Ninety-year -old Pancham Singh is a living testimony of what happens in absence of capital punishment. He was awarded death sentence in the 1970s for killing over 100 people, but was later pardoned due to his surrender along with 550 other men had who ruled Chambal for years. After serving his life sentence in jail, he started treading the path of peace and non-violence. Today, he is very popular among college students and jail inmates across the country.
Pancham narrated his story to DNA – “I was just 14 and was peacefully living with my newly-wed wife and parents in my village in Madhya Pradesh. There were Panchayat elections in the village and I was beaten up mercilessly as the other group suspected me of being part of one group. My parents pleaded with them to allow me to be taken to the hospital. No police complaint was allowed. I came home after 20 days and was again beaten up by this other group. One day I just lost my cool, took 12 friends and went to Chambal to become a dacoit. When I came back, I killed six people on day one. Revenge had blinded me.”
After taking revenge from the Zamindar’s men, Pancham went on to build his own gang of 550 dacoits. Over the next decade, Pancham and his men took over a hundred lives, and government had announced Rupees 2 crores as bounty against the dreaded dacoit. There was no turning back for Pancham and his men, until the Gandhian leader Jayaprakash Narayan came to Chambal and persuaded them to give up arms. Pancham along with 550 other dacoits surrendered before Indira Gandhi’s government, and after serving a life term in jail, he came out a reformed person.
Since then, he has been spending time with students and jail inmates, spreading the message of peace and non-violence, asking them to learn from his mistakes. In an interview with The Times of India, Pancham confessed, “I never wanted to join politics. Most dacoits who surrendered during those days have been living peacefully, farming 30 bighas of land that government allotted them. Even when I was dacoit, I used to pray for four hours in the jungles.”