“Why don’t you ask about Neeraj Chopra? Why not Yuvraj Singh or Vikram Batra? Why do you want to know more about him? What is his contribution to this college or to society. There was a time when every other day the police would come to the college to ask for records related to this man. Everything he has given to this college is infamy,” says a visibly upset officer from the Examinations Branch of DAV College, Sector 10 in Chandigarh.
The man in question is Lawrence Bishnoi. A former college humanities student who was never able to complete the first year of the three-year graduation course he had enrolled in despite two attempts – the second time he was brought to the handcuffed examination.
Bishnoi is not an easy topic of discussion in DAV-10, as the college is popularly known. This can trigger reactions ranging from apprehension to anger and from fear to outright aversion.
It was in 2010 when a clean-shaven, medium-sized Bishnoi, the son of a farmer, entered the campus, having emptied his high school in Abohar in Ferozepur district of Punjab. Although he spoke Punjabi, his dialect was Bagdi, reflecting that his roots were in neighboring Rajasthan.
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He couldn’t find a room in the only men’s hostel at that time, but that didn’t stop him from spending most of his days and nights at the University’s hostel number 4. of Punjab (PU). He also took up accommodation in Sector 4 of Panchkula. In recent days, these two addresses are said to be mentioned frequently in police files and multiple FIRs he has collected over time. The first few months in college showed nothing that could have given any indication of what the future held for him or what he had planned for himself. Although only a freshman, he soon began to spread his wings as he sought to make his mark in student union politics and was nominated as a candidate for president of the influential student organization of Panjab University (SOPU) at the time.
“I remember the day Bishnoi was announced as SOPU Campus President for DAV-10, ignoring another student who had been associated with the team for a much longer period. Many PU SOPU leaders had arrived at the college to announce his name. The announcement was made in front of the college canteen. Bishnoi, dressed in a white shirt and black pants, only said a few lines before letting his elders take over. Memories of this event were refreshed recently when a video of the event went viral on social media, a day after the death of singer-politician Sidhu Moosewala,” said a staff member from the physical education department. of DAV-10.
Moosewala was shot dead by unidentified assailants in Jawahar ke village in Mansa district of Punjab on May 29. Punjab DGP VK Bhawra had claimed it was a prima facie gang rivalry and said Lawrence Bishnoi gang was behind the incident. Canadian-based mobster Goldy Brar, a member of the Bishnoi gang, has reportedly claimed responsibility for the murder.
With its name backed in the singer’s murder, by extension, the college’s name has also appeared in news reports, which most of its staff here hate.
It was one of those questions about him that triggered the head of the examinations branch who asked why no one was asking about Olympic gold medalist Neeraj Chopra, former Indian cricketer Yuvraj Singh and Captain Vikram Batra, who made the ultimate sacrifice during the Kargil War and now a biopic has been made.
“They had studied in our college. They have made this college and the country proud. Find out about them. We’ve had enough of the Bishnoi questions. We are tired of handing out photocopies of his school certificates and residential addresses. It is very embarrassing whenever the name of our institute is linked with this notorious man,” the officer told The Indian Express.
Another Examinations Branch staff member previously told The Indian Express that Bishnoi is always ready to fight. “He would get into heated discussions with staff members. He was so notorious that I still remember his service number – 1800,” the staff member said.
It is this notoriety that has kept Bishnoi alive in people’s memories despite the fact that he has been in prison since 2015.
A former student who was active in student politics from 2009 to 2012 said, “There were many others who were more violent, notorious and aggressive than Bishnoi. But they have changed. Now some of them are practicing lawyers, some have their own businesses while others have stable jobs. He has chosen a path that ends in jail or with a bullet in his chest. He carried out several criminal activities, but there are instances when he did nothing but still took credit for it. This time there was an incident related to a shooting with a gun. The trigger was seconded by someone else, but Bishnoi took credit for it.”
The first FIR was registered against Bishnoi in April 2010 for attempted murder followed by another for trespassing. In February 2011, a case of assault and cell phone theft was filed against him. All three cases concerned student politics. According to Chandigarh police records, seven FIRs were filed against Bishnoi in UT; he was acquitted in four while the trial is ongoing in three.
A retired police officer, who had interviewed Bishnoi twice, said: “He was always eager to do something big and make a splash.” A wrestling coach who runs an akhara near Lake Sukhna recalls Bishnoi visiting his center to practice rope climbing. “He wanted to increase his upper body strength and the rope climbing facility was only available in our akhara at that time. He came here with Sampat Nehra, whose father was in the Chandigarh police. Later, Nehra also entered the world of crime,” the wrestling coach said.
On June 2, the Punjab Police questioned Nehra about Moosewala’s murder. Nehra was brought to Punjab on May 31 on a production warrant from Delhi’s Tihar prison. Nehra, on Bishnoi’s instructions, had carried out a reconnaissance in Mumbai with the intention of eliminating actor Salman Khan. Bishnoi wanted to kill Khan because of the actor hunting blackbuck – a species of deer considered sacred by the Bishnoi community – during a trip to Rajasthan.
A police officer, then part of the Crime Branch, recalled that Bishnoi had developed a group of friends in college who were always willing to do whatever they could to save him.
There had been violence among students in 2010-2011 and Bishnoi’s name had come up. The police officer said he got information that Bishnoi was present in rented accommodation at a group housing company in Sector 20, Panchkula. “We searched the premises. There were 15 students in the three-room apartment. All claimed that Bishnoi had left a few minutes before our arrival. It was a crucial lead. We took them all to a Sector 11 police building for further questioning. Moments later, we received a call from our informant who said “Paa ji enha vicha hi hai oo (he is part of this group of students)”. We changed tact and after a brief but strict interrogation, Bishnoi emerged among the gathered students,” the policeman said.
It was with the support he had from this dedicated set of college friends, who also chose the path of crime, that Bishnoi managed to escape from police custody in 2015 when he was brought from a prison in Ropar.
Police officials, who had questioned him on several occasions, are of the opinion that the name of Bishnoi, who is now believed to be in charge of a network of hundreds of snipers in Punjab, Haryana, in Rajasthan, Delhi and parts of UP, was promoted with a well-planned strategy.
“Coming to court wearing T-shirts with religious slogans or pictures of martyrs, and uploading your photos to social media in Facebook accounts running in your name are all part of a well-planned strategy. As he sits inside the prison, he is very aware of the outside world. He was brought to Chandigarh for questioning in the case of the murder of a property dealer, who belonged to a rival Bishnoi group, in 2019. We have come to the conclusion that he knew everything that was going on. passed in his name despite his accommodation in solitary barracks in one of the prisons of Rajasthan. This would not have been possible without him communicating with people outside the prison,” a senior Chandigarh police officer said.
Bishnoi, who is now facing nearly 60 cases, is currently incarcerated in the number eight central prison in Tihar. None of the DAVC-10 staff and other officials The Indian Express spoke to wanted their names mentioned.