( By M.G.Singh)
Approximately a month back, there was a short programme on Sultana Daku, shown on television-Epic channel. It was almost after a period of 6-7 decades that this name rang the bell and brought back old memories of our childhood. At the tender age of 6-8 years, I and other siblings of our large joint family used to enjoy stories of this mysterious man narrated by our elders. During school days, we had a chance to see a play titled “Sultana Daku” which was staged in a collage in which my father, a senior police officer of the district, played the role of Sultana. The year was around 1946-47 and the drama, like any favourite movie had left its deep impression on our young mind. The net result was that soon a drama party was set up with the active participation of all the siblings and other kids of our village and staging the play of Sultana Daku became one of our favourite past time during summer vacations. This adventure, or to say extracurricular activity continued till we passed out from our schools and moved to other cities for higher studies as boarding students. In collage, the sports and other activities soon over shadowed the craze for theatre and we gradually forgot about Sultana Daku.
WHO WAS SULTANA DAKU:
The brief account of Sultana on the television, regenerated the desire to know more about our childhood Robin Hood. Accordingly, I went through various sources to know more about him but found that official accounts on this man have been few; those that did come out were largely irrelevant and in a few cases, were clearly sponsored or concocted. I could, however, learn that a book was written on him by an author named Surjit Saraf with title “Confession of Sultana Daku”- a historical fiction, which was published by Penguin Books India in 2009. A while ago, a movie was also made on him but that again was mostly based on imaginative scenarios mixed with some unconfirmed facts. The story mostly revolved around the love of Sultana and a dancing girl Putli Bai ( also known as Phul kuwar)- in short, an usual Bollywood MASALA.
There were also some books & film reviews etc which again did not provide much information as these too were based on notes made by a British officer, Lt colonel Samuel Pearce, who ironically had played a major role in capturing Sultana. His special task force led by a junior fat British officer, Freddy Young, had captured Sultana from the Nainital forest area. Col Samuel Pearce was supposed to have recorded Sultana’s biography as narrated by the individual the night before he was supposed to be hanged in Haldwani prison. Interestingly while Sultana’s narration was in rustic local Hindi language, the scribbling by Samuel was in English.
It is also claimed that Sultana belonged to a Bhantu tribe of Chambal area in Madhya Pradesh (MP). The tribe was declared by the British government as extremely backward, following their traditionally criminal activities for survival. Thus, as a policy decision, Sultana and other young lads were brought from their villages to Nazibabad by the authorities and kept in a prison where they were supposedly enrolled in the Salvation Army camp to undergo reform training. However, Sultana, rebellious by nature, did not like the working conditions laced with religious preaching by the Christian missionary and managed to escape from the camp. The escape obviously resulted in regular chase and harassments by the police, gradually leading to occasional encounters. This further motivated him to organise his own gang which started conducting small robberies for survival, resulting in terrorising and looting of rich people in central north areas of UP. While the exact period of these events have not been recorded anywhere, it seems that these events occurred approximately in the early 1920s. Eventually, Sultana Daku was captured near Nainital and hanged on 8th July 1924, when he was in his late 20s.
SULTANA-A FREEDOM FIGHTER ?
The accounts narrated in Saraf’s book do not, however, tally with many details about this Robin Hood. According to Sultana, he claimed to be a descendent of Sishodia Rajput, Maharana Pratap Singh, the king of Mewar (Rajasthan). He had named his horse Chatak which was the name of Rana Pratap’s mount. There is no doubt that Sultana was highly influenced by the character of his mentor. Rana Pratap’s bravery, patriotism and concern for his people are well known. He not only fought many battles with Mughal king Akbar, he was also the only king who had never surrendered till his death. It is also to be noted that Chambal area is mostly inhabited by Sikarwar Rajputs. Sikarwar and Sishodia Rajputs both are Suryavanshis and descendents of Lav- the son the Lord Ram Chandra of Ayodhya who is revered as God by Hindus in India. The Sikarwars purportedly had their kingdom at Vajaypur Sikri near Agra. After losing the battle at Khanwa fought between the Mughal invader Babur and the confederation of Rajput army lead by Rana Sangram Singh, Vijaypur Sikari was destroyed and renamed as Fatehpur Sikari by the victor Babur. The Sikarwars had to vacate Vijaypur Sikari and fled from there to number of remote areas including Dhaulpur, ravines of Chambal river, forests of Gahban (now known as Gahmar in Ghazipur), Azamgarh, and towards Rajasthan, Bihar etc. Thus, irrespective of his ancestry, it is very obvious that Sultana considered the British to be invaders and he put himself in the shoes of his hero to alleviate the suffering of his people and free them from the clutches of foreign rule.
Interestingly Sultana, whose full name was Sultan Singh named his dog Rai Bahadur. This clearly shows his disliking for the Baniya (Business) community, Zamindars (big land holders) land lords and a like, whom the British authorities had showered with ludicrous titles like Sir, Rai Bahadur, Highness etc. It is also true that many such rich Indians were the stooge of the British Government in India and assisted the Raj for their own selfish gains. This was the reason that most targets of Sultana were such rich people. He never attacked or robbed the Rajputs and the poor as he identified himself as one of them. He also purportedly never kept the loot for himself but was rumoured to have distributed in to the poor and the needy in the community.
WHY SULTANA WAS MADE TO JOIN SALVATION ARMY:
The book and other reports suggests that Sultana as a young boy along with others of similar age group were taken away from their villages and enrolled in the Salvation Army by the British Govt. The aim, at least as explained by the Government, was to re-train these young poor village lads as good citizens. But was this the real aim of the British Government?
In this context it is necessary to know the real meaning of Salvation Army. According to the Oxford English dictionary-:-
“Salvation Army is a religious and missionary organisation structured on quasi-military lines for revival of religion and helping the poor “
In the context, we should also recollect the famous address of Lord Macaulay to the British Parliament on 2nd Feb.1835 on India, which was as under:-
“ I have travelled across the length and breath of India and have not seen one person who is a bagger, who is a thief, such wealth I have seen in the country; such high moral values; people of such calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and, therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-steam, their native culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation”
It is obvious therefore, that the aim of the British Raj was to follow Macaulay’s game plan to convert poor Indians to Christianity. Sultana’s enrolment in to Salvation army was part of it. However, Sultana’s high morale values and patriotism over shadowed their efforts. It is for this reason that he can safely be called as a rebel against occupying forces, rather than a Dacoit (Daku)
EFFECT OF INDEPENDENCE STRUGGLE ON SULTAN SINGH:
If we reflect upon the history of India’s struggle for independence, we find that the period in which Sultana was active was precisely the period when the struggle for independence was in full swing. Gandhi had returned to India from South Africa on 9th January,1915.Bal Gangadhar Tilak, an ardent nationalist, who helped lay the foundation stone for India’s independence by building his own defiance of British Rule, was already making headlines. By the time he died on 1st August, 1920, he was already recognised as the Father of the Indian National Movement. In UP, activities of Chandra Shekhar Azad (born 20 July 1906; died 27 February 1931) a hard liner, were already in full swing in and around Allahabad. The famous train robbery in 1925 at Kakori near Lucknow and also the killing of Assistant Superintendent of police Saunders had already brought his name into limelight alongside other heroes of the freedom fighters. We should also not forget the massacre of Jallianwala bagh in 1919, which had the tremendous impact on Indians. Was Sultana not aware of these developments? In a way he too was doing the similar work against the British Raj and therefore, not less than any other freedom fighter. If he was declared a dacoit by the Government, we must place this in this context. After all, the same government had also declared Azad, Batukeshwar, Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and many others as criminals.
It is unfortunate that, like many forgotten freedom fighters, no efforts have been made to investigate and record the real back ground and accounts of Sultana Daku. However, it is interesting to mention that people particularly those belonging to the Sultana’s area of operation still speak very high of him and regard him as a hero –a messiah for poor and terror for the rich sympathisers of British govt. It is said that Sultana had captured an abandoned fort in Nazibabad and had made it his headquarter. The fort was built about 400 years ago by Nawab Nazibudaula, and was Sultana’s most favourite hideout. Not only does this fort still exist, but more interestingly, it is known as ‘Sultana Daku Ka Kila’.Following are few pictures of the fort.