Former bandits of the once-notorious Chambal region are coming together for the biggest assembly of their community – this time for a peaceful conservation effort.
Rallied by Seema Parihar, a former “bandit queen” of Uttar Pradesh, the dacoits plan to launch a movement for protecting jungles. Parihar, who is organising and leading the movement, says Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje has consented to attend the event during which 5,000 saplings will be planted.
Parihar, who prefers to describe her days as a bandit as a ‘doosri duniya’ (different world), is likely to name the event “Doosri Duniya ka Mahakumbh”, drawing a comparison with the Kumbh Mela in Nasik that has been joined by seers and devotees from across the country.
The event, the date for which is yet to be decided, is expected to be attended by 30 to 50 former bandits such Preetam Singh, Man Singh, Malkhan Singh, Mehar Singh and Lal Singh, who have served time in prison for their crimes.
Relatives of slain bandits like Paan Singh Tomar and Phoolan Devi too will turn environmental ambassadors and ask people to plant more trees and protect animals.
The slogan coined for the environmental movement by the former bandits is “Pehley basaaya beehad, ab bachaayeingay behead” (Earlier, we flourished in jungles, now we will save them).”
“Bandits lived in jungles and they always loved them as their habitat and protectors. But shouldn’t everyone consider jungles, trees, animals, rain, water and snow as their protectors? Can we live without them?” asks Parihar, who allegedly killed 70 men during her 17 years in the Chambal region spread across Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.
Seema Parihar taping a banyan tree red for environment protection. (Anup Yadav/ HT Photo)
Parihar, 39, was kidnapped from Auraiya district at the age of 13 by dacoits Lala Ram and Kusma Nain. She later married Nirbhaya Gujar, a famous dacoit. She went on to kidnap nearly 200 people before her days as a criminal ended in 2000, when she surrendered to the Uttar Pradesh police.
She was held in jail for a few years after being charged for eight murders and half-a-dozen kidnappings.
Parihar began her new “career” as an environmental campaigner on the last World Environment Day by joining the Red Tape campaign at Etawah. This is part of the Red Tape Movement run by Prabhat Misra, assistant director for National Savings in the Uttar Pradesh district.
The Red Tape Movement is partnering Parihar’s “Doosri Duniya ka Mahakumbh”.
Even during her days as a bandit, Parihar would order farmers and shepherds not to cut trees.
“Once, I rounded up 150 farmers and shepherds who cut green trees and threw their axes in the Chambal river,” she recounts.
"Cutting a green tree is a sin against the environment. I equate tree felling to cow slaughter,” says Parihar, who has dabbled in politics and is a reality TV star.
While she was in jail, political parties began asking Parihar to join them. She supported the Shiv Sena in the 2002 state assembly elections. Four years later, she joined Udit Raj’s Indian Justice Party (IJP) and contested the Lok Sabha polls from Mirzapur-Bhadoia in 2007.
“I lost that election by a mere 824 votes,” she recalls. Parihar moved on to the Lok Janshakti Party and then the Samajwadi Party.
“Presently, I am not in any political party but I’m still in politics. I campaigned for Manoj Tiwari, Udit Raj and (Union minister) Harsh Vardhan recently. If I am called to do political campaigning as a celebrity, I go,” she says.
Parihar attained celebrity status when she participated in the reality show Bigg Boss hosted by Salman Khan. During that period, she was serving time in jail but joined the show after getting permission from the Allahabad high court.
Later, she portrayed her real life story in the Bollywood movie “Wounded – The Bandit Queen”, which was shot in the ravines of Chambal. The film went on to win the critics award at the Leicester Expo Bollywood film festival in Britain in 2005.
Now, she is playing a “garm dal” freedom fighter in the patriotic television series “Ranbheri” airing on DD National.
Busy contacting other former bandits across the three states, Parihar says she will rope in even more of them as and when they are released from jail.