escapees. Each Grounder and Lahoria have been killed on the Rajasthan border in 2018—a part of Amarinder’s assortment of scalps—whereas Jaipal met his finish in a dramatic encounter at Kolkata in a joint op with West Bengal police. This group, now led by Gurpreet Sekhon from jail, works in tandem with Bishnoi’s gang. At this time, Goldy Brar is the de facto CEO of the Bishnoi gang—he conducts his 700-strong ‘workforce’ from Toronto in Canada, with the assistance of Lawrence’s cousin Sachin Bishnoi. Lawrence, arrested in 2016, is cooling his heels in Tihar jail, named in over two dozen instances. His gang is nowhere near the heights Rocky or Chandbhan had reached, however is within the course of of building itself because the dominant participant in north India.
One curious mainstay of gangs is the kabaddi circuit, which is huge with the diaspora. Tournaments span the geographical gamut from rural Punjab to Canada, UK, US, Australia and Europe—good, subsequently, for human trafficking, or what they name kabootarbaazi. Bishnoi’s personal flight to gangsta stardom was marked by information that he had deliberate to bump off Salman Khan in the course of the taking pictures of Prepared, apparently over his neighborhood’s anger with the blackbuck case. That spectre raised its head once more final week when cops discovered a letter close to Khan’s house threatening to remove him. On June 8, the ninth arrest within the Moosewala case got here from Pune Rural: of shooter Sourabh Kamble alias ‘Mahakal’. The final gunshot has maybe not been heard.
The Canadian connection
Punjab Police is regularly zeroing in on the position of Toronto-based ganglord Goldy Brar and in search of his extradition. Up to now few years, Canada has turn into a protected hideout for Punjab’s gangsters, who use social media and digital telephones to conduct their operations remotely. One other identify popping up on the register is that of Lakhbir Singh Landa. In 2018, he had fled to Canada after a collection of instances piled up in opposition to him, together with these of homicide, extortion and theft. The most recent on that checklist: he was the one who executed the rocket-propelled grenade assault on Punjab Police’s intel HQ in Mohali, apparently on the behest of Khalistani militant-cum-gangster Harinder Singh Rinda. Over 30 gangsters are suspected to have fled to the western nation.
The problem escalated when a Nationwide Investigation Company group visited Ottawa in 2021 and met with Canadian officers. India has requested Canada to disclaim visas to gangsters from Punjab. The problem is that gangsters use loopholes within the Indian system to get solid paperwork and procure vital clearances. Indian requests for the extradition of gangsters—4 instances that for terrorists—routinely stay pending, say officers.
Safety companies consider the Khalistan Tiger Pressure (KTF) organises camps in Canada to coach chosen gangsters in the usage of subtle weapons. On their return, they cross on the knowhow to a lot of their cohorts. Canada, with its liberal arms coverage, provides fertile floor for a flourishing Punjabi-Canadian underground—the Dhak-Duhre, Sanghera, Malhi-Buttar and Kang household gangs are a part of that. They typically interact with Punjab-based gangs—giving them assignments of focused killings, extortion, drug trafficking—and assist them attain Canada and settle with native gangs.
They’re a headache for the Canadian authorities too. Final 12 months, in a significant crackdown on the drug commerce, nearly all of these arrested have been Punjabis. The headache, naturally, spreads to Punjab. Many fugitive gangsters are linking up with recognized smuggler networks. The largest catch up to now for the state police have been Devinder Dev, Kamaljit Chauhan and Amarinder Singh Chhinaall Canadian drug gang members who had used Punjab as the bottom to move medicine to Canada, the US and Australia. Thus, Punjab turns into a transit level for medicine emanating from the Golden Crescent nations: Afghanistan and Pakistan. Canadian gangs are fascinated with ‘importing’ low-cost heroin from Afghanistan through Pakistan and Punjab, and ‘exporting’ refined medicine in every single place—together with Punjab. The state is caught in a vicious loop.