05/07/2017 8:42 AM IST | Updated 24/09/2018 6:54 PM IST

UP Voted Against Goonda Raj, But Dacoits Still Strike Fear In Bundelkhand

Is Yogi Adityanath listening?

Jitendra Prakash / Reuters

The tsunami win of the BJP in the Uttar Pradesh polls early this year was the outcome of carefully orchestrated electoral strategies—leveraging new-age technology and old-world sophistry—that organised effective communication across socio-economic spectrums, cutting through divides. Or as the experts would say, "A super-productive partnership between WhatsApp and Modi-styled speeches."

While much media attention has been trained on anti-Romeo squads and farm loan waivers, one of the BJP's key promises in its election manifesto was to bring down the alarming levels of lawlessness in the state. A promise emphasised again by Yogi Adityanath in one of his earliest Cabinet meetings as the newly appointed Chief Minister.

It is not easy to forget Rani's haunted look as she tells us what the dacoits said to her... "Maut aa gayi hai tumhari (Your death is here)."

And yet, 100 (and counting) days into a brand-new government and the report card on the fight against crime is not a cheerful one. In large swathes of rural Bundelkhand, where dacoits have reigned supreme and wreaked havoc for decades, the terror is still as real on this side of 2017 too.

Two incidents of dacoits storming houses and looting have come to light in Chitrakoot, in less than a month's span—one an unfortunate visit in the middle of the night in Madna village, and the other, a planned robbery at a wedding in Lakshmanpur village.

Madna, a sleepy hamlet in Manikpur block, was woken up rudely one night in late April when Pauvva's house was raided by a gang of dacoits, who threatened his daughter Rani to reveal the family's whereabouts—she was one of two women home that night. When we meet her, the fear in her voice is as apparent as it is on her face. She looks like she might have seen a ghost, except that in this case the menace is far more real. Threatening her with the worst, they hit her again and again with rifles, and as she recalls the events of the night, she shudders, "I can't even say for sure how many they were. There were some outside the house also. It seemed as if they were everywhere."

It was only after they left that a battered, bruised and shocked out of her senses Rani trudged out to try and call the police—it was the wee hours of the morning and the police arrived to take down statements some hours later. Agreeing that this was a clear case of dacoity, they said they'd look into the matter and hinted at a possible family dispute as the reason—a point that Pauvva and his family deny vehemently.

More than a month later, there hasn't been any breakthrough in this case, we learn—dacoits are known (and fabled) for disappearing into the dark of the night never to be seen again unless they wish to, much like ghosts.

Lakshmanpur witnessed a celebration gone sour, when a wedding turned into a night of woe as bandits, most likely from the infamous Babli Kol gang, barged in on the happy night and wreaked havoc, destroying pandals, chairs, and plundering every precious good in sight.

The newlyweds' names are etched on the home—a new custom—when we visit the family in the village that's almost impossible to reach by road. Deepa and Jitendra, the script says with the arrow mark struck across a heart, the only sign left now of a night meant to be memorable for the right reasons. Nirmala, the bride's mother, is aghast and broken as she recounts the damage. Not only was theirs a serious financial loss of around ₹60,000 to the dacoits, but the socio-psychological fallout is also great. "Everyone will talk about this wedding, the wedding of my daughter, as the horrid one in which dacoits came and attacked," she says, looking crestfallen.

Pratap Gopendra Singh Yadav, Chitrakoot SP at the thana, tells us that everything points at the "handiwork of the Babli Kol boys." The gang's whereabouts are thus far unknown.

Meanwhile, it is not easy to forget Rani's haunted look when she speaks into our camera, telling us what the dacoits said to her, yanking her close to their masked faces, "Maut aa gayi hai tumhari (Your death is here)."

It's just another day in a state reeling from a continued state of absolute lawlessness in its most far-flung parts.

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