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The Chambal valley, in Central India, is caged in ravines and the waters of the Chambal, Yamuna, Kunwari, Sind and Pahuj rivers. It’s here that a fiercely traditional society resides with a long feudal history, placing high value on honour, valour, macho pride and vengeance. Moustaches and guns abound in this traditional badland.


Cut off from the law, peasant intransigence here bred a certain man: the inheritor of superstitions, loyal to the customs of his land and quick to avenge injustice. This is the bandit ‘Dacoit’ who prefers to call himself a rebel ‘Baghi’. Malkhan Singh from the village of Bilao was one such man. A lower caste Mirdha, he became an outlaw in 1976 to seek vengeance against his tormentor – an upper caste Brahmin.


In 1981 when I started work on our self-financed book project, with writers Kalyan Mukherjee & Brij Raj Singh, Malkhan Singh had already been crowned Bandit King ‘Dasyu Samrat’ by the major gangs. Since our work focused on social banditry in the Chambal we needed to meet an existing dacoit gang, to complete our research. It took almost nine months of pursuing Malkhan before he finally agreed to meet us, at a time when he was contemplating surrender. We became instrumental in this process - our access to the gang becoming an unsaid quid pro quo for agreeing to help with the negotiations and our presence a guarantee for their safety. Our book changed. It was finally published as “Malkhan – The Story of a Bandit King” in 1984. 


Since then the tradition of social banditry in the Chambal has changed considerably becoming almost non-existent.. Malkhan and his gang members are now free men, having served their jail terms. 

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