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Only poles, no power in Paan Singh village

one pucca road, nearest hospital 18km away

Bhidousa (Morena), Nov. 22: Even the hype of being Paan Singh Tomar’s birthplace isn’t enough to light up this village, so what if Shivraj Singh Chouhan has promised to take electricity to every remote corner of Madhya Pradesh.

Just 70km from Gwalior, Bhidousa in Morena district remains powerless even today. It is the place Irrfan Khan made famous when he played the army jawan-turned-national steeplechase champ-turned-bandit on screen. But elections are a mere formality here; Bhidousa has never blipped on the radar of politicians who selectively shower their largesse on places that catch their fancy.

Off the national highway, a narrow ribbon-like road winds its way through sandy ravines and stray green patches to finally hit Bhidousa. The largely arid terrain still conjures up the picture of deadly conflicts so synonymous with the once-dreaded Chambal.

Paan Singh Tomar’s nephew Balwant, who escaped police bullets in October 1981, limps to his small stone-cutting unit on the outskirts of Gwalior. Over 60 years of age, he uses a stick for support. As he settles in a plastic chair, he says with a strong Bundeli accent: “Police aur vyawastha dacait banati hai. Chachu sant aadmi the, Unko police ne dacait banaya (Police and the system make dacoits. My uncle was a saint but police made him a dacoit).”

Balwant’s reference is to the land dispute that forced his uncle — Tomar’s land was usurped but authorities refused him help to get it back — to break the law. Even three decades after “the system” turned the steeplechase champion into a baagi (rebel), things haven’t changed much in Chambal, he says.

Aaj bhi wohi hai. Jiskee laathi uski bhains. Paise aur taaqat wale ka bol-bala hai (It is still the same. Might is right. Money and power rule),” he says.

If there is any change in Bhidousa — it is doted with colourful mud houses and some pucca ones painted blue and pink — it is a line of newly installed concrete poles. But there are no cables in sight.

“This is the second round of pole installation. They were first installed some 10 years ago. With time, the poles collapsed but power hasn’t reached us yet. I am sure this place will never see light,” rues Dharmendra Singh, the son of Jagannath Singh Tomar, who was shot at by Paan Singh’s son Souram over a land dispute.

Bhidousa made headlines after Dhulia’s 2010 film Paan Singh Tomar, based on the life of the seven-time national champion who was killed in a police encounter in 1981. Nine of his gang members were shot dead. Only Balwant managed to flee. The critical acclaim the film won had raised hopes among the people that their village would finally see some development. But after a flurry of visits by officials and the film crew, Bhidousa remains a picture of neglect.

All it has got so far is a pucca road under the Prime Minister’s rural road project. But the nearest hospital in Khadehar is 18km away. “On several occasions, patients have died on way to hospital. Forget an ambulance, there is no local transport here and by the time we arrange for a private vehicle, it is already too late,” says Amrit Singh, a relative of the athlete.

The village of 300 houses has two schools, primary and middle, but only one full-time teacher who is attached to the primary section. Some 200 middle-school students have to depend on four temporary teachers.

The story is no different in the surrounding cluster of villages — Kolhua, Bhagel, Ranipura and Kharagpura. They, too, have no electricity or schools with enough teachers.

Years of deprivation, injustice and caste-based exploitation have produced too many bandits here. They have all claimed to be baagi — fighting the oppressive system.

So, how come Chambal has no dacoits today?

“Organised bandit gangs are finished but violence is still pervasive here. Dacoits have been replaced by mafia involved in extortion and illegal mining. Dacoits had their principles and some did fight for a cause, but the mafia operate only for money,” says A.P.S. Chouhan, the head of the politics department of Jiwaji University in Gwalior.

Paan Singh Tomar’s nephew Balwant says the system can still produce bandits like his uncle, but better policing, technology and “lack of values” come in the way. “Police can easily track a gang now with mobile phones and better roads. The spirit of loyalty is gone. Now anyone will sell himself for money and turn a police informer,” he says.

Soon after the film released, Balwant filed a case against its producers for allegedly not paying him as promised. “I even thought of picking up the gun once again. But they (filmmakers) bought justice with money. My blood boiled. But I am crippled,” says Balwant, who met with a road accident in 1993, two months after release from jail.

He claimed Dhulia and others had promised to pay him Rs 40 lakh but that there was no written agreement. Madhya Pradesh High Court rejected his plea.