Paan Singh Tomar served in the Indian Army as a soldier and athlete before eventually becoming Baaghi (rebel). Although the police may refer to him as a “Daaku,” “Farar,” or “Baaghi,” nothing is known about his sporting achievements and records.
In the 2012 movie “Paan Singh Tomar,” directed by Tigmanshu Dhulia, the Bollywood actor Irrfan Khan brought him back to life. This seven-time steeplechase national champion rose to fame in the nation after competing for India at the 1958 Asian Games in Tokyo, Japan.
In the incredibly competitive 1950s and 1960s, Paan Singh was in reality a national-ranking athlete and a true champion sportsman. Paan Singh’s life changed from that of the track’s ruler to that of the ravines’ king.
Paan Singh Tomar Biography:
Some Unexplored Information About Paan Singh Tomar:
Paan Singh Tomar was an Indian athlete and military personnel who turned Baaghi (rebel). He is best known for being the seven-time national champion in the steeplechase and representing India in the 1958 Asian Games; held in Tokyo, Japan.
He became a household name after the noted Bollywood actor, Irrfan Khan essayed his role in Tigmanshu Dhulia‘s eponymous film “Paan Singh Tomar” (2012).
Paan Singh belonged to Morena district, near the ravines of Chambal, which is notorious for nurturing various rebels and dacoits, back in the 1950s and ’60s. He grew up in an area where looting and killing were normal things, which can be understood from the fact that once when a judge asked a Chambal dacoit named Laxman Dixit, alias Lukka Daaku how many persons he had killed, the dacoit replied –
“आपको याद रहता है आप महीने में कितनी चपाती खाते हो ?”
The paternal grandfather of Paan Singh had two wives; the older one gave birth to Eshwari Singh (Pan Singh’s father) while the younger one gave birth to Dayaram (Paan Singh’s uncle). Dayaram went on to have five sons, including Jandel, Havaldar, and Babbu (Paan Singh’s cousin brothers), and nearly a dozen grandchildren. Later, Babbu became an influential landlord who commanded an extended family of nearly 200 members in Bhidosa village.
Since his childhood, Paan Singh was known for his running skills and after getting inducted into the Indian Army, he showed his running prowess.
He joined the Indian Army in 1949 as a subedar (Warrant Officer) under the Bengal Engineers Regiment at Roorkee. It is said that on the very first day, he had an argument with an instructor who commanded him to run numerous laps of the parade ground as a punishment, and the punishment turned out to be bliss in disguise; like his running skills caught the eye of officers, and they shifted Paan Singh to the sports wing where he was put on a special diet. Thereafter, Paan Singh went on to become one of the most bankable athletes in the Indian Army, and apart from becoming a seven-time national champion in the steeplechase, he also represented India at the 1958 Tokyo Asian Games.
For his sports career, the Indian Army officials didn’t let him take part in the 1962 Sino-Indian War and the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965.
In 1972, Paan Singh’s sports career ended; a career full of remarkable achievements and records, including his 2,000 strides (as compared to the 2,500) for the challenging 3,000-metre run, which is still a benchmark in the steeplechase in India.
While serving the Indian Army as an athlete, he had become a running icon in his regiment, and the hostel warden would often awaken the new inductees by saying –
“जागो, जागो पान सिंह साहब तो सहारनपुर से दौड़कर भी आ गए।”
It is said that he loved running so much that he would often visit his village by running.
In an interview, his son, Souram Singh Tomar, shared an instance when he was sitting with his father, Paan Singh, on the banks of a canal in Roorkee, and he asked his father ‘How do you run? Saans nahin phoolti?’ And Paan Singh replied –
“साँस कहाँ फूलती है, भागने से साँस पक्की हो जाती है।”
In 1977, Paan Singh took premature retirement from the Indian Army and returned to his native Bhidosa Village in Morena, Madhya Pradesh where a land dispute awaited him; a dispute that would lead the track king to become the ruler of the ravines.
The land dispute was about two and a half bigha of land that Paan Singh’s older brother, Maatadeen, who was a ganja-lover and was just like the black sheep in the family, had mortgaged to his uncle Dayaram’s scion for a sum of Rs. 3, 000. Later, Dayaram’s sons; especially Babbu, made a stronghold over the land.
By the time Paan Singh returned to his native village, Babbu had become a strongman in Bhidosa. While talking about Babbu and his menfolk’s dominance in the village, Sahab Singh, the childhood friend of Paan Singh Tomar, once said,
“बहुमत उनका था, चलती इनकी थी।”
During the active years of Paan Singh as a rebel in the ravines of Chambal, many other gangs were also active in the area, including the Mausi Gang, Putali Gang, and the band of Gabbar Singh Gurjar who is said to have inspired the cult movie Sholay.
The rivalry between Paan Singh and Babbu’s gang became so intense that they would often get engulfed in a fight or two. On 16 March 1979, when Paan Singh’s elder son, Hanumant was getting himself relieved in a field, Jandel (Babbu’s brother) and his men beat him. The enraged Hanumant took his family’s 12-bore and fired at a person called Jagannath. Sensing the coming threat, Paan Singh decided to flee along with his menfolk; leaving behind the harvested crops of Arhar, Sarson, and Bajra, the cattle, and even the womenfolk in the village.
The next day, Babbu and his menfolk attacked Paan Singh’s house where they injured his 95-year-old mother who was alone at that time in the house. When Paan Singh returned to his home, his mother told him that if he was her true son, he must take revenge by the next morning.
Paan Singh swore by his mother and within the next few months, he killed three of his cousins dead – Havaldar, Jandel Singh, and Babbu Singh.
Birender Singh Tomar, son of Jandel Singh, described in an interview how his father had been killed by Paan Singh, He said,
“मेरे पिता जंडेल सिंह अपने ट्रैक्टर पर अपने खेतों में काम कर रहे थे। पान सिंह ने उन्हें चार गोलियां मारीं। उन्हें ए. 303 ने इस्तेमाल किया, जो शायद पुलिस से चोरी हो गया। एक घंटे के भीतर, उनके बड़े भाई हवलदार सिंह पास के खेत में थे।” गोली मार दी जब वह अपने बैलों के साथ था। इस बार यह 315 के साथ था। पान सिंह ने हमें कोई समय नहीं दिया।“
While killing Babbu Singh, Paan Singh had to chase him for a long. Narrating the incident, Paan Singh’s son, Souram Singh says –
“पिताजी ने करीब दो किलोमीटर तक बब्बू का पीछा करते हुए पड़ोस के गांव लोहड़ी का पुरा में बब्बू को पकड़ लिया। वह आसानी से उससे आगे निकल गया। “
However, on Babbu’s killing, Jandel Singh’s son, Birender Singh gives another theory, he says,
“बब्बू को दौड़ाकर गोली मारी पान सिंह ने, पीछे से। बब्बू निहत्था था।”
After shooting Babbu, Paan Singh became a self-declared Baaghi. He started kidnapping influential people for ransom. Reportedly, he would often sign his ransom notes as –
“दस्युराज पान सिंह तोमर, चंबल का शेर”
In 1977, his elder brother, Maatadeen was killed in a police encounter; an incident that had enraged Paan Singh so much that he challenged the then Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, Arjun Singh, and killed nine Gujjar men in Pawa Paota village. According to Paan Singh, the Gujjars were the informers who had given a tip-off to the police about Maatadeen’s whereabouts. The incident was so bewildering for Arjun Singh that he vowed –
“जब तक पान सिंह पकड़ा नहीं जाता, तब तक मैं दीवाली पर दीया नहीं जलाऊंगा।”
On 1 October 1981, Paan Singh Tomar and his ten menfolks were killed in a 12-hour-long police encounter at the Rathiankapura village; after a tip-off given by a villager named Motiram Jatav to the police. Motiram Jatav says –
“उस घटना के बाद किसी ठाकुर ने हमसे कभी बात नहीं की”
It was the Circle Inspector Mahendra Pratap Singh Chauhan of Gohad Police Station (50 km north of Gwalior) who led the team of policemen that encountered Paan Singh Tomar and his men. Reportedly, it was Chauhan’s bullet that proved to be fatal for Paan Singh. Chauhan later received the President’s Police Medal for Gallantry from the then Madhya Pradesh Governor KM Chandy on the occasion of the Republic Day of India in 1984. After the release of Tigmanshu Dhulia‘s eponymous Bollywood film, Paan Singh Tomar in 2012, when Chauhan was asked if he would like to watch the film, he said,
“It’s a movie about a criminal, and I am sure it glorifies a killer. Why would I go to the theatre to watch such a movie?” he asks indignantly, “Paan Singh had a criminal bent of mind right from the beginning. I don’t care if he served the Army or won medals for the country. He was a killer and deserved a violent end.”
Legend has it that the day when Paan Singh was killed, he had been staying at Sarpanch’s house in Rathiankapur village and was unusually sluggish compared to other days. In the afternoon, when he was lying on a “chataai” on the floor with a megaphone (used by him to alert the villagers about his arrival) on his right and a loaded .303 gun on his left, Balwant (Paan Singh’s nephew) rushed to him around 5 pm and said,
“कुत्ते यहाँ हैं, उनमें से छह या सात होने चाहिए।”
Paan Singh decided to flee from the village, and he made a plan, he asked the villagers to let their cows loose in the field, and he said,
“अगर वे हिंदू पुलिसकर्मी हैं तो वे गायों पर गोली नहीं चलाएंगे।”
Paan Singh and his menfolk were surrounded by the police. At last, Paan Singh decided to flee through the canal side of the village; however, Inspector Mahendra Pratap Singh Chauhan was vigilant in that area too. After periodic rounds of gunfire from both sides, Paan Singh committed a mistake by using his megaphone to threaten the police, he said,
“ये सूबेदार पान सिंह तोमर का गैंग है। तुम सब मारे जाओगे।”
According to police, in the last hours, Paan Singh was asking for water, he said,
“मेरे भाई पुलिसवाले, कोई मुझे थोड़ा पानी दे सकता है? कोई ठाकुर है आप में ? क्या आप कृपया मुझे थोड़ा पानी दे सकते हैं?”
When a policeman named Tribhuvan tried to offer him the water, Inspector Chauhan restrained him and said,
“आप कहां जा रहे हैं? क्या तुम पागल हो? आपको गोली मार दी जाएगी। पुलिस की तरह, डकैतों की कोई जाति नहीं होती है।
Reportedly, the reason why Motiram Jatav, a lower caste villager, turned out to become an informer, was Paan Singh Tomar’s casteist approach towards the lower caste people. Motiram Jatav says that even after Paan Singh’s death, the upper-caste Thakurs termed the village as –
“गद्दारों का गाँव”
According to Paan Singh’s close aides, he was a humorous and jolly person who loved to play cards, and his favorite card game was “Dehla Pakad.”
Paan Singh was fondly called “Chachaji” by his menfolk.
The police had a code name for Paan Singh Tomar’s gang – the ‘A10 Gang.’
Reportedly, Paan Singh loved alcoholic beverages; however, he was not a binge drinker; rather, he preferred only one or two pegs daily. Some sources claim that he used to keep a small bottle of liquor in his pocket.
Ram Prasad Bismil, an Indian patriot belonged to Rugar Barbai village in Morena, near Paan Singh’s village.
the noted Bollywood actor, Irrfan Khan, after essaying the role of Paan Singh in the 2012 Bollywood film “Paan Singh Tomar,” said,
“Thousands of stories live and die every day in India, unnoticed. And these stories are complex, fascinating, moving, heart-wrenching, and engaging. I feel they should be brought to light in whatever form possible.”
Tigmanshu Dhulia who made the biopic on Paan Singh Tomar, first heard about Paan Singh Tomar’s story when he was working as the casting director for Shekhar Kapur‘s film, “Bandit Queen” (1994). Dhulia says,
“I think it will always be remembered as the first which brought faith in biopics.”
According to his childhood friend, Sahab Singh, he was a short-tempered person and could hardly control his anger. Sahab Singh says,
“आदमी हीरा था, गुस्सा आ गया और बागी बन गया। निशाना तो ऐसा बांधता था, गोली खाली नहीं जाती थी।”
There’s a popular ballad about Paan Singh in the Bhind area of Madhya Pradesh –
“Like a mythical demigod emerging from the scarred earth, with his enormous stamina and steeplechase leap, Subedar Paan Singh Tomar of Bhidosa lives on in the Chambal, his strange legend as a champion athlete and dreaded killer within the same lifetime refusing to sleep.”