Paan Singh Tomar’s story is now the stuff of films. But the land feud that turned the national champion into a dacoit revisited his family on July 13, leaving two dead and raising barely a ripple in the badlands of Chambal. DIPANKAR GHOSE finds a land and administration that have not moved in time.
The men sit quietly, a white tarpaulin sheet their only comfort from the hard rock underneath. Their eyes are wary, and all newcomers are assessed in urgent whispers. The women sit separately in a corner, their faces covered. The only sound in the air is of their wailing. Two people were shot dead in Bhidausa village this week, while two others lie fighting for life in a Gwalior hospital, 60 km away. There are tears and there is grief. But there is no shock or surprise. In the ravines of Chambal, tragedy is no stranger. Legends have been born from it.
The two who died on the morning of July 14 are part of one such legend — of Paan Singh Tomar, well known since an award-winning Bollywood film put his story on celluloid. Involved in a land dispute with his uncle Babu Singh, the seven-time national steeplechase champion and retired armyman had killed Singh and his family and fled into the Chambal, to re-emerge as ‘Daaku Dasyuraj Paan Singh Chambal ka Sher’. Four decades later, revenge has been taken.
On July 14, six men belonging to Babu Singh’s family allegedly came to the house of Paan Singh’s grandnephew Vrindavan Tomar at 8 am as he and cousin Rahul were working on a wall outside their home, and shot them dead. When two family members rushed out from the house to help, they too were shot. The assailants then escaped into the ravines, around 500 metres away, and have been untraceable since then.
The night before the attack, it appears, Babu Singh’s side of the family —all 25 members — slipped out of the village. Their three homes are now locked and empty, but for two forlorn buffaloes.
Gulab Singh Tomar, Vrindavan’s elder brother, says the wall Vrindavan and Rahul had been working on was at the centre of the row. “They own the fields next to it. We wanted to build a gate next to the wall, but they objected. Hum maan gaye (We agreed). But on July 12, they objected to us raising the height of the wall too as some bricks fell continued…