EXCLUSIVE - A daring housewife earns the admiration of Chambal dacoits
Until the phone buzzed at 7.20 in the morning of August 7, she was as usual busy finishing her household chores at her residence in Dehradun. She was expecting her professor husband, Ajit Singh to return from a seminar in Agra. But the caller shattered her, saying: “Your husband is in our custody. Pay Rs 50 lakh and take him alive. And don’t play smart by alerting the police or else you get his dead body.”
She didn’t know what to tell the caller. But she mustered the courage to reply, “We don’t have that much money.” The extraordinary courage of Sarjana alias Gudiya, the 35-year-old woman, was on display subsequently as she liberated her husband from the clutches of dreaded dacoits of Chambal.
Ajit (40), an assistant professor of Hindi in the Uttarakhand College, was kidnapped on August 5 evening from a shared taxi that he took on his way back after the 10-day seminar at the Agra University. A passenger prompted the driver to take a different route and within minutes pistols and revolvers popped out.
A gang of seven dacoits had boarded the taxi as passengers. They dumped another traveler midway and drove Ajit away and a few hours later he was in the ravine of Chambal. The next day, the dacoits made calls to Sarjana from Ajit’s mobile phone. They telephoned her every half-an-hour. The dacoits initially demanded a ransom of Rs 50 lakh. Later they scaled it down to Rs 10 lakh and then to Rs 5 lakh. But Sarjana remained calm before retorting, “Whatever cash and jewelry I have will be handed over to you. But I want my husband back alive.”
Defining true love: Sarjana and Ajit with their children Photo by Shreya Misra
After faxing a message to the District Magistrate of Agra - the message was later converted into an FIR - she collected Rs 48, 000 in cash and jewelry worth Rs 60, 000 and left for Agra with her parents-in-law and brother Rajesh Bhardwaj. From Agra, she and Rajesh went to Dhaulpur, from where she proceeded alone to a destination, 10 km away, as directed by the dacoits over phone. She noticed a passenger van waiting and boarded it. She was driven 50 km into the interiors of Madhya Pradesh.
She had to walk another seven kilometers when she saw a small temple built alongside a peepal tree. She was asked to wait there. Few minutes later, she was again advised to march forward a little further. It was an utterly lonely place, a narrow valley, mostly covered with bushes.
“I spotted some 8 to 10 dacoits. All wore masks. They were standing with their guns facing down. The holsters were tied to their waist. They were in the age group of 22 and 24 years. Their eyes were down with reverence. About 25 minutes later the gang leader appeared with my husband. I couldn’t control my emotion the moment I had a glimpse of him. I started crying bitterly. Tears rolled down my cheek. Seeing me crying, the leader in his husky voice said: ‘Sister, please don’t worry. Have some water first.’ And he offered me water of river Chambal.”
Sarjana put down the bag that contained cash and jewelry. She even took off her golden ear-rings and pleaded for her husband’s immediate release. The act of her bravery moved the heart of the chief. He modestly disclosed, “A woman is never spotted even in a radius of 40 km. Yeh Chambal Ki Ghaati Hai (This is the ravine of Chambal). I acknowledge your act of bravery.”
The chief seemed to be in his late forties. Before he released her husband, he returned her ear-rings and Rs 5,100 in cash. He bestowed her with a lot of blessing, as if he was bidding adieu to his own sister. He was so moved that he even touched her feet to mark his respect. He said, “We have no option but to keep the booty.”
Recounting the ordeal, Ajit said: “I spent almost 72 hours in the forest of Chambal with the dacoits. I was made to sleep on the rock. But I was offered food (roti, daal, sabji and biscuits) in time. I was even allowed to take my pills as I am diabetic. They behaved in a civilized manner with me. They are victims of social circumstances. The government should bring them back to the mainstream.”
Sarjana, a Rajput, and Ajit, a Yadav, were married on November 14, 1998, after they eloped to Delhi. They have two sons, Monark (5) and Pratham (7). “We faced many hitches linked to our marriage. I had to quit my class-one job because of the marriage,” claims Ajit. “My wife has so many qualities. Her determination, loyalty and unconditional service are a few to name. My love for her is infinite,” Ajit says admiringly.
“My father has been my inspiration,” Sarjana recollects. “He was a jailor. He used to bring his service revolver home. He used to narrate a number of stories about the dacoits of Chambal. So, being a Rajput girl, bravery is in my blood.”