When the film Deewar was released, one of the many millions of people impressed by Amitabh Bachchan’s gun-toting performance in it was a 25-year-old man from Chitrakoot in Madhya Pradesh. The film opened on 24th January 1975, ie two days before Republic Day. Later that year, Mrs Gandhi brought in a state of Emergency, and the young man witnessed how fear could be used against people who opposed you. Later still, Independence Day saw the opening of Sholay, featuring Amjad Khan in the role of a bandit. By this time the young moviegoer’s mind was sold. He too would use fear, become a gun-toting outlaw, in fact a dacoit. He did so, joining an organised-crime gang in that very year. His name was Shiv Kumar Patel, but that name has no romance in it. So, as is common with gangsters, he gave himself a pet-name: Dadua. That was short and sweet. His work itself was going to be neither.
Three years later in 1978, as Amitabh Bachchan appeared in Don, Dadua committed a murder, the first of many. By the time he was shot dead in a police encounter, ie in 2007, Dadua and his gang had marauded hundreds of homes, wreaking unspeakable atrocities on numberless people. Swathes of tracts and ravines where he left his footprints came to be called Daduland.
Dacoity was not a new concept when Dadua got into it. It had been going on for centuries, in one form or another. The word itself is endemic to our region, coming as it does from the Hindustani word daaku, meaning armed bandit. Thuggee is older and also Indian: it refers to armed bandits who ravaged their victims, mostly in travelling caravans, between the 13th and 19th centuries.
Since classical definitions of dacoity treat it essentially as robbery, many people wonder what the difference between the two is. Unarmed robbers may act alone or in gangs of any number of people. If they are armed, the maximum number is four. If there are five or more people in an armed gang, it becomes dacoity. In both, murders, rapes and kidnappings sometimes become an extension of the crime. It must be said though that in recent decades, such crimes replace looting as the central purpose in a dacoit’s raid.
Also, the punishment is harsher for dacoits, with each member of the gang punished equally, unlike in robberies, where for instance the one who enters someone’s home and robs is punished more, while the one keeping vigil outside faces a softer sentence. Horses don’t have to be part of the dacoit story, though in the popular psyche, every dacoit rides a horse.
You will quite likely recall many famous dacoits in India. “Bandit Queen” Phoolan Devi, Paan Singh Tomar, Daku Maan Singh, Nirbhay Singh Gurjar, Ram Babu Gadariya, and the biggest of them, called Veerappan. The Chambal valley—about 250 square kilometres between Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh—is particularly where their action has always thrived. It was a Gandhian, social activist Vinoba Bhave who appealed to the dacoits to surrender their arms that led filmmaker Raj Kapoor to produce Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai (1960), a story of dacoits in that region. Thanks to another Gandhian, Jai Prakash Narain, Madho Singh and 166 other dacoits surrendered to the police 12 years later.
Our films have treated the idea so often too. Dilip Kumar was shown as a dacoit in Ganga Jamuna (1961). Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai (1963), featured Pran as a dacoit. Mujhe Jeene Do (1963) saw Sunil Dutt in the role. It wasn’t about men only; a few films showed women as dacoits too, such as Jaimala in the title role in Putlibai (1972) and Sapna in the eponymous role in Munnibai (1999).
Do you recall these songs from movies that engaged with the idea? The main dacoit is mentioned for each film.
- Bade Sarkar (1957/Kishore Sahu): Jahaan jahaan khayaal jaata hai/Rafi, Geeta
- Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai (1960/Pran): Hai aag hamaare seene mein/Manna Dey, Mukesh, Mahendra Kapoor, Geeta, Latahttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lHzPG6E2ir8
- Ganga Jamuna (1961/Dilip Kumar): Nain lad jai hein to manwa ma kasak hoibe kari/Rafi
- Mujhe Jeene Do (1963/Sunil Dutt): Raat bhi hai kuchh bheegi bheegi/Lata
- Daku Mangal Singh (1966/Dara Singh): Ek to ye bahaar uspe tera mera pyaar/Lata
- Mera Saaya (1966/Prem Chopra): Jhumka gira re/Asha
- Mera Gaon Mera Desh (1971/Vinod Khanna): Maar diya jaaye ke chhod diya jaaye/Lata
- Putlibai (1972/Jaimala): Mere ghunghru ke bol anmol rasiya/Asha
- Sultana Daku (1972/Dara Singh): Aake apni suratiya dikha jaaya karo/Asha
- Kachche Dhaage (1973/ Vinod Khanna and Kabir Bedi): Kachche dhaage ke saath jise baandh liya jaaye/Lata
- Khote Sikkay (1974/Ajit): Jeevan mein tu darna naheen/Kishore
- Patthar Aur Payal (1974/ Dharmendra): Tohe lene aayi main aayi saanwariya/Lata
- Pran Jaaye Par Vachan Na Jaaye (1974/Sunil Dutt): Aa ke dard jawaan hai/Asha
- Sholay (1975/Amjad Khan): Mehbooba mehbooba/RD Burman
- Ranga Khush (1975/Joginder): Aankh mila ke lat bikhra ke/Asha
- Kabeela (1976/Imtiaz Khan): Teri meri ho gayi yaari/Asha
- Ganga Ki Saugandh (1978/Amitabh Bachchan): Aankh ladi humse jo aankh ladi to/Kishore, Asha
- Daaku Aur Jawan (1978/Sunil Dutt): Dharti gaaye re, aaye re khushi ke din aaye re/Rafi, Mukesh, Anuradha Paudwal
- Chambal Ki Kasam (1980/Raaj Kumar): Marta hai koi to mar jaaye/Lata
- Ramkali (1985/Hema Malini): Nazren jhukaaye baitthe ho/Asha
- Jeeva (1986/Sanjay Dutt): Roz roz aankhon tale/Asha, Amit Kumar
- Dacait (1987/Sunny Deol): Wo teri duniya nahin/Lata
- Loha (1987/Amrish Puri): Saat taalon mein rakh saat pardon mein rakh/Kavita Krishnamurti, Anuradha Paudwal
- Daku Haseena (1987/Zeenat Aman): Nagar nagar hai taaza khabar/Asha
- Sherni (1988/Sridevi): Mushkil hai mushkil bachna mera/Asha
- Daata (1989/Mithun Chakrabarty): Rona dhona chhod, chhod de/Kishore, Alka Yagnik
- Bandit Queen (1994/Seema Biswas): Akhiyaan noon chain na aave/Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan
- Paan Singh Tomar (2012/ Irrfan Khan): Seene mein chubhte hain ujaale/Abhishek Ray, Kailash Kher
There have been many other films such as Daku Ki Ladki (1933 and 1954), Daku Mansoor (1934 and 1961), Daaku (1955), Jagga Daaku (1959), and Daaku Bhupat (1960), but these films aren’t around for us to determine whether their stories were based on dacoity or the word was used loosely, as it sometimes is.
Films based on dacoits have reduced in output now, but have dacoits disappeared? No! They are around, very much so. They may not necessarily tote guns or wear those costumes we are so familiar with in films. Nor may they be astride horses or laugh like maniacs. Just as there have been pirates in the oceans or highwaymen attacking caravans between towns and villages, there exist gangs of thieves in governments, banks and boardrooms. They run airlines and diamond empires. Far more than in the ravines conventional bandits are known to live in, such people thrive in the complex ravines architectured by politicians. Our gullibility and support are their weapons. The rules of their game are different.
Fortunately, dacoits do not exist in great numbers, we have good people too. In support of that point, poet Ameer Qazabash asks us to look at the upside:
Sirf raahzan hi se kyoon Ameer shikwa ho?
Manzilon ki raahon mein raahbar bhi shaamil hai
(Why think only of the bandit? In life’s journey, we find the guide too). That couplet is found rendered by Begum Akhtar in this ghazal:
Originally published in DNA Jaipur on 10th June 2018, page 9, http://epaper2.dnaindia.com/index.php?mod=1&pgnum=1&edcode=131002&pagedate=2018-06-10
Featured image: Sunil Dutt in Mujhe Jeene Do