The Punjabi Robin Hood

There is a need to revisit and de-colonise Punjab’s history

The Punjabi Robin Hood


fter colonising the Indian subcontinent, the British took several measures to strengthen their rule. One of the most important measures was the colonisation of the local history. The foreign usurpers launched this project for their nefarious designs, i.e. in an attempt to paint local heroes, freedom fighters and those who either challenged or resisted the usurper and oppressor state as traitors, dacoits and bandits.

For instance, those who resisted the British invasion of the Indian subcontinent or raised their voices against British cruelty and oppression, were often branded as traitors or dacoits. Interestingly, those who had nothing to do with the colonial era, belonging to precolonial era, were also dubbed betrayers or renegades because they were considered symbols of resistance against the state by the locals.

This deliberate colonisation of Indian history has been creating confusion among the locals. Many of them have found it hard to differentiate between national heroes and traitors/ dacoits/ rebels.

Sher Khan, popularly known as Malangi, is one of the historic characters who were treated unjustly in colonial history writing. Malangi had a Robin Hood-like reputation. He would plunder the wealthy and the corrupt and distribute the wealth among the poor and the marginalised. His adventurous life and deeds have been immortalised in numerous Punjabi folk songs, popularly known as Malangi songs. Malangi, who had been portrayed as a renegade by the
colonisers, was a captivating figure in the cultural history of the Punjab.

Accounts of his journey from Sher Khan to Malangi are contested and opinions about him are diverse and divided. According to one narrative, Sher Khan used to live in a village known as Lakho located in the present-day Kasur district. His father passed away when he was just six months old. The influential feudal lords of his area grabbed the land Sher Khan was to inherit. Malangi’s mother, who was helpless after the death of her husband, married a Sikh despite being a Muslim herself. When Malangi realised that the landlords of his village had appropriated his land, he attempted to reclaim it. The landlords, who were British-appointed lumberdars (village headmen), managed to isolate Malangi in the local community. He was declared a dacoit.

Another narrative suggests that Malangi was raised in a village called Lakho near Changa Manga. He was orphaned at an early age. Taking advantage of the situation, the feudal lord of the village took possession of the land that rightfully belonged to Malangi. After his mother’s marriage to a Sikh, Malangi was raised as a Sikh. Later, he married a Muslim woman. When Malangi, aided by his stepbrother, took back his land from the landlord, the latter used the interfaith marriages to condemn and isolate him. Malangi and his wife were expelled from the village. This led to a fierce battle between Malangi and the feudal lord. The feudal lord, who was the lumberdar of the area, also filed a murder case against Malangi. It was in these circumstances that Malangi fled from his village and became a dacoit.

Those who resisted the British invasion of the Indian subcontinent or raised their voices against British cruelty and oppression, were branded traitors or dacoits by the colonisers. 

According to another account, the lumberdar of the Lakho village was harsh and cruel. He often misbehaved with the poor in the village and deprived poor peasants of their lands. On one occasion his men misbehaved with Malangi’s sister. Responding to this, Malangi quarrelled and fought with them. During this fight, Malangi’s younger brother was killed. Malangi, his friend Harnama and his uncle were jailed despite being innocent. The lumberdar, an influential state official, used his position and contacts to put them behind bars, where Malangi’s uncle died in police custody. While Malangi and his friend were in police custody, the lumberdar’s son attacked Malangi’s house. He murdered his mother and tried to rape his sister. Malangi’s sister escaped unscathed but later committed suicide by throwing herself from the rooftop. Later on, Malangi and his friend Harnama escaped from police custody and attacked lumberdar’s house and killed him.

They took refuge in Changa Manga’s forest and joined hands with some other dacoits in the forest. They waged a war against injustices against the poor and the oppressed.

The British government set a bounty on Malangi’s head. They announced that whoever provided information about Malangi would be rewarded. One of Malangi’s friends, in whose house Malangi was hiding, informed the police about his presence to get the reward. When the police raided the house, Malangi and his friend died in the encounter.

The Punjab has a folk tradition of recognizing the role of dacoits such as Malangi, who defied the contemporary authorities and sided with the ordinary people, including the deprived and the downtrodden. Other well-known Punjabi Robin Hoods were Nizam Lohar, Imam Din Gohavia and Jagga Jatt. Folk songs about the bravery of these dacoits are sung even today. One song reflecting the prominence of Malangi goes like this: Din nun raj Firangi da, Raati raj Malangi da (Whereas the British rule during the day, it is Malangi who governs the night).

Malangi was viewed as a hero in local history, Punjabi folk songs and decolonised history but recorded as a renegade in colonised history.

Dr Mazhar Abbas is a lecturer at GCU, Faisalabad, and a research fellow at PIDE, Islamabad. He can be contacted at He tweets at @MazharGondal87

Muhammad Yasin Shafique is an M Phil student in History at GCU, Faisalabad.

The Punjabi Robin Hood