Even after leading the operation that culminated in the killing of Paan Singh Tomar,police officer Vijay Raman knew nothing about him beyond the fact that he was a dacoit.
It was only after watching Paan Singh Tomar (the film) that I got to know how formidable and competent my adversary was, says Raman,later CRPF director-general. At the time of the encounter in 1981,Raman was superintendent of police in Bhind,MP. I feel prouder now that I had done the operation that eliminated him, he says.
Tomar had been a subedar in the Army and a successful athlete,winning many international medals,before he became a dacoit to avenge the usurping of his land by an uncle at his village in Chambal,and in protest against the administration for doing little to help him despite his great showing in sports. The film based on him has won critical acclaim,and a national award.
Even if I were to know so much about him at that time,I wouldnt have budged from doing what I eventually did. He was an absconder in a murder case and a dacoit, Raman tells The Indian Express.
Raman,who headed Operation Greenhunt,took voluntary retirement after suffering brain haemorrage in 2011. While in the BSF,he had come to the limelight for the operation against terrorist Ghaji Baba in 2003. He is in Nagpur to deliver a lecture on the Tomar encounter at the Rotary Club.
Asked if he had tried to get Tomar to surrender,Raman says,No. I dont believe in surrenders. That doesnt work much.
The posting in Bhind was Ramans first as SP,and he served there for 20 months in 1981-82. In 1981,he led a 140-strong force in a 12-hour operation that eliminated Tomar and 10 others in a village.
The villagers of Ratiya Ka Pura,where he was killed,were so happy that they wanted the village to be renamed after me, Raman says. That didnt happen.
Raman points out an inaccuracy in the film,saying it wasnt Gopi Chamar who had tipped the police on Tomars location,but someone from his own caste,the Thakurs,who were apparently angry with him for having killed five Gujjars (also Thakurs) at Ratiya Ka Pura village. Caste is the most decisive factor in Chambal, Raman says. Tomar had tactically aligned with Gopi,who was a cobbler,seen as a lower caste,after killing the Thakurs. This didnt go down well with the Thakurs,one of whom tipped us off. That informer is still alive,hale and hearty.
About dacoity in Chambal then and now,Raman says,Earlier,there was pride attached with dacoity. Locals would proudly say a certain dacoit belonged to their caste. Dacoits too observed certain principles,keeping off liquor and respecting women. Now,it has got reduced to extortion and abduction by mobile-toting miscreants.
And about the extent of dacoity in Chambal today,he says,It has gone down considerably,but a complete change would be possible only with education,resolution of land disputes,a proper road network,and ensuring an end to easy availability of arms. More importantly,caste divisions need to go.