Reformed dacoit, who once terrorised the ravines of Chambal, Pancham Singh Chauhan, feels hurt at the role of divisive politics in the country today. In Karnal on Wednesday to attend a spiritual function at Prajapitha Brahmakumari Ishwariya Seva Kendra, the 90-year-old erstwhile 'Pancham Dakait' told Hindustan Times that India needed educated and socially awakened politicians.
"When I, along with 549 other dacoits, wanted to live a peaceful and reformed life, compassionate leaders like the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and socialist Jai Prakash Narayan helped us to rehabilitate.
But in the present days, the politicians are not only playing divisive politics but they do not want to consider issues of Naxalites and other misguided youths with a sympathetic view to meet their petty designs," said Chauhan, who had surrendered in 1972.
Now an ardent preacher of peace and teacher of Raj Yoga, Chauhan gives all credit to late Indira Gandhi and Brahmakumaris to help him shun the life of violence. He stays at the Brahmkumari's headquarters at Mt Abu in Rajasthan and holds spiritual sessions with criminals and youths in various parts of the country.
"Our gang of 550 dacoits had three leaders Mohar Singh, Madhab Singh and I and the then union government had put a cash prize of Rs. 1 crore on our heads in 1965. We had a one-point agenda to help the poor and oppressed villagers and tribals of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.
Owing to full public support from the local population, it was impossible for the police in those days even to touch us but one day we unanimously decided to shun violence and lead a normal life," said Chauhan.
Married at 14, he was living a peaceful life with his newly-wed wife and parents hailing from a family of landlords at their native village in Madhya Pradesh. "There were panchayat elections at the village and I was beaten up mercilessly as the other group suspected me of being part of rivals.
My parents pleaded with them to allow me to be taken to the hospital. No police complaint was allowed. I came home after spending 20 days in hospital and was beaten up again by the other group. One day I just lost my cool, and went to Chambal to become a dacoit.
When I came back, I killed six people on Day One. Revenge had blinded me," he recalls without any expression of anger or anxiety.
An agile Chauhan fairly recalls how Indira Gandhi had readily accepted their eight-point condition before surrendering.
"Besides demand of no capital punishment to any of the dacoits and permission to live their respective families in the open jails, we had put a condition to rehabilitate all of our victims so that we could repent our past deeds," said the dacoit-turned spiritual teacher, adding that he was charged with killing 100 people, besides involved in 200 cases of kidnappings and dacoities.
Following JP's intervention, the death sentence was commuted into life imprisonment and he was finally released in 1980. During that time, the members of Brahmakumari sect imparted special education to the jail inmates and he emerged as a changed person.
Against biopics on outlaws
The ex-dacoit dislikes the idea of shooting films on the lives of dacoits. "Cinema has always given a false life of dacoits to the public.
I remained an outlaw for nearly 14 years and never saw any dacoit using horses. We all had jeeps fitted with red beacons and we were heavily armed with 303 and self-loading rifles (SLRs)," he said, while adding that he had turned down offers of several filmmakers who wanted to shoot his life on the big screen.
He said that dacoits had a high moral ground where they collectively worked against the social nuisance. Chauhan said that 10% of the loot was offered for charity and the gangs maintain herds of cattle to help the tribal and poor villagers.
"None of our gang had any assets as the cash and kind collected in the loot was disbursed among the poor. One of my gang members raped a woman and I tied him with a tree and shot him in the head. Do we have the politicians who maintain same level of morality that we, the outlaws, had?" he asked.
Ramdev and Veerappan connection
Chauhan recalls that in 1965 when his gang organised a yajna for "universal wellbeing", yoga guru Baba Ramdev, who was barely 17 at that time, was one of the ritual performers.
"Iss jadi-booti wale baba ki habhut izzat thi. Barhmchari tha aur sab log unko bahut puchte the," he said.
Chauhan also claims to have played a role when Kannada actor Rajkumar was kidnapped by sandalwood smuggler Veerappan. "Woh (Veerappan) mera chela tha.
Chambal ke dinon me woh hamare hi saath tha," he said, while advocating moral values. "Violence will not lead anybody anywhere. Only peace will ensure wellbeing of the humankind," he said.