An 88-year-old Pancham Singh Chauhan is probably the best example why capital punishment should be abolished in India. Awarded death sentence back in the 70s for killing over 100 people, Chauhan today is preaching non-violence to college students and jail inmates across the country.
On Wednesday, it was the turn of Agriculture College students and convicts from Yerawada jail to listen to Chauhan whose life transformed as he surrendered and laid down his arms following an emotional appeal from socialist leader Jaiprakash Narayan.
“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,” recalls Chauhan who is still agile and doesn’t need spectacles for his daily chores.
Known as Pancham Dakait, Chauhan went on to kill more than 100 people and over 200 cases of dacoity were registered against him. So dreaded was he, that the police had offered to pay Rs one crore towards reward for giving information about him.
He had over 550 dacoits in his gang. “We were the rulers. No police, no politicians could ever even think of touching us. We made and broke governments,” Chauhan said after his function at the College of Agriculture.
But then he was always filled with guilt and subjected himself to penance in his own ways. He was a devotee of Goddess Durga and once decided to kill himself if the goddess didn’t turn up for guidance. “I saw a man in white clothes in my dream three days later who told me he will take me away from the world of violence. In three days, JP made the appeal and I decided to surrender,” says Chauhan.
He laid down eight conditions before the government. No capital punishment for him and his gang members, no harassment of his family members, education for his kids, open jail so that he could stay with his family, land for tilling so that he could lead a respectful life after he was released from jail were some of the conditions. His death sentence was thus reduced to a life term and it was his good behavior during jail stay that he was out in eight years.
Since then, Chauhan turned into a good man he had promised he would be. He turned to spirituality and became part of a religious cult that puts women on a higher pedestal than men.
“I can’t stand men who commit atrocities against women. One of my gang members raped a woman and I shot him in head. My blood boils every time I hear instances of rapes and atrocities against women,” said Chauhan who still can’t hide the rebellious streak in him.
He was given a five-acre farming plot by the government on which Chauhan has now built a plant nursery and a garden. Today as he talks to youths on importance of education, values of unity and controlling anger, his audience listens to him in rapt attention. Chauhan today is the Sage Valmiki of the yore.