Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Encounter with a Dacoit

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‘So, are you really the infamous dacoit, Dadan Chandio?’ I asked.
‘Do I look like a dacoit, sahib?’ he replied with a question. Frankly, he didn’t. Standing at about 1 metre 75 centimetres Dadan is a wiry man in his mid to late forties with graying hair and beard. A vicious scar runs across the bridge of his nose and down to his left cheek barely missing the eye. It is from this wound perhaps that his voice gets the thick nasal tone. I ran into him up in the Khirthar Mountains west of Larkana and when I asked if he would like to talk to me he said he didn’t see why he should not. I would have expected a vicious looking man, rather in the mould of the Punjabi film hero, but here he was, soft-spoken with a face scarred from a hatchet blow and psyche scarred from over two decades of running scared.

He was born into the same sub-clan as the Nawab family of Chandios and so is distantly related to them. Having spent his childhood in Ghaibi Dero Dadan took three years of schooling before dropping out to help the family in their meager agriculture. Now, the chief of the Chandios has long been one of the biggest land holders of rural Sindh, but in the Land Reforms of Ayub Khan this vast holding was apportioned out amongst smaller holders. Dadan and his father received 32 acres each. This was in Jagir number 6, but according to Dadan the Nawab refused to relinquish control over the property. Thus began a struggle between Dadan and Nawab Sultan Ahmed Chandio, a struggle that was to turn Dadan into a bandit – at least it was to give him that notoriety.

As such conflicts tend to be, this too was a series of confrontations between Dadan and the Nawab’s men. On one occasion he was attacked with an axe, a reminder of which is the scar across his face. As Dadan fell from the blow, his partner struck the assailant and killed him. And the two became fugitives. Some time later he petitioned Sultan Chandio for an end to the hostilities and withdrawal of the case. The Nawab agreed, but those around him continued to intrigue and the situation remained more or less unchanged. Since he did not have the wherewithal to face the police and the flawed judicial system, Dadan left settled life for good and went into the Kohistan area of Larkana district. He purchased a thirteen acre block of agricultural land in village Lakhay ja Kunda and once again re-ordered his life as a farmer. Surely the choice of residence had something to do with proximity to the trackless Khirthar Mountains where he could spirit himself away in the event of a raid by the police.

In 1983 he saw the first army action. The army had been told that Dadan as an accomplice of the dacoits knew of the whereabouts of every single one of the outlaws. Accompanying the army contingent were two of the closest allies of Nawab Sultan Ahmed. Dadan says as he saw the lashkar coming up the narrow gorge of the Khenji River, he thought he was being attacked by his ‘enemies.’ Consequently he opened up on the advancing army with everything that he had. For six hours the gun battle continued off and on. At the end of this duel one soldier and two villagers lay dead.

Dadan was arrested, his house, no more than a thatched hut, was set alight and his family left at the mercy of friends and well wishers. He was taken to Sukker jail where Dad Mohammed Chandio, a poor farmer was transformed into the infamous Sindhi dacoit of the 1980s. Trial for the killing of the soldier began and when the well known jail break of 1985 took place Dadan Chandio was on death row. He did not know if the jail break had been engineered by the then Chief Minister of Sindh and says that there was no prior rumour of it coming. Suddenly, at some point in the night, the doors were thrown open and the shout went up to get out as quickly as they could. ‘We cried to be told who our rescuers were, but they only said we should get away as fast as possible,’ says Dadan.

And so the forty two men on death row, most of them hardened criminals, came into the courtyard of the jail house where they found a ladder set against the high wall. Over they went and down the other side straight for the safety of the forests on the Indus. Over the next couple of days every one of them went his own separate way and Dadan, travelling by night and hiding away during the day, reached home four days later. But this reunion was to bring little, if any, happiness for Dadan and his family because not long afterwards began the incursions of the police, the army and even the Nawab’s men. Dadan and his family spent the next eight years on the run.

In the meantime, his twenty year old son Zeb, frustrated by the injustice of it all, had given up the law abiding life. Dadan does not deny the boy’s misdeeds, and since he has no excuse for it, he lapses into silence on the mention of his son’s lawless exploits. Consequently a raid by the army on Lakhay ja Kunda in 1992 brought young Zeb’s life to an end. Later, lest the memory of his first-born should ever fade, Dadan named his youngest son after him. Today with his elderly mother, two wives, three daughters and two sons Dadan Chandio, the condemned dacoit, who claims to have not one robbery to his credit is still on the run.

Sick of life as a fugitive Dadan wants to resolve differences with the Nawab, but sees no hope of that ever happening in the near future for the cordon of schemers that surrounds the big man. He talks wistfully of a general amnesty and believes that such a move would quickly bring an end to the phenomenon of banditry in the province. Once a supporter of PPP, Dadan seems to have lost all hope.
‘We’ve had two people’s governments, and what have they given us?’ he asks. ‘We are still the wretched of the earth. Every single grown man of the Nawab’s family collects his own tribute from us. We are poor people, that should not happen to us in a people’s government. The government have done nothing for the poor. It is all a farce.’

I asked if by writing this I would not further alienate him from the Nawab. Worse, if I would anger the Nawab and prevent my ever returning to this area – something that I very much want to do.

‘I don’t care about my relationship with him, but if you’re afraid for your own sake, don’t write.’ I almost felt he was on the verge of deriding me for being such a coward, instead he added. ‘If you do write, show it to the Prime Minister. Tell her, for the love of God, that I am no bandit, that I want to live like every self-respecting, peaceful citizen. Tell her that I hate this life.’

He remembers Colonel Bajwa, the man who had headed the anti-dacoit operations from Shahdadkot. ‘He was a just and honest man and he once said that he knew I had only been labelled a dacoit by the real dacoits who lived in fancy mansions in the city.’

Dadan posed for a photo with his son Habibullah and as we were parting I asked what he would like the world to know about him.

‘Tell them you met the fearsome dacoit Dadan Chandio and strike the fear of God in their hearts,’ he said with a wry smile. Then: ‘Tell them, please, what comes from your heart; not what so many others would say about me.’ Then, his AK-47 slung across his broad shoulders, he strode off across the brown, rock strewn landscape with young Habibullah almost running to keep pace at his side. His strong, swinging gait was very much a part of this harsh land. Though he has been deprived of everything he ever had, Dad Mohammed Chandio is at least home.

Related: Has Dadan finally found his freedom?  

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 00:00,


At 21 August 2013 at 00:51, Blogger Atherr said...

Amazing work. Thanks for sharing.

At 25 August 2013 at 09:55, Blogger Lahoremassagist said...

This face seems to have seen a lot in life. Hardships can be read in those wrinkles.


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My Books

Deosai: Land of the Gaint - New

The Apricot Road to Yarkand

Jhelum: City of the Vitasta

Sea Monsters and the Sun God: Travels in Pakistan

Salt Range and Potohar Plateau

Prisoner on a Bus: Travel Through Pakistan

Between Two Burrs on the Map: Travels in Northern Pakistan

Gujranwala: The Glory That Was

Riders on the Wind

Books at Sang-e-Meel

Books of Days