Daku Man Singh was the most notorious and wanted dacoit of Chambal Valley. Jyoti Thapa Mani recounts how finally it was a Gorkha soldier’s wit and courage that finally ended Man Singh’s reign of terror On the 7th of November, 2005, most-wanted dacoit Nirbhay Gujjar, with a Rs 2.5 lakhs prize for his head, was gunned down in an encounter at Etawah, near Nagpur, India. Almost a year ago, his Southern counterpart, Veerappan was also killed in similar circumstances. Located in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, the Chambal Valley has been a home to scores of dacoits or baghis/outlaws as they like to call themselves. Shot dead on 25th July 2001, ex-dacoit queen turned politician, Phoolan Devi with her trademark red bandana and khaki fatigues, also stalked her prey in this region. But the title of the most legendary dacoit is held by Daku Man Singh. Between 1939 and 1955, he had notched up 1,112 dacoities, 185 murders, countless ransom kidnappings, 90 police encounters and 32 dead policemen under his belt. His gang grew larger and bolder till just firing in the air was enough to scare many a police posse away. The situation for the MP police was so desperate, that they were known to capture weapons from the villagers and report an encounter with the dacoits. Like it was said, none was able to touch a whisker of Man Singh’s famous handlebar moustache. Till the MP government sought Gorkha help.
March 1954. A recipient of the prestigious “Star of Burma’ medal , serviceman Babbar Singh Thapa was recuperating in his home when he received a call from his ex-commandant Colonel Kushal Singh Thapa, stationed at Gorakhpur. Babbar had been seriously injured in a road accident near Jammu in Northern India. He and other servicemen were returning for their leave, when their vehicle skidded and fell off a cliff into the gorge below. It was pitch dark, yet seriously injured Babar managed to climb inch by inch up to the road and then passed out. The rest had died on the spot. When Babbar regained consciousness, he found himself in the Udhampur army hospital.
Though still on medical leave, Babbar immediately left to respond to his boss’s summons and reached Gorakhpur. It was only after reaching there that he was informed that some daring Gorkhas were required to curb the dacoit menace in MP. Babbar could not resist the challenge and took it up. And so the hunt began. It was a tough task. The dacoit confidence index was high as they had always managed to make Mickey Mouses of the police. Secondly, the villagers were either Man Singh’s supporters or plain terrified of him. Initially Babbar and his team managed to bag only four smalltime dacoits.
One day at a meal in the mess, a senior police official rebuked them saying, “Killing these small dacoits is no big bravery achievement. Daku Man Singh is still at large, unopposed and unchallenged. Can you kill a dacoit like him?” Babbar Singh picked up the gauntlet and said, “I can kill Daku Man Singh. But on a condition that I be allowed to select my own team of which I will be the leader”. His condition was accepted and Babbar began his preparations. First he disengaged himself from the local police force. He created a Special Crack team of seventeen select Gorkha-servicemen including himself. Next, he procured Gorkha regiment uniforms to wear in place of the Madhya Pradesh police dress.
As Man Singh’sdacoities continued, Babbar and his men persevered to locate him. The terrain was hostile, the people elusive and the dacoits disappeared and moved within the ravines like rats. Finally, on 7th May 1955, Babbar Singh Thapa received information that Man Singh and his gang were in the Lavan village in Bhir, MP. Moving quickly into action, Babbar and his team drove till a distance of two miles from Lavan. From here they started their stealth walk. A mile and a half later, they reached open ground. Suddenly bullets started falling around them. The traditional ‘Buzz Off’ signal from the dacoits! Initially the dacoits fired in the air but when Babbar and his team did not retreat, they began firing at them directly. Seventeen men against about seventy-eighty dacoits! Blabber Singh and his men immediately went down flat on their bellies and crawled forward firing at the bandits ahead on the low bushy ridge.
As the exchange intensified, Babber realized that he was being specially targeted as the leader. So he quickly removed his Gorkha battalion, wide-brimmed cap, put it aside as a decoy and moved in another direction. The air was thick with dust, bullets and shouts of “Ayo Gorkhali!” as this small force crawled forward firing against the hail of bullets. Hearing their battle-cries and seeing the Gorkha uniforms, the dacoits got into a panic. They thought that this time some fierce Gorkha Regiment had been sent to get them.
To Babbar’s surprise, they suddenly fled. The battle was over? Nobody was more bewildered than Babbar himself. They found two bodies—one of a baggy, old man and another young one. As they had only seen some sketches they really did not know they had got. Babbar was sad to lose one team member, Gobind Bahadur Thapa who had been fatally wounded and a few were injured. He searched for his Gorkha hat in the dusty ground and found it completely bullet-riddled. Later he said that he had shivered at the thought of what his fate would have been if it had remained on his head. The MP Police arrived. The bodies were conclusively identified as that of Daku Man Singh himself and his son Surendra Singh! It was understood that with their leader dead, the famous Chambal dacoits had decided to call it quits and run away without even taking the bodies.
According to Babbar Singh, killing Daku Man Singh was not an impossible task, but nobody else could have done it so quickly and so easily. Babbar Singh was awarded the prestigious President’s Medal, from the then President of India, Dr Rajendra Prasad and Rupees One Thousand from the Madhya Pradesh government.
On retirement, he lived a quiet life tending his garden in his little cottage in Dari, Dharamshala. He died on the 20th of February, 1993. He never received land or grants or big rewards. He was interviewed only once in his life, by a Sikkim magazine, ‘Srashta’, a few weeks before he died. But he did not mind as he had done his duty to society and brought prestige to the Gorkhas. His four daughters today live in humble anonymity of their daring and intelligent father.
Daku Man Singh today has a temple to his name in Khera Rathore, Chambal valley. The life size busts of Man Singh and his wife are worshipped daily by his descendants and a priest. He is not considered a dacoit but a rebel-hero of great courage. In the feudalistic and caste-discrimination society here, family-honor feuds turn many into outlaws. The chain of revenge-killing can pass on from generation to generation. Once outlawed, they turn to looting for sustenance, which leads to killings. Criminal lawyers are the only ones the fierce dacoits humbly approach for legal help. Ironically, a family here can consist of both dacoits and policemen. Apparently, Man Singh had become a dacoit after killing five Brahmins who had insulted his brother.
Article created by :- LALIT MATHPAL (KANPUR U.P)