Romantic Nirbhay Gunned Down
By Maxwell Pereira
maxwellpereira44@gmail.com

Another colourful character of the Indian dacoit world fell to police bullets in the Sitapur jungles of Etawah District in UP on Monday, the 7th November night. Dreaded dacoit Nirbhay Singh Gujjar, a romantic train-wreck whose demagogic deeds included building temples and holding village panchayats, to genuflecting at the feet of girls and women was gunned down by Uttar Pradesh Police's Special Task Force in a forest gun battle - reports indicated, quoting senior police officials.

Nirbhay was synonymous with terror in the Chambal ravines for nearly three decades. He had made it clear that he intends to join politics - though off and on he took a contradictory stand in various interviews to presspersons and TV channels, all of who seemed to have easy access despite the police dragnet spread around him. His declared role model by whose example he was 'blown away' was former woman bandit and Samajwadi Party Member of Parliament, Phoolan Devi - herself gunned down three years ago by a vengeful relative of one of her victims.

Offten in the news as much for his bloodymindedness as for his tragicomic love life, the flickering flame of this 47-year-old Gujjar's dream for politics has now been doused permanently in Monday's police operation led by Senior Superintendent of Police (STF) Akhil Kumar.

As per information Nirbhay Gujjar was wanted in more than 175 criminal cases, including those of kidnapping, dacoity, extortion and murder, in the state. Just under a month ago he had sustained severe injuries in another encounter with the security forces, in which two of his gang members were shot dead. The Gujjar gang in any case had been considerably weakened in the last few months following setbacks through killing of many of its prominent members as also by desertion by some - the likes of Dalla Jatav and Neelam Gupta.

Acting on a tip off, the STF team intercepted the gang in a thick forest in the jurisdiction of Ajitmal police station, triggering an exchange of fire between the police and the dacoits. The encounter apparently lasted for over one and half hours after which the police recovered the body from the scene - which was identified as that of the dacoit Nirbhay by a local resident. Two .303 rifles were also recovered from the slain dacoit. The secrecy maintained during the current operation against the gang, is credited as one of the reasons for its success. The dacoit carried a reward of Rs two lakh on his head.

Gujjar used to operate in a vast swathe of territory ranging from Etawah in Uttar Pradesh - synonymous with the outlaw ravines of the Chambal River - to neighbouring Bhind in Madhya Pradesh. He had created a reign of terror in the districts of eastern and central UP and also those of MP bordering UP, and had become a consummate folk anti-hero for mothers in the state to invoke his name to put recalcitrant children to sleep.

In the changing times, the romance of Robin Hood heros, such as it ever was, has been leached out of the deep, unchartered ravines. The legendary Man Singh and Phoolan Devi became dacoits out of a sense of underclass outrage. Today, there isn't a single dacoit in the Chambal who can claim to have been pushed into the forest, it appears.

Reportedly, there is also an inescapable political angle to the spree of dacoit activity of lootings and savagery. Among the surrogate agents the dacoits have scattered in many cities, who abduct and deliver hostages to the dacoits, are local politicians. Nirbhay had unequivocally stated to media persons, "We pay them some percentage from the ransom amount. We also have to pay agents who mediate for release of hostages."

There have been open allegations that district politicians are hand-in-glove with the dacoits. A Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) politician and former state minister for jails had faced arrest for being a facilitator, indicating that the nexus goes beyond simple power-games. The BJP though had called this arrest an attempt to force him to join the ruling Samajwadi Party.

Etawah is also seen as a forum for dacoits to make a smooth transition from crime to politics. Names like that of Sripad Naik - a dacoit-turned-politician, Tehsildar Singh - a surrendered dacoit, etc are thrown up in this connection. Another surrendered dacoit, Malkhan Singh, had tried his luck more than once from an Assembly constituency in Madhya Pradesh. It is known that every dacoit of note from Nirbhay to Shyam Jatav to bandit queens Lovely Pandey and Seema Parihaar were all brazenly mesmerised by politics.

While opposition politicians of the Bahujan Samaj Party accuse Mulayam Singh's ruling SP government of having given dacoits a free run, the SP politicians in Etawah counter that the dacoit problem in the Chambal goes back to the pre-Independence days, when even the British had found the ravines too pathologically lawless to govern.

Dacoit Nirbhay Gujjar had been married thrice but all his wives ran away with other men. Etawah's peace was broken some time ago when Nirbhay's last wife 20-year-old Neelam eloped with Shyam Jatav, a hostage whom Nirbhay later adopted to become one of his foster sons and a gang member. Shyam and Neelam escaped and surrendered to an anti-dacoity court in Etawah town, where Jatav accused his foster father of sleeping with his(Jatav's) wife, Sarla. This had led to the high-strung and trigger-happy Nirbhay threatening a bloodbath against the police.

900 words08.11.2005:Copy Right © Maxwell Pereira: 3725 Sec-23, Gurgaon-122002. You can interact with the author at http:// www.maxwellperira.com and maxpk@vsnl.com

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