Of Dacoits, Thuggery, and Romance
Dacoits in India
India is a land of contrasts, at one end we have modern cities like Bombay and Delhi and at the other end is the lawless land of Central India. This area crisscrossed by ravines and deep gorges is home to the dacoits and gangs led by Daku’s (Dacoits).
The tradition of this form of crime lies in the seeds of history when armed gangs called thugs roamed the areas of the united provinces. These thugs were killers who killed the travelers and robbed them. They never shed blood and the form of killing was strangulation with a small Roomal (handkerchief).
The Raj put an end to this thuggery and many thugs were hanged. All credit to Captain William Sleeman of the British East India army who put an end to this menace.
The crime did not die away and in due course, a new breed of gunmen called Daku’s or dacoits soon appeared on the scene. Over the decades these Daku’s have songs and ballads sung in their honor, for we understand they were men of honor. This is a difficult word to apply to a gun-toting criminal, but these dacoits never touched women and children and never indulged in torture. Many of them were veritable Robin Hoods who gave freely to the poor and subsidized temples and places of worship.
We have all heard of Robin Hood. He was supposed to be a chivalrous bandit who robbed the rich and donated to the poor. The tale may or may not be true. In the Chambal ravines also there are tales of many such dacoits. Two of the most famous are listed below.
At the turn of the century, the one man who ruled the roost in Central India was Sultana Daku. He was a Muslim but he robbed the government treasuries and also killed the policemen. He was thus a marked man but the people loved him and he built an aura about himself. Even now ballads are sung in the honor of Sultana Daku and how he robbed the trains and the government treasuries and distributed the spoils among the poor. Sultana was however captured and hanged in 1924, but many feel he was a nationalist.
A string of Dacoits continued to rule the ravines of Central India and soon came the formidable Man Singh. He was higher caste, Thakur and he took to crime for his own personal reason. He committed over 200 murders and yet the common villagers respected him. It was not uncommon for him to give money to a poor man to celebrate his daughter’s wedding and he also gave freely to the temples and places of worship. A temple dedicated to Man Singh is still there in UP.
The police and the government were alarmed and sent in the Gurkhas to kill Man Singh. In 1955 the dreaded dacoit was shot dead in an encounter, but people still remember him and worship at the temple dedicated to him.
The ravines are now almost free of dacoits as development has taken roots, but the era of dacoits is still fondly remembered as another era from the great past of India.
The older generation of the dacoits is no longer in existence. Many of them were persuaded to give up their nefarious activities and become ordinary farmers. A campaign was led by Jayprakash Narayan the political leader from UP and a Gandhian. Many dacoit gangs surrendered to him and were rehabilitated by the state government.
The dacoit gangs are no longer in existence. The area has been developed and the memory of the dacoits remains mostly on celluloid. Bollywood keeps the legends alive with films, some of which glorify these men.
Sultans story was made as Hollywood movie the long duel 1967 with Yul Brynner as Sultan. Bollywood made trash dacoit movies, now dacoits no longer exist, chambal has Maoists, landlord moneylender system caused dacoity. Jayaprakash Narayan was helped by rtd Major Gen Yadunat Singh MVC.He was KCIO, never made to Lt Gen,his son in law is former chief justice of India