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Self-styled Robin Hood killed by Indian police

/ Source: The Associated Press

Indian police killed one of the country’s most notorious bandits Sunday — a man who ruled the ravines and forests of central India through a mixture of fear and love for three decades, with many hailing him as a modern-day Robin Hood.

Shiv Kumar, also known by the alias Dadua, led one of the few remaining bands of outlaws that have roamed central India for centuries, their exploits romanticized in Bollywood movies.

Kumar, thought to be in his 60s, was wanted in more than 200 cases of kidnapping, extortion and murder and had a bounty on his head of more than $12,000, a small fortune in this region.

A.K. Jain, inspector general of the police special task force, said Kumar was slain after a fierce battle between police and bandits. He was identified by villagers, Jain said.

Four of his accomplices were also killed in the battle in the Chitrakoot region, about 400 miles southwest of New Delhi, Jain said. The region’s deep ravines and dense forests have made it haven for “dacoits,” as bandits like Kumar are known here.

In recent years, however, the dacoits have been slowly disappearing, hunted by aggressive police, denounced by the villagers they once claimed to defend and rendered increasingly irrelevant as India embraces the modern world.

Still, Kumar had managed to evade police since escaping from custody in 1975 after being arrested for murder. Since then, he had built up a band of followers and carved out a 100-square-mile fiefdom on the border between the central Indian states of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.

Legacy of fierce violence, loyalty
There he established a reign of terror, killing those who opposed him, kidnapping rich landowners for ransom, and extorting and robbing money from businessmen in the area.

He also monopolized the tendu leaf industry. The tendu is a tobacco-like leaf used in bidis, small Indian cigars.

Kumar had a reputation for being fiercely loyal to the poor villagers in the region, particularly those from his Kurmi caste, a group on the lower rungs of India’s complex social ladder and one of the most downtrodden in the area in which he operated.

He would share some of his loot with them, paying for weddings and helping with medical bills in times of need. In return, they would provide him food and shelter and tip him off when police were coming, enabling him to slip away into the safety of the forests and ravines.

Kumar also had powerful political patrons in the area who shielded him from overzealous police.

“His words were diktat in ravines,” said Ramesh Sharma, who heads an aid group in Chitrakoot. “People used to vote for candidates supported by Dadua, and therefore political parties preferred not to rub Dadua on the wrong side.”

Became a political enemy
It was his interest in politics that led to his downfall. He had backed the ruling party in recent state elections, even backing his brother as a candidate, but lost both times. When the new party swept to power in May, police were given orders to hunt him down, said S.K. Mishra, a top officer in the police special task force.

A squad of 22 officers tracked him down by monitoring his mobile phone conversations, despite the face he would change SIM cards several times a day, Mishra said. They pinpointed his location Saturday night and he was shot dead after a 12-hour running gunbattle through the forests.

Late Sunday, Uttar Pradesh’s government celebrated the success of the campaign by announcing it was upping the reward and the policemen involved in the killing would share nearly $50,000.