Gabbar Singh, the dacoit whose reel-life portrayal in the cult film Sholay found him cinematic fame, will now be seen in a different role – a brand ambassador for the environment.
Once the bearer of a name that instilled fear in the hearts of the Chambal populace, Singh will come together with 26 other former dacoits on March 20 – the eve of World Forestry Day – to pledge his support to environment conservation. The event is being organised by Kalpataru Sansthan, an NGO working for the protection of environment and culture.
Alleging that Sholay portrayed Singh in a singularly negative manner, NGO founder Vishnu Lamba said the former dacoit – in reality – enjoyed the respect and admiration of people in the area. “He was a veritable Robin Hood for the people of Ramgarh, his village. They respected him because he prevented the rich from exploiting the poor,” he told HT.
Lamba said that Singh, now in his 80’s, leads the life of a social worker. “He surrendered to the police and was sentenced to life. He returned to his village after being released from jail, and now leads a simple life with his family. Singh facilitated the marriage of around 800 girls from his village,” he added.
The other former dacoits likely to participate in the meeting are Mohan Singh, Sheru Singh, Balwant Singh Tomar, Munna Singh Mirdha, Renu Yadav, Seema Parihar and Malkhan Singh, besides Pancham Singh – a dreaded outlaw-turned-godman. “Though these people took up arms to fight injustice, they eventually started spreading terror in their areas. They later surrendered to face punishment for their misdeeds, but their potential was not harnessed for the good of society,” Lamba said.
Interestingly, it was Paan Singh Tomar – an eponymous biopic based on the life of the late bandit – that inspired Lamba to promote the green cause through Singh and the others. The environmentalist spent the last ten months meeting dacoits across seven states, convincing many of them to join his initiative. “The former dacoits’ response has been very encouraging. They are keen to be a part of this initiative as well as other government schemes. Now it’s up to the government to extend support,” says Lamba.
“The police, mining and forest departments have failed to curb illegal mining and deforestation. We will get better results if these people are roped in. The government should associate them with government programmes,” he added.
Lamba has invited many political heads, including Union environment minister Prakash Javadekar, state governor Kalyan Singh and chief minister Vasundhara Raje, to the event.
Though Rajasthan forest minister Rajkumar Rinwa welcomed the initiative, he was circumspect about involving the former dacoits in sensitive matters. “It’s good that they want to preserve the environment, but bringing them in to curb issues such as illegal mining could be risky. The government is capable of handling that,” he said.