Before the first rays of the sun even touch his house in Haryana’s Nuh, Akram Khan wakes up, gobbles up a quick breakfast, and cycles to Nagina village stadium – 6 km away from his home, and 67 km away from Gurugram.
It is 5am on a chilly December morning, and the 21-year-old is one of the 30 young men gathered at the stadium for a game of cricket. “I want to play in an Indian Premier League (IPL) team,” he said, mid-training.
Dressed in blue tracksuit pants, a white T–shirt, and a worn-out pair of shoes, Akram is the team’s star, an all-rounder who has scored a century, and taken four wickets in the match.
Back home by 10am, Akram feeds cattle, and then heads to the fields with his father. Till three months ago, his day looked rather different.
Till September, Akram and his friends would meet on the outskirts of his village, near the fields, and call those looking to sell second-hand cars – in a bid to dupe them. This is one of the many scams that added to Nuh’s infamy as the cyber-crime capital of the country.
“I did this for four years, was also arrested twice. Right now, I am out on bail. I had to sell my house and my motorcycle to pay off money that I had earned by duping people in the last four years… I had to change my life, and then this came around,” said Akram.
In the last week of November, the Nuh police took over seven sports facilities, six gymnasiums and two open grounds; hired ex-army men and government officials; and went door to door to rope in young men of Nuh to take up sports.
“The police asked the sarpanch of the villages to encourage families to convince their sons to take up a sport. That’s how the boys started showing up,” said Asaf Ali (63), a retired bank official, who is deployed as a volunteer in one of the stadiums in Shahpue Nangli village.
Narender Bijarniya, superintendent of police (SP), Nuh, said that the idea took shape during the investigation into the Nuh violence in September this year, in which six people were killed, 88 were injured, and loss of public property worth crores was reported.
“We were investigating how the violence erupted and realised that majority of the suspects were young men of Nuh. Many others spent ample time on social media, got instigated into rumour-mongering and indulged in a war of words with cow vigilantes. There was need to channelise their youth and energy towards something more productive like sports,” said Bijarniya.
The SP conducted a survey of the available grounds and stadiums with the help of Shatrujeet Singh Kapur, director general of police (DGP) in November. “Many such spaces were lying vacant, and being used for nefarious activities, so we revived them,” said the SP.
The government-run stadiums, in a state of disrepair, were cleaned up, and debris removed using tractors and bulldozers, by the police. “We did not require any extra funds for this, as departments such as the PWD helped with equipment and manpower,” said a police official, who asked not to be named.
The programme was launched on December 5 in Nuh, Tauru, Nagina and Ferozpur Jhirka, and youngsters were given the option to pick cricket, javelin, kabaddi, boxing or badminton.
HT visited Shahpur Nangli, Nagina, Punhana, and Tauru, and met over 60 players, and six coaches, who spoke about the possibilities this initiative opens for the young men of Nuh.
Over the years, Nuh has gained notoriety as the capital of cyber-crime frauds in the country, with 1,600 cases registered against suspects from Nuh – from across the country – in 2023.
On April 28 this year, raids were conducted across 14 villages of Nuh district with 102 teams of policemen, who detained 125 people – for their involvement in cyber-crime frauds.
“Analysis of records since January revealed that suspects from Nuh defrauded around 28,000 people from across the country this year, to the tune of more than ₹100 crore,” said Bijarniya.
He now hopes this initiative will bring in some change. “Sports are an effective way to prevent young men from entering the world of crime,” he said.
For now, the police have roped in retired government officials and police personnel – with some background in sports – to train the young men. “We would like to hire professionals and will seek help from private companies to support these players under their corporate social responsibility (CSR) schemes, so that we can get professional coaches and good equipment to compete with other districts and states,” said Bijarniya.
Two police personnel from each of the 14 police stations in Nuh have been deployed for two hours each in the morning and evening to monitor the grounds.
For Akram, his morning cricket sessions at the Nagina stadium in the village often take him back to his school days – much before his rendezvous with crime. “I was always good at sports, and my teachers would tell my parents to get me enrolled with a private academy to enhance my cricketing skills… But our financial condition was poor, and I never got this opportunity,” said Akram, who quit studies after class 5, took up odd jobs to make ends meet, and then began scamming people.
“I hope sports keeps me away from bad company, and I get a government job if I make it to a good team,” said Akram.
Mohammad Imran, another resident of Nuh, who practices javelin throw at the Tauru stadium, hopes for a similar future.
“I am out on bail now, but before this I was a part of the ‘tatlu gang’ and we would scam people. I needed to make money… But I have learnt that if one gets a medal for the country, there is good money. I want to do that,” said the 18-year-old.
Imran reaches Tauru stadium daily at 5am from his house in a nearby village, and practices how to throw a javelin for six hours every day.
“I am inspired by Neeraj Chopra. I know I will do well if I get some professional guidance and equipment,” he said.
Cricket, as expected, is the most popular sport at these grounds, with 60 young men showing up daily. Training them is 32 -year-old Zahir Khan, a resident of Shahpur Nangli village. “I could not fulfil my dream of playing cricket for India, but I want to train these young men of my village. They have potential but lack guidance, and this is the first time they are getting such exposure,” said Zahir.
Among the players is also Mohid — popularly known as the Tendulkar of Nuh. “I work in a madrasa and earn enough to support my love for cricket. I keep repairing my bat, but I cannot afford a new one because when we book a place to play cricket, we have to pay a hefty fee. But now, we have a stadium, and we have also been given new kits by the police department. This is very encouraging. Kismat badal sakti hai ab logo ki (People’s fate can change now),” he said.