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Notorious Indian bandit dies at 92, after stints in Bollywood, politics

A notorious bandit who spent years rampaging across central India’s impoverished badlands before trying his luck as a Bollywood actor and politician has died aged 92, police said Wednesday.

Mohar Singh, once one of the most feared men in the Chambal region accused of hundreds of murders, kidnappings and other crimes, died on Tuesday
Mohar Singh, once one of the most feared men in the Chambal region accused of hundreds of murders, kidnappings and other crimes, died on Tuesday

Mohar Singh, once one of the most feared men in the Chambal region accused of hundreds of murders, kidnappings and other crimes, died on Tuesday, a senior police official in Bhind district told AFP.

Despite having 315 cases against him, including 89 murders, he cultivated a Robin Hood-like image among the poor, district superintendent of police Nagendra Singh told AFP.

“He was an old-school gang leader, targeting mainly businessmen and rich landlords and distributing the loot among the poor to win popularity,” Singh said.

After he surrendered to police in 1972 with his gang of 140 bandits, he spent eight years in jail before securing an early release, the Times of India reported.

Drawn to the arclights, he starred in a 1982 Bollywood film called “Chambal ke Daku” (“The Bandits of Chambal”) and ran unopposed in local elections in the 1990s.

In his final years, Singh, whose head once carried a 300,000-rupee ($3,400) bounty, campaigned to restore ancient temples in Chambal, writing letters to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The sparsely-populated region in Madhya Pradesh state was long seen as India’s “Wild West”, teeming with bloodthirsty gangs looting feudal landlords, carrying out kidnappings and robbing trains.

The most famous was Phoolan Devi, known as the “bandit queen” — a heroine to India’s lower castes who transformed herself from an illiterate villager to a member of parliament before she was gunned down in 2001.

Her life story was captured in the 1996 movie “Bandit Queen”, which traced her journey from abused child-bride to feared criminal and finally a member of parliament.

The story of another high-profile outlaw, Paan Singh Tomar, was made into a film in 2012, with acclaimed actor Irrfan Khan, who died last week, playing the role. AFP

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