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Hold of Dacoits

One of the enduring legacies of the years of instability and lawlessness in Bundelkhand in the late 18th century and till the middle of the 19th century is the presence of dacoit gangs in the region.

Their presence can be traced to the late part of Maratha rule in the region and the entry of the British.

While the British gained control over Peshwa territories in Banda, Hamirpur and parts of Jalaun, which were formed into a district called Bundelkhand, the British could not provide a sound administration and enforce rule of law in Central India for several years. Loosely organised horsemen called Pindaris, who had been hired by Maratha armies in central and northern India, and were now unemployed, ravaged the countryside, with tacit support of Scindias and Holkars. Several Bundela chiefs resisted British supremacy. In the years of lawlessness, thugs wandered the roads of Central India and killed thousands of travellers in cold blood.

Other than their leaders, most thugs were impoverished peasants and labourers; almost all thug gangs operated with the support of local rulers or landlords whose revenues had been badly dented by wars, and who took a large share of the loot.

British land revenue policies made matters worse. From 1809, a period of over-assessment of land revenue commenced in the Bundelkhand district. By 1830, the district was reduced to a condition of 'general bankruptcy', reported the Jhansi district gazetteer. Many of the thugs were peasants affected by this condition; the strongholds of their leaders were in the Chambal and Jalaun ravines, where dacoits operate even today.

British rule in Bundelkhand was consolidated after 1857, and little was heard of dacoits for around 15 years. However, in 1871, a gang led by one Dalip Singh and one Randhir Singh emerged, and caused much terror till 1875, when the two were captured. In the 1890s, three gangs of dacoits emerged - one of Banpahar also known as Sarup Singh, another of Mahip Singh and the third of Kalyan Singh. In the last years of the 19th century, emerged another gang led by one Karar Khera.

Remoteness of hilly parts of Bundelkhand, and difficulty in conducting search operations in ravines hindered police efforts. It is also believed that dacoit gangs enjoyed considerable local support. 

Dacoits continued to have a hold in several parts of Bundelkhand even after Independence. Data given in the 1965 edition of the Jhansi district gazetteer [p 228] shows that between 1953 and 1962, dacoits made over 150 raids on villages in the district. Rapidly changing political alignments in UP, which worsened the law and order situation, helped dacoits rule over large tracts in a virtually unchallenged manner. Many dacoit gangs also strengthened their position by directly or indirectly playing a major role in the politics of the region, especially in Jalaun, Banda and Chitrakoot districts.

In Jalaun over half a dozen dacoit gangs reportedly issue 'farmaans' in favour of candidates. In Chitrakoot the most notorious dacoit was Dadua, who came to prominence in 1975 and was arrested only once, briefly, in 1978. For around 30 years, Dadua and his gang spread terror in Chitrakoot district and other areas, extending till Allahabad, Jhansi and Jabalpur districts. He was implicated in around 400 cases, including 200 dacoities and 150 murders. But he was never caught or even seen in public. Operating from a base in the jungles between Chitrakoot and Panna districts of UP and MP, he extorted money from contractors, commanded food and support from terrified villagers and treated informers with extreme cruelty - often gouging their eyes before cutting them up.

Dadua's sway is said to have extended to 10 assembly segments, where he had a major say in selection of candidates, and in browbeating opponents. In Chitrakoot, Dadua reportedly supported a CPI candidate for many years, then the BSP, and then in the 2007 elections, the SP. Dadua's brother was a candidate several times and his son became the chairman of the Chitrakoot district panchayat.

Other dacoits like Ambika Patel alias Thokia also commanded a lot of clout (Thokia's haunt was the Panna tiger sanctuary, which was avoided for this reason for years by tourists).

In the 2007 UP assembly elections, one candidate from Karvi (Chitrakoot) was known as Dadua's man; Thokia's mother was nominated for a seat in Banda district. The BSP candidate, Daddu Prasad, complained of receiving threats. Eventually, Daddu Prasad and other BSP candidates won 14 of the 21 seats in UP Bundelkhand and shortly after Mayawati assumed chief ministership, Dadua was shot dead in an encounter. Thokia was also later shot dead by the UP police, in August 2008.

But the last has not been heard of dacoits. Thokia's brother, Deepak, heads a gang, and one of Thokia's men, Sunder Patel, heads another gang.  One Raju Kol is believed to have taken over the remnants of Dadua's gang.

In the run-up to the 2009 general elections, there were reports of Deepak and Raju threatening people in parts of Banda and Chitrakoot districts with dire consequences if they did not vote for candidates of their choice.

| Early History | Chandela Period | Khangars and Early Bundelas | Bundelas and Mughals | Gond Kingdom | Maharaj Chhatrasal | Entry of Marathas | Entry of British | 1857 Revolt | British Rule | Freedom Movement | Bundelkhand State? | Hold of Dacoits |

> Early History
> Chandela Period
> Khangars and Early Bundelas
> Bundelas and Mughals
> Gond Kingdom
> Maharaj Chhatrasal
> Entry of Marathas
> Entry of British
> 1857 Revolt
> British Rule
> Freedom Movement
> Bundelkhand State?
> Hold of Dacoits