BAPU Biru Vategaonkar, a former dacoit who was considered by many to be the ‘Robin Hood of Sangli’, died after a brief illness on Tuesday. He was 96. Vategaonkar, a resident of Borgaon village in Walva taluka of Sangli district, had managed to evade arrest for almost 25 years. He was finally arrested in 1983, convicted for 12 murders and sentenced to life term. He was released in 2004 on account of good behaviour.
After his release from prison, Vategaonkar turned to spirituality; he conducted religious discourses and sermons in and around Sangli. However, he refused to express regret for the murders he had committed. During his sermons, he often said, “There is nothing to regret… I killed those who exploited and victimised the poor and the helpless… my fight was for the poor and against those who commit injustice.”
Jayshree Marale, a resident of Islampur in Sangli, said, “Vategaonkar had the image of a Robin Hood. People in Sangli never regarded him as a dacoit… simply because he allegedly killed those who made life miserable for the poor, especially women who dreaded going out of their house because of harassment by goons.” Marale said Vategaonkar “protected the poor from anti-social elements”, adding, “Those who were victimised were provided protection by Vategaonkar… because of this, over the years, the number of his followers and admirers grew… people believed in what he said and followed every word he spoke”.
A Marathi film, “Bapu Viru Vategaonkar”, based on his life, was made in 2007. “This was a rare film… the title carries his name…,” said Saroj Rao, a TV actor. Paying his condolences, farmers’ leader Raju Shetti said, “Vategoankar was not a criminal. He was charged by police for fighting against the injustice meted out by anti-social elements.”