Paan Singh Tomar

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Paan Singh Tomar
Paan Singh Tomar.png
Personal information
Nationality British Indian (1932-1947)
 Indian (1947-1981; his death)
Born1 January 1932
Bhidosa, Tonwarghar District,[1] Northern Gwalior Division, Gwalior State, British Indian Empire
(modern-day Morena District, Madhya Pradesh, India)
Died1 October 1981 (aged 49)
Rathia Ka Pura, Bhind District, Madhya Pradesh, India
Height6 ft 1 in (1.85 m)[2]
SportTrack and field
Event(s)3000 Metres Steeplechase

Paan Singh Tomar (January 1, 1932 – October 1, 1981) was an Indian soldier, athlete, and baaghi (rebel). He served in the Indian Army, where his talent for running was discovered. He was a seven-time national steeplechase champion in the 1950s and 1960s, and represented India at the 1958 Asian Games. After a premature retirement from the army, Tomar returned to his native village. He later gained notoriety as a Chambal Valley rebel when he resorted to violence after a land feud there. In late 1981, Tomar lost his life in a shootout with hundreds of armed members of a police task force sent to capture him.[3]

Early life[edit]

Paan Singh Tomar was born in the small village of Bhidosa, near Porsa city, in a Tomar Rajput Hindu family living on banks of Chambhal River in the erstwhile Tonwarghar district of the princely state of Gwalior under the rule of the British Raj in India. Tomar's father was Eashwari Singh Tomar, whose younger brother Dayaram Singh Tomar went on to sire a branch of the Tomar family that owns most of the fertile agricultural land in and around the Bhidosa area. Tomar would later go on to murder Babbu Singh Tomar, his nephew and Dayaram Singh Tomar's grandson, in 1977 following a shady land dispute in which Tomar was cheated out of land.[4]

Army career[edit]

Tomar was a subedar (Warrant Officer) under the Bengal Engineers Regiment at Roorkee. He was a champion sportsman, a national-ranking athlete, back in the 1950s and '60s. Legend has it that his initiation into serious running came off a dispute. When Tomar had just enrolled in the army in his regiment, he got into an argument with an instructor. As punishment, Tomar was asked to run numerous laps of the parade ground. As he ran, he caught the eye of the other officers. What they saw impressed them. Soon Tomar, exempt from regular duties, was put on the special diet for army sportsmen, even enjoying other perks and benefits.[5]

Sports career[edit]

He represented India at the 1958 Asian Games in Tokyo, Japan.[6] Tomar was not interested in steeplechase running at first but discovered it in the military. He went on to be the national champion of steeplechasing for seven years. His national record of 9 minutes and 2 seconds in the 3000-meter steeplechase event remained unbroken for 10 years. He was not allowed to fight in the 1962 Sino-Indian War and Indo-Pakistani War of 1965 due to his career in sports, which ended in 1972.

After retirement[edit]

Upon retiring in 1977, Tomar returned to Bhidosa village. There arose a land dispute between him and his nephews Jandel Singh, Havaldar Singh, and Babbu Singh Tomar. Babbu Singh Tomar was a powerful landowner who owned seven licensed guns and was the then head of the 200-member extended Tomar family. To solve the dispute, a panchayat (congregational meeting) was held with the collector where Paan Singh was asked to give 3,000 to Babbu Singh Tomar and his siblings to keep his own land; Tomar obliged. However, his own nephew Balwant Singh Tomar retaliated for the duplicity. The collector promised to return in 15 days. In the meantime, Babbu Singh Tomar came to Tomar's house and assaulted his 95-year-old mother who was alone in the household at the time. Following Tomar's return, his mother commanded him to take revenge and return her izzat (honor) by the morning if he was truly her son. Balwant and Tomar went to the fields armed where they espied Babbu Singh. Tomar then vigorously opened fire on Babbu Singh, who continued to run for about a kilometer before he collapsed despite being shot several times. Tomar would later give an interview with a local newspaper in Gwalior which may have prompted the administration to start taking his case seriously, considering this an act of defiance. At that time, there was a price of 10,000 on his head. As per the interview, he did not want to kill the eight villagers whose family tip-off led to the killing of his elder brother Matadin Singh Tomar, who initially sold the land to Babbu Singh Tomar, setting off the dispute. But he could not stop his nephew Balwant, who was Matadin's son. During the entire interview, he toyed with a bullet.

Death of Paan Singh Tomar[edit]

On October 1, 1981, the Circle Inspector Mahendra Pratap Singh Chauhan and his special task force of 500 gendarmes cornered and shot dead Tomar. 14 other members of his crew were also killed. The standoff and gunfight lasted over 12 hours. Chauhan had been tipped off about Tomar's arrival by Motiram Jatav, one of the village Dalits who was angered by Tomar's discriminatory attitude.[7][8]

According to newspaper reports, Tomar was shot when he was alive and was asking for water: "Any Rajput here who could please give me some water?"; Hawaldar Tribhuwan Singh started walking towards Tomar with some water but Circle Inspector Chauhan shouted at him: "Tribhuwan, dacoits have no caste." And he was left to die.

Family members of Paan Singh's family[edit]

Paan Singh's son, Souram Singh Tomar (b. 1959) is a retired Indian Army subedar (captain) who lives in Babina in the Jhansi District of Uttar Pradesh. He moved there to flee the violence in Bhidosa.[9]

In popular culture[edit]

A biographic film, Paan Singh Tomar, released in 2012 to much critical acclaim. It was written by Sanjay Chouhan and directed by Tigmanshu Dhulia. It starred Irrfan Khan as Paan Singh Tomar, and Mahie Gill as his wife.

On 18 March 2013, actor Irrfan Khan received the Best Actor Award for 'Paan Singh Tomar' at the India National Film Awards. The award citation reads, "A unique delineation of a transformation of an international sportsperson to a dacoit. A difficult role very convincingly played. A well-calibrated performance that was masked by remarkably subtle underplay."[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Mention of Tonwarghar District - Imperial Gazetteer Article
  2. ^ "Paan Singh Tomar". Who was this man?. Retrieved 3 March 2012.
  3. ^ "Betrayal, caste haunt village where Paan Singh Tomar was killed". Retrieved 2016-03-20.
  4. ^ "Paan Singh. Tomar". Who was this man?. Retrieved 10 January 2019.
  5. ^ "Who was this man?". Bennett, Coleman & Co. Ltd. Retrieved 1 March 2015.
  6. ^ "From the king of the track to the ruler of the ravines – Times of India". The Times of India. Retrieved 2016-03-20.
  7. ^ Mukherjee, Arindam. "The Last Moments of Paana". Open Magazine. Retrieved 31 March 2012.
  8. ^ Betrayal of Paan Singh Haunts Dalit Community of Rathiyan Ka Pura To This Day - By Hindustan Times
  9. ^ Tomar Shruti (23 March 2012). "The police create dacoits in Chambal: Paan Singh Tomar's son". Hindustan Times. Retrieved 6 May 2014.
  10. ^ "List of Awards Announced in various categories for the 60th National Film Awards" (PDF).