Chambal dacoits surrender in a chaotic but spectacular ceremony

first_imgThe setting for the surrender ceremony was spectacular and would have been the envy of any movie moghul. The gaily coloured shamianas were pitched in a natural bowl formed by the Chambal ravines and the curve of the Yamuna in whose crook the temple town of Bateswar nestles. The 101,The setting for the surrender ceremony was spectacular and would have been the envy of any movie moghul. The gaily coloured shamianas were pitched in a natural bowl formed by the Chambal ravines and the curve of the Yamuna in whose crook the temple town of Bateswar nestles. The 101 Shiva temples which have made this village an important pilgrimage centre, gleamed in the background.The heat and the scorching “loo” did not deter the curious from reaching Bateswar, and by 4 p.m. on March 3 when the ceremony was to take place, an estimated 60,000 persons were crammed into the tiny village. The State government ran special buses from Agra, 68 kilometres away, but many tramped or arrived on their own transport. A choking pall of dust covered the area. The ceremony was chaotic but nonetheless spectacular. Police arrangements broke down as hundreds of spectators pressed forward to get a better view. Many clambered over the iron barriers and it fell to the lot of the Union Petroleum and Chemicals Minister, P.C. Sethi, to restore calm. He descended from the dias to cheers of “P.C. Sethi, zindabad” and went into the crowd where his appeal for order had an instantaneous effect.Veteran dacoits, Madho Singh and Mohar Singh, sported Sarvodya badges and saffron-coloured bandanas. They were released from the open jail in Madhya Pradesh to lend a helping hand to the Sarvodya leader S.N. Subha Rao, in persuading the outlaws to surrender.Traditional animosities flared up when the assembled dacoits squabbled over who should surrender first. It became a matter of prestige and one suggestion was to decide the issue by a draw of lots. Ultimately, Lal Singh, a chunky dark-looking dacoit, who was the first to enter the peace zone, surrendered first.advertisementThe limelight was however hogged by Janak Singh, a mild, professorial-looking man. A jail warden turned dacoit, Janak Singh took to the ravines after two of his brothers were killed. At one time his gang numbered 96 but the number was whittled down through desertions, arrests and surrenders to 23. His wife, Premwati, who has prematurely aged, complained that she had been meeting him only briefly since he turned dacoit.Dacoity is a way of life in this region covering an area of about 800 square miles of the states of Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. It is a tradition that any frustrated male who announces his intention of becoming a ‘bhaghi’ (rebel) seeks shelter in the ravines. He either joins an established gang or forms one of his own if he has the required caste backing. From that point there is a steady escalation in violence.Lal Singh is a classic example of this type of personality. At one time he was a contestant for the Assembly elections. The election expenses and litigation, which is endemic in this area, soon made a dent in his fortunes and his family came down in the world. His quarrel with a police official who threatened to arrest him on false charges provoked him to turn outlaw. A report of his alleged death in an encounter shocked his teenaged daughter who subsequently died.The ceremony was simple. Each surrendering dacoit laid down his weapon at the feet of a full-size portrait of Gandhiji. A veritable arsenal was deposited with the police. The arms ranged from semi-automatics to a Chinese-made sten gun owned by Kamta.Will the surrender help in bringing down the incidence of dacoity? Three major gangs lead by Harbilas, Sri Krishna and Des Raj are still at large. Efforts by Madho Singh to contact them have failed. Madho Singh followed Harbilas deep into Rajasthan but failed to catch up with him. These gangs threaten to continue their activities and unless they are eliminated the government’s efforts to develop the region will be frustrated.Even Madho Singh is sceptical of the effect the surrender will have. He feels that surrender ceremonies were only symbolic. The government would have to create more employment opportunities by pumping in money for developmental activities in dacoit land. He felt that the younger generation largely turned to dacoity in imitation of their elder. “If there is a dacoit in a village, the youth in that village want to be dacoits. If one male does well as a film star then there is a rush to become film stars in the village,” he said.The government has an ambitious Rs. 50 crore plan to develop the region. It entails levelling the ravines and making them fit for habitation and cultivation. For the moment, it has decided to bring the surrendered dacoits speedily to trial to hasten their eventual rehabilitation. It has decided to give loans to set up small-scale industries for their dependents.advertisementlast_img

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