Nirmala is a primary school teacher in the Rajiv Gandhi Shiksha Mission for universal education, in Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh. Every day at 11.30 am, her husband Malkhan Singh, drops her to the school in an autorickshaw. In the evening, at 4 pm, he is there to pick her up as well. Slung across his shoulders at all times, is a rifle during these rides.

So, what is so unusual about this couple?

The School Teacher and the Dacoit [Illustration by Sudheer Nath]
The School Teacher and the Dacoit [Illustration by Sudheer Nath]

The answer is their past. Rather, his past.

Twenty years ago, Malkhan Singh was a feared dacoit who led a gang of 80 men to rob and kill people in the Chambal valley, in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. Before becoming a dacoit he had been the village head or sarpanch from Bilao — his village in Bhind. Revenge had driven him to the other side of the law. Soon, he was carrying a reward of Rs. 200,000 on his head.

Nirmala was a college girl whose cousin Kokh Singh was a member of Malkhan’s gang. “My aunt always sent me with goodies and foodstuff for him whenever we got news that the gang was nearby,” says Nirmala. And that was how they met.

In 1984, Malkhan and his men laid down their arms in surrender and took the first step towards leading a law-abiding life. It was in jail that Malkhan decided to marry Nirmala. His first wife had died a little while ago.

The two waited a year before getting married on April 17, 1985. Malkhan spent the next five years in Gwalior Special Jail where Nirmala went to visit him everyday.

Today Malkhan is a changed man. He stood as a candidate in one election and failed. But he is happier than ever before. “I have a home, settled children and an educated teacher wife,” he says.

314 words | 3 minutes
Readability: Grade 6 (11-12 year old children)
Based on Flesch–Kincaid readability scores

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