Stones tell a story

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As K K Muhammed approached the ruins of an ancient temple complex in the Chambal ravines in Madhya Pradesh's Morena district he saw a bearded man smoking. Visibly upset, Archeological Survey of India, Bhopal Circle superintendent admonished the man for smoking in the complex. The man retorted, "We have owned these temples for centuries and will do whatever we like.' Muhammed's aide counselled caution: "Please be careful. He is Nirbhay Singh Gujjar.'

But Muhammed persisted, not wanting to waste this chance encounter with the dreaded dacoit of the Chambal Valley. "Please don't mistake the archaeological survey with the police or its informers,' Muhammed told Gujjar trying to convince him that "his institution wanted to restore temples of deities they worshipped.'

After much convincing, Gujjar saw reason and allowed the archaeological survey to start reconstruction work. He also assured Muhammed that he and his gang would keep off the site.

The Bateshwar temple ruins, near Malanpur industrial area in Morena district were a hideout for generations of dacoits. Though the archaeological survey notified it as a protected site in 1920, there was no restoration work before January 2005 because all attempts by the archaeological survey to take possession of the site was met with stiff opposition. But according to Muhammed, "The presence of dacoit gangs was actually a boon because artifacts were preserved within the temple complex.'

Archaeological survey officials recall that dacoits would keep vigil while restoration work was underway. Once in a while, a few dacoits also pitched in with labour. The presence of Gujjar's gang around the temple complex area kept the mining mafia at bay. But this was till November 2006 when the Uttar Pradesh Special Task Force killed Gujjar.

Illegal sandstone mining began soon after

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