Lawrence Bishnoi: The man who would kill Moosewala
Editor’s note: This week we bring you a slice of the chilling new book ‘Who Killed Moosewala?’ by veteran crime reporter Jupinderjit Singh. This is the surprising origin story of the infamous gangster—Lawrence Bishnoi—the prime accused in the murder of Sidhu Moosewala is a brahmachari named after the founder of Lawrence School, Sanawar. Oh, he’s also the guy who sent death threats to Salman Khan for killing rare wildlife. This excerpt has been published with permission from ‘Who Killed Moosewala?’ published by Westland Books.
Written by: Jupinderjit Singh is Special Correspondent, The Tribune, Chandigarh bureau. He has over 25 years of experience in reporting from Punjab, Rajasthan and Jammu & Kashmir, and specialises in crime reporting. He is the recipient of the Prem Bhatia Young Journalist Award and is also a fellow at the Centre for Science and Environment on Tribal Rights in Jammu & Kashmir. He has previously authored four books and has the unique distinction of discovering Shaheed Bhagat Singh’s pistol which had been missing for 85 years.
Before Lawrence Bishnoi became a household name, making regular appearances in the news for his nefarious exploits, India had been familiar with the Bishnoi community for very different reasons. Followers of the fifteenth-century saint, Shri Jambeshwarji, the Bishnois are known to be staunch wildlife conservationists. They live by twenty-nine principles (their name is a derivative, the ‘bees-noi’), all of which are geared towards peaceful and harmonious living with nature. Not only are the Bishnois strict vegetarians, they are also forbidden from killing animals even in self-defence. For the Bishnois, wildlife is sacred and they protect it at all costs. Even dry deadwood is not burnt without carefully examining it for traces of any living organism that may have made it its home.
The Bishnois garnered national attention when in 1998, members of the community gave chase to actor Salman Khan when he was out for a hunt on their protected land, while on the outdoor location for the shoot of the movie Hum Saath-Saath Hain. The actor and some of his friends, also from the film industry, were reported for the shooting of chinkaras and blackbucks. In the long legal battle that ensued, several witnesses turned hostile or went missing. However, two eyewitnesses, Poonam Chand Bishnoi and Chogaram Bishnoi, residents of the village of Kankani at Bagdo Ki Dhani, steadfastly stood by their statements against Khan, leading to his conviction.
More than twenty years have passed since the incident and Khan is out on bail, but the community continues to pursue the case against the superstar and wants him to be punished for what they perceive to be sacrilege.
A larger concentration of the community is in the Fazilka district of Punjab, with Abohar being the main town. The Abohar Wildlife Sanctuary, at the centre of this belt, is a safe haven for the Bishnois’ sacred blackbuck. At the edge of this sanctuary is the village of Duttranwali, where Lawrence Bishnoi was born on 12 February 1992.
Just about five-and-a-half feet tall but sturdy in build, Lawrence has the looks of a film star. As per the profile dossiers on him made by the police teams of Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and Delhi, Lawrence is fastidious about his workout. His biceps and triceps, deltoids, trapezius and dorsal muscles appear well-defined over a broad wrestler’s chest. He follows a strict free-weight exercise regimen besides working out with bodyweights in the akhara.
The dossiers say Lawrence is a Brahmachari who mostly wears a langot and spends up to eight hours in dhyan or meditation. Sometimes, it was said, he would sit in meditation in his cell in Tihar Jail at midnight and get up well past sunrise. Some police officials say, on the condition of anonymity, that his deep-set eyes have the ability to scan a person thoroughly with just one look.
Why did this fresh-faced and charismatic youth turn to a world of crime? Well, it certainly wasn’t for money. Lawrence’s family is one of the wealthiest in the village. They live in a big haveli and own about 110 acres of land. His father, Lavinder Singh, did not study beyond class 8 and was happy managing the land. His mother, Sunita, a resident of the village of Jyotanwali near Dabwali in Haryana, was a homemaker despite being a graduate. Lavinder and Sunita had two sons, the elder one was called Lawrence and the younger, Anmol.
Both are prime accused in the Moosewala murder case.
Before his name appeared in the Moosewala case, Lawrence had already been in the news. In January 2018, he was produced in a Jodhpur court by the police for a case of extortion and for making death threats to Salman Khan. He announced to the waiting media, ‘Salman Khan will be killed here, in Jodhpur … Then he will come to know about our real identity.’
Six months later, on 6 June, Lawrence’s close aide Sampat Nehra was arrested by the Haryana Police. On being interrogated, he told the police that he had conducted a recce of Salman Khan’s house, followed his movements and clicked several photos of the actor. Nehra said he was following Lawrence Bishnoi’s directions. His task was to eliminate Salman for the blackbuck killings. There is no doubt that in just a few years, Lawrence had emerged as a powerful gangster who could openly threaten even big stars like Khan. Fifty-two-year-old Ramesh Bishnoi, who is related to Lawrence’s extended family, claims the police have painted him as a monster, which he is not…
Ramesh further spoke about how Lawrence’s unusual first name had been chosen by his mother, Sunita. He was named after Henry Montgomery Lawrence, the British military officer who set up the famous Lawrence School in Sanawar. ‘Lawrence she called him as he was pinkish-white like the British … she hoped her son would become a big name like Henry Lawrence, who had set up the school on the hills in Himachal Pradesh, strictly for the elite and classy,’ Ramesh reminisced.
While his mother may have nurtured such dreams, the son turned out to be a nightmare for many. He set up a chain of gangs and left a trail of blood wherever he went.