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Saluted by rows of bhantu men and women in surprisingly clean dhotis and sarees, smiling, clapping and singing. The children appeared well fed and happy, even those destined to become murderers. They ran after us, laughing, screaming, ‘Fakir Singh! Fakir Singh!’, and I thought there could be no better testimony to the good work done by the Muktifauj and its soldiers. I do not know if a wild, untamed bhantu, whose blood is deeply suffused with crime, can ever be reformed—perhaps his soul is beyond redemption—but his criminal tendencies seem to have been curbed by Booth-Tucker’s selfless work. Decades from now, when these children have grown up to become cultivators and shopkeepers, they will perhaps recall the face of a turbaned Englishman, preaching the gospel, sharing with them the Christian values so foreign to their race.

The Muktifauj lays great stress on cleanliness—that being one way of detaching the tribals from their natural tendencies—so a cleanliness contest had been organized for the children. A slight, thin boy was declared winner.

The rapture on his face when Fakir Singh bent forward to hand him his prize
told me all I needed to know. A hundred years on, when the debates on Minto–Morley and ‘representative government’ have been laid to rest, the civilization of criminal tribes will be remembered as a shining example of benevolent governance. I do not think the bhantus—condemned to robbery and murder—understand how fortunate they are that a man named Frederick Tucker chose to come to India; neither do the hot-headed youth in Bengal, who slaughter innocents and bomb trains in the name of patriotism. If Khudiram Bose—the Kennedy assassin in Muzaffarpur—had seen the good work of the Muktifauj in Najibabad, his hands would have trembled as he threw that bomb.

NOBODY WAS WHIPPED in Najibabad Fort because the jail was owned by the Muktifauj, not the government. The sahibs wore turbans, dhotis and chappals, like banias, and their wives went about in sarees. They spoke slowly in Hindi, smiled often and never raised their voices. They rose early in the morning to work in their gardens. They visited bhantus who had Bhabar fever and told everyone to take a bath.