A Jaipur-based organization working on environment issues has approached several former dacoits to campaign for greening the Chambal ravines. The campaign titled ‘Pehle basaya Bihad, ab bachayenge Bihad’ has found favour amongst the former dacoits. The outlaws, who have always guarded trees and forests, are now more than willing to be part of this drive. Rajasthan Post talked to one of the most dreaded and notorious dacoits of Chambal Valley, Dadda Malkhan Singh
Over six feet tall, unruly long hair, handlebar moustache, bandit Malkhan Singh’s name spelt terror. He led a group of 80 men and had more than 100 cases of murder and dacoity registered against him in the states of Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. He used a letterhead printed with his name to demand ransom. When he surrendered in Madhya Pradesh in 1982, he had earned lakhs from ransom.
Today he is 73, somewhat mellowed and lives in Gwalior with his wife, sons, and grandchildren. But he still commands respect in the area and words carry weight.
A farmer now Malkhan Singh owns 25 bighas of land and cultivates crops like soyabean and chana. Otherwise he spends hours in temples singing bhajans. Just before the 2014 general elections he had campaigned for the BJP.
Malkhan Singh, who now lives in Gwalior took up arms in 1972. Hailing from Bilau, he turned a bandit after a land dispute in Bilau (Bhind district) his village. He surrendered in 1982 and spent five years in Gwalior jail.
Akin to the movie Bandit Queen, which was based on dacoit Phoolan Devi’s life, director R K Choksi is currently making a film on Malkhan Singh.
Now Malkhan Singh wants to work for the greening of the Chambal Valley, where earlier his reign of terror sent shudders.
The unique campaign aims to get all surrendered outlaws under one roof and work towards greening the ravines.
Tell us about your reign as a dacoit?
Malkhan Singh : We were never dacoits. We became outlaws when we were wronged. My land was taken away. We fought for just demands. Then we had to take up arms. Today’s dacoits are urbane, suave and in the cities. They sit in government offices and loot the forests and the common man.
Why did you turn into an outlaw?
Malkhan Singh : When a poor man goes to get wood for lighting fire in his home, he is arrested. But when in the dead of night, the forest mafia cut trees and smuggle them out of the area, the government turns a blind eye. They are never caught and our forests turn barren. During my hey days as an outlaw, I never let anybody cut a tree in the Chambal Valley and everybody obeyed my orders.
What would be your contribution towards the green campaign?
Malkhan Singh : At least 1800 acres of fallow land is available next to my village, where trees like shisham, can be grown easily. But the district administration is not interested. We need the help of government in this greening endeavor. This Jaipur-based eco-organization has come up with the idea of planting trees and turning our village into a model village. Also the ravines. I thought why not?”
A film is being made on you?
Malkhan Singh : I am present on the shooting sets to see if the film is depicting me correctly. Most dacoit movies show us on horses, with guns in hand hollering over the Chambal ravines. This is not true as the ravines have big deep holes where horses can easily fall. We used to walk through the ravines and jungles and hide whenever the police confronted us. I want the story of my life to be as real as possible. We were not dacoits but protectors of the ravines, the forests. We helped the poor and got them justice. Nowadays daughters lodge complain about fathers raping them. Our country has now turned into real badland.”