Never take life seriously. Nobody gets out alive anyway.

Phoolan Devi

Phoolan Devi

Born 10 August 1963
Gorha Ka Purwa, Uttar Pradesh, India
Died 25 July 2001 (aged 37), New Delhi, India
Occupation Dacoit (Bandit), Politician
Spouse Putti Lal, Vikram, Umaid Singh

“Phoolan” stands for “flowers” and “Devi” for “God”. On contrary to her name, her life was full of agonies, ordeals & all the sufferings an Indian village woman can ever think of in her worst nightmare. The difference is- she chose to protest instead of surrendering to the mightier upper caste men who literally mistreated her to the every possible extent. For every suffering, humiliation, agony caused to her, the urge to take vengeance seemed to grow stronger.
The twist to the real life drama is- She chose to hit them back, getting rid of their pouncing claws. She didn’t give in, waited for the right time for taking vengeance and when the opportunity presented itself, she along with her men gunned down 22 upper caste thakurs. Her assailant Rana was praised by his fellow country men from the same caste. They rather considered him as an evil destroyer for the slain of phoolan and treated accordingly. Rana justified his crime saying “he took avenge of the killing of 22 thakurs by phoolan’s gang”
Tens of upper class men in the Behmai village treated her like an animal. confined her to a filthy stable. all of them raped her several times and the ordeal went on for three days in succession. that didn’t put an end to her sufferings. the upper class men dragged her out to the village ground. kicked and slapped her mercilessly and finally stripped her off and made her walk across the villages in front of hundreds of glaring eyes.
shekhar kapoor nicely depicted the same in his dream project. tens of men repeatedly raped her mercilessly. She was paraded naked in front of hundreds of villagers.cops who were supposed to protect her abused her instead. the ordeal that started from a very tender age with her marriage with Puti lal lasted for years. this led to the urge to take vengeance on the perpetrators., popularly known as “The Bandit Queen”, was an Indian dacoit and later a politician. She was notorious across India during her time as a bandit
Phoolan was born into the mallah (boatmen) caste, in the small village of Gorha ka Purwa in Uttar Pradesh, India. She was the second child in a family of four girls and a boy. Her father owned an acre of land near G.B. Road with a huge Neem tree on it. The valuable timber that could be derived from the tree was, effectively, the family’s nest egg.
When Phoolan was ten years old, her cousin, Mayadin, became the head of the family. He sent workers to cut down the Neem tree and sell the wood, intending to keep the proceeds for himself. Although her father saw no use in protest, Phoolan confronted her cousin. She taunted him, publicly called him a thief, and with her older sister staged a sit-in on his land. Even after violence against Phoolan—knocking her out with a brick—she wouldn’t relent. In an effort to rid himself of the little nuisance, Mayadin arranged to have her married to a man named Putti Lal, who lived several hundred miles away. Putti Lal was in his thirties; Phoolan was eleven.Devi claimed in her autobiography that he was a man of “very bad character”.
There are conflicting reports as to the events of Phoolan’s life after this point.
Some accounts say that she feared her husband and refused to live with him. He was already married, so Phoolan was relegated to household labour. Miserable, she ran away to her village, much to the horror of her family. A wife leaving her husband was a serious taboo. Phoolan’s mother, Moola, was so ashamed that she told her daughter to go to jump in a well and kill herself.
Other accounts say her husband raped and mistreated her, but that she did not know what was happening. They further claim she became seriously ill and her father came to take her to the hospital. Her parents publicly declared the marriage ended in front of the villagers. She did not see her husband for two years, until she was 13. This account claims he then came and took her back to his house where he was living with his “second wife”, an older woman. The “second wife” beat Phoolan and treated her like a slave, restricted Phoolan’s food, and made her sleep in the cow-shed. Eventually, the husband decided to take Phoolan back to her village and family.
In any respect, it came about that Phoolan’s marriage ended and she was marked as a social outcast; even her family rejected her. Returning to Gorha ka Purwa, Phoolan continued to challenge Mayadin. She took him to court for unlawfully holding her father’s land. During court proceedings, she seldom controlled her emotions. Her dramatic outbursts often left the courtroom stunned.
In 1979, Mayadin accused Phoolan of stealing from his house. She denied the accusation, but the police arrested her anyway. In those three days in jail, she was beaten and raped repeatedly by the police, then left in a rat-infested cell. She knew that her cousin was behind the injustice against her. The experience broke her body but ignited her hatred for men who routinely denigrated women. When released from prison, she was further shunned by her village and her family.

As a dacoit

In 1979, a gang of dacoits abducted Phoolan. The gang leader, Baboo Gujjar, who was an upper-caste Gujjar, wanted to rape her. However, she was protected by Vikram, the deputy leader of the gang who belonged to Phoolan’s caste, Mallah. One night when Baboo attempted to rape Phoolan, Vikram killed him and assumed the gang leadership. Phoolan became Vikram’s second wife. The gang ransacked the village where Phoolan’s husband lived. Phoolan stabbed her estranged husband, and dragged him in front of the villagers. The gang left him lying almost dead by the road, with a note as a warning for older men who marry young girls.
Phoolan Devi learned how to use a rifle from Vikram, and participated in the gang’s activities, which consisted of ransacking high-caste villages and kidnapping upper-caste landowners for ransom. After every crime, Phoolan Devi would visit a Durga temple and thank the goddess for her protection.The gang hid out in the Chambal ravine.
Later, Shri Ram got out of jail and claimed the leadership of the gang. He belonged to the Thakur caste, and would make sexual advances towards Phoolan. This led to tensions between Shri Ram and Vikram, who made him apologize to Phoolan. When the gang would ransack a village, Shri Ram would beat and insult the Mallahs. This displeased the Mallahs in the gang, many of whom left the gang. When Shri Ram got a dozen Thakurs to join the gang, Vikram suggested the gang be divided into two, but Shri Ram refused. Shortly afterwards, Shri Ram and other Thakur members in the gang attempted to kill Phoolan and Vikram, who managed to escape. However, later they successfully killed Vikram Mallah, abducted Phoolan and locked her up in the Behmai village.Phoolan Devi was raped by many men in Behmai. After three weeks, she managed to escape with two other Mallahs from Vikram’s gang, helped by a lower-caste villager. She gathered a gang of Mallahs, that she led with Man Singh, a member of Vikram’s former gang. The gang carried out a series of violent robberies in north and central India, mainly targeting upper-caste people. Some say that Phoolan Devi targeted only the upper-caste people and shared the loot with the lower-caste people, but the Indian authorities insist this is a myth.
Seventeen months after her escape from Behmai, Phoolan returned to the village, to take her revenge. On 14 February 1981, Phoolan and her gang marched into the Behmai village, dressed as police officers. The Thakurs in the village were preparing for a wedding. The gang demanded that her kidnappers be produced, along with all the valuables in the village. Details of what exactly happened are not available, but Phoolan is said to have recognized two men who earlier had sexually assaulted her and murdered her lover. When Phoolan’s gang failed to find all the kidnappers after an exhaustive search, she ordered her gang members to line up all the Thakur men in the village and shoot them. The dacoits opened fire and killed twenty-two Thakur men, most of whom were not involved in her kidnapping or rape. Later, Phoolan Devi claimed that she herself didn’t kill anybody in Behmai – all the killings were carried out by her gang members.
The Behmai massacre was followed by a massive police manhunt that failed to locate Phoolan Devi. V. P. Singh, the then Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, resigned in the wake of the Behmai killings.Phoolan Devi began to be called the Bandit Queen. Dolls of Phoolan Devi dressed as Hindu goddess Durga were sold in market towns in Uttar Pradesh. She was glorified by much of the Indian media
Surrender and jail term

Two years after the Behmai massacre the police had still not captured Phoolan Devi. The Indira Gandhi Government decided to negotiate a surrender. By this time, Phoolan Devi was in poor health and most of her gang members were dead. In February 1983, she agreed to surrender to the authorities. However, she said that she didn’t trust the Uttar Pradesh police and insisted that she would only surrender to the Madhya Pradesh Police. She also insisted that she would lay down her arms only before Mahatma Gandhi’s picture and Goddess Durga, and not to the police.She also required the following conditions:
he would not get the death penalty
Her gang members should not get more than eight years in jail
Her brother should be given a government job
Her father should receive a plot of land
Her entire family should be escorted by the police to her surrender ceremony
An unarmed police chief met her at a hiding place in the Chambal ravines. They walked their way to Bhind, where she laid her rifle before the portraits of Gandhi and Goddess Durga. The onlookers included a crowd of around 10,000 people and 300 police officer and the then chief minister of Madhya Pradesh, Mr. Arjun Singh. Three hundred police were waiting to arrest her and other members of her gang who surrendered at the same time.
Phoolan Devi was charged with 48 crimes, including thirty charges of dacoity (banditry) and kidnapping. Her trial was delayed for eleven years, which she served in the prison. During this period, she was operated on for ovarian cysts and ended up with an involuntary hysterectomy.She was finally released on parole in 1994. Then she launched Eklavya Sena, a group that was aimed at teaching lower-caste people the art of self-defense. She married Umaid Singh, her sister’s husband and a New Delhi business contractor.
Popular culture

Shekhar Kapur made a movie Bandit Queen (1994) about Phoolan Devi’s life up to her 1983 surrender. Although Phoolan Devi is a heroine in the film, she fiercely disputed its accuracy and fought to get it banned in India. She even threatened to immolate herself outside a theater if the film were not withdrawn. Eventually, she settled a suit against the filmmakers for about $60,000. The film brought her international recognition. At this time, she was re-indicted for murder and other charges. Though she was illiterate, Phoolan composed her autobiography titled The Bandit Queen of India: An Indian Woman’s Amazing Journey From Peasant to International Legend, with help of two international authors, Marie-Therese Cuny and Paul Rambali.
Star Shakur has referred to herself as being a “Bandit Queen” once in a Youth Rebel Movement inspired and acknowledged by the movie and story of Phoolan Devi. Star Shakur’s alias and first EP Album entitled “The Bandit Queen” was named after this movie.
Phoolan Devi is the subject of the Boxcar Satan song Shoot Down The Sun from their 2003 album Upstanding and Indigent.
Political career

In 1996, Phoolan Devi ran for a seat in the Lok Sabha as a Samajwadi Party candidate and was elected. She was re-elected in 1999.In a 1999 interview, she explained her political objectives, stating, “My main goal is that things that only the rich and privileged have enjoyed until now should also be given to the poor: for example, drinking water, electricity, schools and hospitals… I’d like there to be seats reserved for women in government posts. Women should be educated in schools. And people should not be forcing them to get married at a very young age…the most important thing is equality. So that people can get employment, they can get proper food and drink, and also to be educated. And especially women – now they are really treated very lowly, like shoes! They should be treated on an equal basis. And like other countries that have progressed and have comforts, I also want my country and people to progress that way.”During her election campaign, she was criticized by the women widowed in the Behmai massacre. Kshatriya Swabhimaan Andolan Samanvay Committee (KSASC), a Kshatriya organization, held a statewide campaign to protest against her.
Some people[who?] thought she proved ineffective as an MP.She got a train stopped at unscheduled stops to meet her acquaintances in Uttar Pradesh. The railway minister, Ram Vilas Paswan played down the train incident and ordered only a nominal enquiry. Once, she visited the Gwalior jail (where she was imprisoned) to meet her former inmates. When the jail officers didn’t let her in due to the visiting hours rules, she abused them. Later, a suspension order was issued against the jail officials involved in the incident, without any explanation.[4]
In 1998, Phoolan Devi claimed she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by some members of the British Parliament.[9] She lost a bid for reelection in 1998, but was returned to office the following year.
Assassination

On 25 July 2001, Phoolan Devi was fatally shot as she got out of her car at the gate of her New Delhi residence. The assailants also wounded her bodyguard and escaped in an auto rickshaw.
Sher Singh Rana, Dheeraj Rana, and Rajbir were accused of the crime. Sher Singh Rana allegedly surrendered in Dehradun. He confessed to the murder, saying he was avenging the deaths of 22 Kshatriyas at Behmai. He escaped from Tihar Jail in 2004, but was captured in April 2006 from Kolkata and sent to Rohini Jail, Delhi. The same year, the KSASC decided to honor Rana for “upholding the dignity of the Kshatriya community” and “drying the tears of the widows of Behmai”.
On 19 January 2007, Balender Singh, Phoolan’s bodyguard who had been witness to the shooting, identified Dheeraj and Sher Singh as the people who had fired on him and Phoolan respectively. Balender Singh was cross-examined on 2 February 2007.
Books on Phoolan Devi

Devi: The Bandit Queen, by Richard Shears, Isobelle Gidley. Published by Allen & Unwin, 1984. ISBN 0049200976.
India’s Bandit Queen: The True Story of Phoolan Devi, by Mala Sen. Published by Pandora, 1993. ISBN .
I, Phoolan Devi: The Autobiography of India’s Bandit Queen, by Phoolan Devi, Marie-Thérèse Cuny, Paul Rambali. Published by Little, Brown and Co., 1996. ISBN 0316879606.
Moxham, Roy (3 June 2010). Outlaw: India’s Bandit Queen and Me. Rider. ISBN 9781846041822.
Phoolan Devi, with Marie-Therese Cuny, and Paul Rambali, “The Bandit Queen of India: An Indian Woman’s Amazing Journey from Peasant to International Legend” Guilford, Connecticut: The Lyons Press, 2006 ISBN 978-1-59228-641-6 Notes: (1) Copyright 2003 by Robert Laffont. First Lyons Press paperback 1st edition (1 August 2006) (3) The Lyons Press An imprint of The Globe Pequot Press.

The end of Phoolan Devi
Bullets silence a dacoit-turned political fighter.

WHEN she was alive, Phoolan Devi had a larger-than-life image – of a victim of caste oppression and gender exploitation who fought back first by resorting to acts of gory revenge and later by moving on to the political plain. After her death, this image is sought to be metamorphosed into that of a phenomenal leader who waged a persistent struggle in the cause of the weak and the downtrodden, with a never-say-die spirit. The uncanny closeness of her sudden and gory death to the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections and Chief Minister Rajnath Singh’s announcement of a system of “quota within quota” (story on page 39) for the most backward castes (MBCs) will ensure that her image is kept alive for long in the political arena of Uttar Pradesh. Her life and the manner of her death have the makings of a myth.

Interestingly, as a member of the Lok Sabha Phoolan always jumped to the defence of her mentor Mulayam Singh Yadav whenever he was attacked by his rivals, mainly Bharatiya Janata Party members. She would try to shout them down. In death too, Phoolan seemed to have come to the rescue of the Samajwadi Party (S.P.) leader at a time when he was finding it difficult to counter Rajnath Singh’s MBC “brahmastra”. Phoolan belonged to the Malha community, one of the most backward castes among the Other Backward Classes (OBCs), which constitutes 7 per cent of the OBC population. Now Mulayam Singh can turn around and say that while Rajnath Singh talked about the welfare of the MBCs, in reality he was getting them killed. S.P. leaders have been making this allegation.

It is certain the S.P. will ensure that Phoolan’s killing in broad daylight in the high-security area in the national capital on July 25 will continue to haunt U.P. politics at least until the Assembly elections are over. The fact that the killing took place a few yards from Rajnath Singh’s residence on Ashoka Road and that his guards looked away when the shots were fired would only help the S.P.’s efforts. Thus, even before the details of her murder were known, the S.P. started attacking the BJP governments at the Centre and in Uttar Pradesh, accusing them of having withdrawn her security out of “caste bias”. There is, however, little evidence to show either that her security had been scaled down or that she had ever asked for more security.

Party general secretary Amar Singh blamed Home Minister L.K. Advani and Rajnath Singh for the murder. S.P. workers in New Delhi and Lucknow raised slogans like “Rajnath hatyara hai, ati pichhdon ko maara hai” (Rajnath is a killer, he has killed one from the most backward castes). Mulayam Singh Yadav forced Phoolan’s family members to conduct her cremation in Mirzapur, the Lok Sabha constituency in eastern Uttar Pradesh that she represented. Her body was taken by road from Varanasi to Mirzapur, although the plane that carried it to Varanasi could have landed in Mirzapur. The BJP draws its strength from eastern Uttar Pradesh, and Rajnath Singh and State BJP president Kalraj Mishra belong to this part of the State.

From the Chambal ravines, Phoolan had indeed come a long way, fighting every inch of it. The images of a diminutive woman in trousers, with a shawl thrown carelessly around her shoulders, a red bandana on her head, and an oversized gun in her hands at the time of her surrender to the Madhya Pradesh government in 1983 leave one wondering how she rose to become a people’s representative, fight for the rights of the oppressed, and create a niche for herself in the world of politics dominated by men. But she did it. She got elected to the Lok Sabha twice in the face of adversity. Her physical presence may not have created ripples in the caste politics of U.P. as the elections approach, but her death will certainly do that.

The S.P.’s attempt to draw political mileage from Phoolan’s death only serves to highlight the course U.P. politics has taken since the V.P. Singh government at the Centre decided to implement the Mandal Commission’s recommendations on reservations. Mulayam Singh Yadav’s decision to field Phoolan in Mirzapur in 1996 was primarily driven by considerations of caste arithmetic. The constituency has a significant population of Thakurs, besides Malhas and Julahas (weavers). His calculation was that if the Malhas and the Julahas got together, it was not difficult to beat the Thakurs. He was right. Phoolan, despite her background as a bandit, won the election with a convincing margin. After all, who could have symbolised the oppression unleashed by Thakurs in rural U.P. better than Phoolan, who was driven into the Chambal ravines by her traumatic experiences? She won despite the “vidhwa rath” (widow chariot) taken out by the widows of 20 Thakurs killed by her at Behmai in February 1981 and the propaganda by the BJP candidate who highlighted Phoolan’s lack of education, her violent past and the fact that she faced 48 criminal cases, including for 22 murder charges.

Phoolan lost the next round of parliamentary elections in 1998. But she bounced back to win in 1999, owing mainly to her rapport with her constituents and the hard work that she had put in as an MP. She came to be viewed as a saviour by many in her constituency, which was evident from the almost perpetual throng of supporters at her Ashoka Road residence. Her grieving supporters said after her death that nobody ever went back empty-handed from her house.

During the winter session of Parliament she was seen leading a group of supporters to Parliament House. She said: “They should see the proceedings. Then only would they understand how hard we fight for them. Then only would they understand the meaning of democracy.”

The scanty details revealed by Pankaj alias Sher Singh Rana, the prime suspect in the case, indicated that the motive for the murder was personal rather than political. Pankaj, who was arrested at Dehra Dun on July 27, said that he killed Phoolan to avenge the 1981 massacre of Thakurs at Behmai. The Delhi Police, however, was looking at the possible involvement of her husband Ummed Singh, owing to property disputes and her threat to leave him out of her will. Besides, the police were also examining whether Phoolan’s turbulent marriage with Ummed and the involvement of Uma Kashyap, an associate of Phoolan, in the matter had something to do with the murder. On the day of the murder, Uma Kashyap was said to have reached Delhi in a car that Pankaj drove from Roorkee. She was reportedly in Phoolan’s house at the time of the murder.

The murder has put the Centre in the dock as far as the question of security of VIPs is concerned. VIP security has been a topic of discussion ever since the assassination of Indira Gandhi. The killers pumped bullets into Phoolan from a point-blank range, drove away in a car, abandoned it a little distance away, took an autorickshaw to the Inter State Bus Terminus, and allegedly boarded a bus to Dehra Dun. In short, they literally got away with murder in a high-security region. The spot of the crime is barely a kilometre from Parliament House and the Parliament Street Police Station.
The end of Phoolan Devi
Bullets silence a dacoit-turned political fighter.

PURNIMA S. TRIPATHI
in New Delhi

WHEN she was alive, Phoolan Devi had a larger-than-life image – of a victim of caste oppression and gender exploitation who fought back first by resorting to acts of gory revenge and later by moving on to the political plain. After her death, this image is sought to be metamorphosed into that of a phenomenal leader who waged a persistent struggle in the cause of the weak and the downtrodden, with a never-say-die spirit. The uncanny closeness of her sudden and gory death to the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections and Chief Minister Rajnath Singh’s announcement of a system of “quota within quota” (story on page 39) for the most backward castes (MBCs) will ensure that her image is kept alive for long in the political arena of Uttar Pradesh. Her life and the manner of her death have the makings of a myth.

Interestingly, as a member of the Lok Sabha Phoolan always jumped to the defence of her mentor Mulayam Singh Yadav whenever he was attacked by his rivals, mainly Bharatiya Janata Party members. She would try to shout them down. In death too, Phoolan seemed to have come to the rescue of the Samajwadi Party (S.P.) leader at a time when he was finding it difficult to counter Rajnath Singh’s MBC “brahmastra”. Phoolan belonged to the Malha community, one of the most backward castes among the Other Backward Classes (OBCs), which constitutes 7 per cent of the OBC population. Now Mulayam Singh can turn around and say that while Rajnath Singh talked about the welfare of the MBCs, in reality he was getting them killed. S.P. leaders have been making this allegation.

It is certain the S.P. will ensure that Phoolan’s killing in broad daylight in the high-security area in the national capital on July 25 will continue to haunt U.P. politics at least until the Assembly elections are over. The fact that the killing took place a few yards from Rajnath Singh’s residence on Ashoka Road and that his guards looked away when the shots were fired would only help the S.P.’s efforts. Thus, even before the details of her murder were known, the S.P. started attacking the BJP governments at the Centre and in Uttar Pradesh, accusing them of having withdrawn her security out of “caste bias”. There is, however, little evidence to show either that her security had been scaled down or that she had ever asked for more security.

Party general secretary Amar Singh blamed Home Minister L.K. Advani and Rajnath Singh for the murder. S.P. workers in New Delhi and Lucknow raised slogans like “Rajnath hatyara hai, ati pichhdon ko maara hai” (Rajnath is a killer, he has killed one from the most backward castes). Mulayam Singh Yadav forced Phoolan’s family members to conduct her cremation in Mirzapur, the Lok Sabha constituency in eastern Uttar Pradesh that she represented. Her body was taken by road from Varanasi to Mirzapur, although the plane that carried it to Varanasi could have landed in Mirzapur. The BJP draws its strength from eastern Uttar Pradesh, and Rajnath Singh and State BJP president Kalraj Mishra belong to this part of the State.

From the Chambal ravines, Phoolan had indeed come a long way, fighting every inch of it. The images of a diminutive woman in trousers, with a shawl thrown carelessly around her shoulders, a red bandana on her head, and an oversized gun in her hands at the time of her surrender to the Madhya Pradesh government in 1983 leave one wondering how she rose to become a people’s representative, fight for the rights of the oppressed, and create a niche for herself in the world of politics dominated by men. But she did it. She got elected to the Lok Sabha twice in the face of adversity. Her physical presence may not have created ripples in the caste politics of U.P. as the elections approach, but her death will certainly do that.

The S.P.’s attempt to draw political mileage from Phoolan’s death only serves to highlight the course U.P. politics has taken since the V.P. Singh government at the Centre decided to implement the Mandal Commission’s recommendations on reservations. Mulayam Singh Yadav’s decision to field Phoolan in Mirzapur in 1996 was primarily driven by considerations of caste arithmetic. The constituency has a significant population of Thakurs, besides Malhas and Julahas (weavers). His calculation was that if the Malhas and the Julahas got together, it was not difficult to beat the Thakurs. He was right. Phoolan, despite her background as a bandit, won the election with a convincing margin. After all, who could have symbolised the oppression unleashed by Thakurs in rural U.P. better than Phoolan, who was driven into the Chambal ravines by her traumatic experiences? She won despite the “vidhwa rath” (widow chariot) taken out by the widows of 20 Thakurs killed by her at Behmai in February 1981 and the propaganda by the BJP candidate who highlighted Phoolan’s lack of education, her violent past and the fact that she faced 48 criminal cases, including for 22 murder charges.

Phoolan lost the next round of parliamentary elections in 1998. But she bounced back to win in 1999, owing mainly to her rapport with her constituents and the hard work that she had put in as an MP. She came to be viewed as a saviour by many in her constituency, which was evident from the almost perpetual throng of supporters at her Ashoka Road residence. Her grieving supporters said after her death that nobody ever went back empty-handed from her house.

During the winter session of Parliament she was seen leading a group of supporters to Parliament House. She said: “They should see the proceedings. Then only would they understand how hard we fight for them. Then only would they understand the meaning of democracy.”

The scanty details revealed by Pankaj alias Sher Singh Rana, the prime suspect in the case, indicated that the motive for the murder was personal rather than political. Pankaj, who was arrested at Dehra Dun on July 27, said that he killed Phoolan to avenge the 1981 massacre of Thakurs at Behmai. The Delhi Police, however, was looking at the possible involvement of her husband Ummed Singh, owing to property disputes and her threat to leave him out of her will. Besides, the police were also examining whether Phoolan’s turbulent marriage with Ummed and the involvement of Uma Kashyap, an associate of Phoolan, in the matter had something to do with the murder. On the day of the murder, Uma Kashyap was said to have reached Delhi in a car that Pankaj drove from Roorkee. She was reportedly in Phoolan’s house at the time of the murder.

The murder has put the Centre in the dock as far as the question of security of VIPs is concerned. VIP security has been a topic of discussion ever since the assassination of Indira Gandhi. The killers pumped bullets into Phoolan from a point-blank range, drove away in a car, abandoned it a little distance away, took an autorickshaw to the Inter State Bus Terminus, and allegedly boarded a bus to Dehra Dun. In short, they literally got away with murder in a high-security region. The spot of the crime is barely a kilometre from Parliament House and the Parliament Street Police Station.
Phoolan Devi, Bandit Queen
(10 August) 1963-2001 (25 July)
[Rediff’s web page on Phoolan Devi’s murder]
Was she for real? Was she a fraud? A femme fatale? A winning politician?
“Phoolan Power” MP Phoolan Devi , July 1996.
Phoolan Devi to Contest elections, May 1996.
Dalem’s BALLAD: “The day they killed Phoolan Devi” and Amrit’s POEM:”gunnin’ down the heroines”; and Mia’s poems Phoolan Devi – A tribute and To the killers of Phoolan Devi; and Roger’s The BALLAD of the Bandit Queen
A brief BIBLIOGRAPHY || And more LINKS to Phoolan Devi or Bandit Queen Web pages
A graphic * CLOSE UP (color image)
AT surrender (black and white) * AFTER surrender (black and white)
LINKS to Phoolan Devi or Bandit Queen Web pages
India’s Bandit Queen by Mary Anne Weaver – The Atlantic – Nov 96
BANDIT QUEEN – Film Details and Reviews
Review by Amy Laly (July 1995) Seattle International Examiner
Review by McAlister (22 July 1995)
Review by Madhu Kishwar Manushi SpOc 1994
Summary (Australia Aug 1995)
Review of Bandit Queen Movie (USA)
HTML of = Story of the Bandit Queen (by Molly Moore, WASHINGTON POST, 25 December 1994)
Shekhar Kapur, Director, Interviewed (London, Feb? 1995?)

July 21 – July 27
Our picks of the week’s best pictures

SLAIN BANDIT QUEEN
Mourners weep next to the coffin of India’s slain Bandit queen-turned-politician Phoolan Devi in New Delhi. Devi was shot dead by unidentified gunmen outside her official residence while returning from Parliament on Wednesday, July, 25 and will be cremated in her constituency of Mirzapur. Photographed July 26, 2001

Last Updated: Tuesday, 27 April, 2004, 11:59 GMT 12:59 UK

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Bandit Queen’s electoral factor

By Ayanjit Sen
BBC correspondent in Mirzapur, Uttar Pradesh

Phoolan Devi was one of India’s most famous outlaws
Although the biggest crowd puller in the northern Indian city of Mirzapur is no longer here, her colourful life and legacy are still much discussed.

Many people who came to vote on Monday in India’s general elections still revere the notorious ‘Bandit Queen’ – the woman who abandoned crime to become a politician, only to be gunned down by unidentified men in Delhi nearly three years ago.

They remember Phoolan Devi to be fearless, headstrong and provocative – the woman whose life was the stuff of film and fable.

“I do not know who the sitting MP is. I have not even cast my vote. I only knew the name of our MP when Phoolan Devi was here,” says Mohammed Gajanpar Hussain, a local primary school teacher.

‘Phoolan soft spot’

Local opposition party members say that the governing Samajwadi Party, which she represented, is still to an extent reaping the benefits of what they call the ‘Phoolan effect’.

“There are problems of water and electricity supplies,” says one opposition member, “and many cement, metal and pottery industries have closed down recently.

“Even the carpet industry, which is mainly concentrated in the neighbouring town of Badohi and parts of Mirzapur, is in a bad shape.

There is debate over how the “Phoolan effect” will influence the vote
“But people still have a soft corner for Phoolan and her party.”

Yet one local Samajwadi Party leader does not fully agree with this.

“Yes, she was a force to reckon with but our party has also done a lot after her death for the development of the constituency – that is why we will be voted back to power,” he says.

The party’s candidate for the election, Sharda Prasad Bind, hopes he will win in May because of development activities undertaken during the last few years.

He says they are the sort of policies that will benefit the poor and socially deprived: people who face the same harsh circumstances as did Phoolan Devi.

Born into a low caste family, she suffered sexual abuse at a young age, and joined a gang of bandits who established a reputation for violent attacks.

Caste discrimination
The 1981 killing of 22 upper caste men who had allegedly raped her turned Phoolan Devi into a household name.
Although she denied leading the killers, she surrendered to the police two years later and spent 11 years in prison without trial.In a dramatic transformation of her life, she later became an MP for the Samajwadi Party. I do not know who the sitting MP is. I have not even cast my vote. I only knew the name of our MP when Phoolan Devi was here
Mohammed Gajanpar Hussain, local primary school teacherIn Mirzapur, the struggle against caste discrimination – which she championed – seems to have affected voting calculations.
Today the Samajwadi Party mainly depends upon the votes of Muslims and backward castes but some high caste people – including Brahmins – also vote for it.

Some analysts argue that the decision of the Samajwadi Party to field Phoolan Devi as a candidate in the first place was driven more by considerations of caste arithmetic than genuine appreciation of her political talents.

But public opinion on her legacy appears to be divided.

“In our society, a woman would never dare to challenge a man but she did it. I will vote for her party because it works for people of all castes,” says Kanta, a housewife.

Others say the ‘Phoolan effect’ is dying fast.

“When she fought elections, she won by a huge margin but the gap reduced considerably in the by-elections held after her death,” says Ravi Bansal, a grocery shop owner.

He argues that Phoolan Devi may have created ripples in the region’s politics but three years after her death they are fast disappearing.

One thing though is certain: in death Phoolan Devi seems to attract as much colourful debate as she did when she was alive.

Phoolan Devi: The Bandit Queen 81
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By Rudra

Phoolan Devi on her surrender

Others get petrified on hearing her name. police of three states were desperately looking for her. Veteran film director Shekhar Kapoor directed the film Bandit Queen- a film on the life of Phoolan Devi. He did a fabulous job by depicting the incidents involving the so called banding queen in the ravines. watch the movie and you will come to see the ordeal, how she was turned out to be a bandit later. To some extent, it was exaggerated for the sake of film making.
“Phoolan Devi” stand for “goddess of flowers” in Hindi. She has been labeled as a murderer, kidnapper and self- fashioned desperado, and she was a living folk legend in India until she was assassinated outside her home in 2001.

Phoolan Devi was a remarkable character, undoubtedly who triumphed over obstacles bigger than most of us would ever face. Her life was full of ordeals. the trauma that she had to suffer even at a tender age will cause anybody to tears. Phoolan Devi was mercilessly raped by tens of upper class men. In her biography Phoolan described her first husband as ” a bad person in nature” . As her marriage brook down, she decided to avenge therefore turned to a life of law-breaking and transgression.
The cops who were supposed to protect her indulged in sexual acts instead.
Phoolan Devi became the contemporary day Robin Hood of India, a superwoman to the economically and socially lower stratus of peoples of India. According to her, she symbolized people who very much like herself, were oppressed and molested. Eventually she killed 22 men in 1981 who allegedly had raped her. She voluntarily surrendered.

After 11 years in prison, justice prevailed and charges were dropped and finally freed. Phoolan Devi stood for election and even became a “Member of Parliament” from a town in Northern India. Numerous biographies have been written. One of the good ones includes of the author Mala Sen’s Phoolan Devi. It is fantastic and an incredible read.

The tale of Phoolan Devi is mesmerizing but also upsetting. The film made about her is called the “Bandit Queen”, portrays her in an incomplete and indecisive fashion. The movie is centered on Phoolan Devi. I don’t know, conceivably the nature of Phoolan Devi was reprehensible: she was an outlaw, a brigand, a bandit, unattractive and poor. Although Phoolan Devi is depicted as a champion in the movie, she sternly disputed its accurateness and battled to get it restricted in India. Although it is violent, it is quiet a touching film.

I, Phoolan Devi: The Autobiography of India’s Bandit Queen
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The Bandit Queen of India: An Indian Woman’s Amazing Journey from Peasant to International Legend
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Bandit Queen ( Phoolan Devi ) [ NON-USA FORMAT, PAL, Reg.0 Import – Australia ]
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The surrender of Phoolan Devi and her gang. She is in the middle

Phoolan Devi, a drawing by sylvie LS on Fickr
Phoolan Devi was a famous female warrior and a rebel against the Indian social system. Therefore, the revolution of Phoolan Devi is an example set to better the social system of India. The misfortune and hard luck of the great Phoolan Devi is that she came from a poor backward background and that she was denied the dignity both in life and death. Her legacy is of a woman who suffered and someone who lost out in life. The ghost of Phoolan Devi will continue to haunt India for centuries to come.

Prime accused in Phoolan murder
case arrested
New Delhi, April 25
The Delhi police has arrested Sher Singh Rana, the prime accused in the murder case of bandit-turned-politician Phoolan Devi, from Kolkata. Rana had been arrested earlier, but he escaped from the high-security Tihar Jail here in February, 2004.
Sher Singh Rana (centre), the alleged killer of Phoolan Devi, is surrounded by Delhi policemen at a media briefing in New Delhi on Tuesday. — Tribune photo by Rajeev Tyagi
Chambal River
The Chambal River (Hindi-चम्बल) is a tributary of the Yamuna River in central India, and forms part of the greater Gangetic drainage system. The river flows north-northeast through Madhya Pradesh, running for a time through Rajasthan, then forming the boundary between Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh before turning southeast to join the Yamuna in Uttar Pradesh state [1].
It is a legendary river and finds mention in ancient scriptures. The perennial Chambal originates at Manpura, south of Mhow town, near Indore, on the south slope of the Vindhya Range in Madhya Pradesh. The Chambal and its tributaries drain the Malwa region of northwestern Madhya Pradesh, while its tributary, the Banas, which rises in the Aravalli Range, drains southeastern Rajasthan. It ends a confluence of five rivers, including the Chambal, Kwari, Yamuna, Sind, Pahuj, at Pachnada near Bhareh in Uttar Pradesh state, at the border of Bhind and Etawah districts.
The Chambal River is considered pollution free [2], and hosts an amazing riverine faunal assemblage including 2 species of crocodilians – the mugger and gharial, 8 species of freshwater turtles, smooth-coated otters, gangetic river dolphins, skimmers, black-bellied terns, sarus cranes and black-necked storks, amongst others.
The ancient name of the Chambal was Charmanvati, meaning the river on whose banks leather is dried. In ancient times, large scale Yagyas (rituals of sacrifice, performed to please the gods) used to be organized on the banks of this river, whereanimals were slaughtered and offered. According to the Mahabharata, the river water would turn red with the blood of sacrificed animals, and the skins of these animals were dried on the banks of the river. In due course of time, this river became famous as the river of ‘chamda’ (skin) and was named as Charmanvati [1].
[edit]Origin, Drainage and Mouth

The 960 km long Chambal River originates from the Singar Chouri peak in the northern slopes of the Vindhyan escarpment, 15 km West-South-West of Mhow in Indore District in Madhya Pradesh state, at an elevation of about 843 m. The river flows first in a northerly direction in Madhya Pradesh(M.P.) for a length of about 346 km and then in a generally north-easterly direction for a length of 225 km through Rajasthan. The Chambal flows for another 217 km between M.P. and Rajasthan(Raj) and further 145 km between M.P. and Uttar Pradesh(U.P.). It enters U.P. and flows for about 32 km before joining the Yamuna River in Etawah District at an elevation of 122 m, to form a part of the greater Gangetic drainage system [3].
From the source down to its junction with the Yamuna, the Chambal has a fall of about 732 m. Out of this, around 305 m is within the first 16 km reach from its source. It falls for another 195 m in the next 338 km, where it enters the gorge past the Chaurasigarh Fort. In the next 97 km of its run from the Chaurasigarh Fort to Kota city, the bed falls by another 91 m. In the rest of its 523 km run, the river passes through the flat terrain of the Malwa Plateau and later in the Gangetic Plain with an average gradient of 0.21 m/km [4].
The Chambal is a rainfed catchment and the total area drained up to its confluence with the Yamuna is 143, 219 sq. km. The Chambal drainage area resembles a rectangle up to the junction of the Parvathi and Banas Rivers with the Chambal flowing along its major axis. The Chambal Basin lies between latitudes 22° 27′ N and 27° 20′ N and longitudes 73° 20′ E and 79° 15′ E. On its sounth, east and west, the basin is bounded by the Vindhyan mountain ranges and on the north-west by the Aravallis. Below the confluence of the Parvathi and Banas, the catchment becomes narrower and elongated. In this reach, it is bounded by the Aravalli mountain ranges on the North and the Vindhyan hill range on the south [5].
The Vindhyan scarps, in the northwest, flank the left bank of the Chambal, and subsequently, is mainly drained by it. The Chambal rising within about 6 km of the Narmada river, appears as a consequent on the Mesozoic surface, superimposed on the scarps, and cuts straight through them, with subsequent tributaries on the softer shales. The River Chambal and its tributaries Kali Sindh and Parbati have formed a triangular alluvial basin, about 200-270 m above the narrow trough of the lower Chambal in Kota. It is a typical anterior-drainage pattern river, being much older than River Yamuna and Ganga, into which it eventually flows [6].
The tributaries of the Chambal include Shipra, Choti Kalisindh, Sivanna, Retam, Ansar, Kalisindh, Banas, Parbati, Seep, Kuwari, Kuno, Alnia, Mej, Chakan, Parwati, Chamla, Gambhir, Lakhunder, Khan, Bangeri, Kedel and Teelar .
According to Crawford (1969), the Chambal river valley is part of the Vindhyan system which consists of massive sandstone, slate and limestone, of perhaps pre-Cambrian age, resting on the surface of older rocks [9]. Hillocks and plateaus represent the major landforms of the Chambal valley. The Chambal basin is characterised by an undulating floodplain, gullies and ravines [10]. The Hadauti plateau in Rajasthan occurs in the upper catchment of the Chambal River to the southeast of the Mewar Plains. It occurs with the Malwa plateau in the east. Physiographically, it can be divided into Vindhyan scarp land and Deccan Lava (Malwa) plateau [11]. According to Heron (1953), the eastern pediplain, occurring between the Vindhyan plateau and the Aravalli hill range, contains a thin veneer of Quaternary sediments, reworked soil and river channel fills. Atleast two erosional surfaces can be recognised within the pediplain are the Tertiary age. The Vindhyan upland, the adjoining Chambal valley and the Indo-Gangetic alluvial tract (older alluvium) are of Pleistocene to Sub-recent age. Badland topography is a characteristic feature of the Chambal valley, whereas kankar has extensively developed in the older alluvium.
Vegetation

The area lies within the semi-arid zone of north-western India at the border of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh States [13], and the vegetation consists of ravine, thorn forest [14], a sub-type of the Northern Tropical Forests (Sub-group 6B/C2 of the revised classification of Champion & Seth, 1968). This sub-type typically occurs in less arid areas with 600-700 mm rainfall. Limited examples of Saline/Alkaline Babul Savannah (5E/8b), a type of Northern Tropical Dry Deciduous Forest, also occurs. Evergreen riparian vegetation is completely absent, with only sparse ground-cover along the severely eroded river banks and adjacent ravine lands.
The semiarid tract in Madhya Pradesh is represented by Chambal catchment extending up to Narmda and Betla Rivers. Over 1000 flowering plants have bean reported including Anogeissus latifoia, A. pendula, Tectona grandis, Lannea coromandelica, Diospyros melanoxylon, Sterculia urens, Mitragyna parviflora, Butea monosperma, Emblica officinalls, Boswellia serrata, Bridelia squamosa and Hardwickia binata. Species composition at shrub and ground layer is similar to that of semiarid regions of Gujarat. A few climbers of this area include species of Rhynchosia, Atylosia, Cocculus, Cissampelos, Ipomoea, Pergularia daemia, Pueraria tuberosa and Tinospora cordifolia [17].
Thorny bushes or small trees commonly found in this area include Capparis deciduas, Capparis sepiaria, Balanites aegyptiaca, Acacia senegal, A. nilotica, A. leucophloea, Prosopis juliflora, Butea monosperma, Maytenus emarginata, Tamarix sp., Salvadora persica, S. oleoides, Crotalaria medicaginea, C. burhia, Clerodendrum phlomidis, Calotropis procera, Xanthium indicum and Leptadenia pyrotechnica associated with climbers such as Maerua oblongifolia, Pergularia daemia, Ceropegia bulbosa, herbs e.g., Argemone mexicana, Farsetia hamiltonii, Tephrosia purpurea, Cleome viscosa, Tribulus terrestris, Glinus lotoides, Sericostoma pauciflorum, Rivea sp., Ipomoea sp., Pedalium murex, Sesamum mulayanum, Lepidagathis sp, Boerhavia diffusa, Chrozophora sp., and grasses like Cyprus sp., Fimbristylis sp., Brachiaria sp., Cenchrus sp., Dichanthium sp., etc.
National Chambal Sanctuary

The National Chambal Sanctuary lies between 24°55′ to 26°50′ N and 75°34′ to 79°18′E. It consists of the large arc described by the Chambal between Jawahar Sagar Dam in Rajasthan and the Chambal-Yamuna confluence in Uttar Pradesh. Over this arc, two stretches of the Chambal are protected as the National Chambal Sanctuary status – the upper sector, extending from Jawahar Sagar Dam to Kota Barrage, and the lower sector, extending from Keshoraipatan in Rajasthan to the Chambal-Yamuna confluence in Uttar Pradesh.
The sanctuary was gazetted ‘in order to facilitate the restoration to “ecological health” of a major north Indian river system and provide full protection for the gravely endangered gharial (Gavialis gangeticus)
Dams on the Chambal

In a stretch of 96 km, from km 344 to km 440 from its source, the Chambal flows through a deep gorge, while lower down, there are wide plains. The Gandhisagar Dam is located near the center of this reach. As there is a deep gorge immediately upstream of the dam, the reservoir has a large storage capacity despite its comparatively low height. For the next 48 km, the river flows through the Kundal Plateau, and the Rana Pratap Sagar Dam is constructed at the lower end of this reach, about 1.6 km upstream of Chulia Falls. Again, the topography permits fairly good storage upstream of the dam. Further down, the Jawahar Sagar Dam is located in the middle of the Kota gorge. The Kota Barrage is located near Kota town, where the river where the river emerges from the gorge section into the plateau. The total area draining the Kota Barrage is 27,319 sq km.
The Chambal River is utilized for hydropower generation at Gandhi Sagar dam, Rana Pratap Sagar dam and Jawahar Sagar Dam and for annual irrigation of 5668.01 square kilometres in the commands of the right main canal and the left main canal of the Kota Barrage.
The Gandhi Sagar dam is the first of the four dams built on the Chambal River, located on the Rajasthan-Madhya Pradesh border. It is a 64 metre high masonry gravity dam, with a live storage capacity of 6,920 Mm³ and a catchment area of 22,584 km², of which only 1,537 km² is in Rajasthan. The dam was completed in the year 1960. The hydro-power station comprises five generating units of 23 MW capacity each. The water released after power generation is utilised for irrigation through Kota Barrage.
The Rana Pratap Sagar dam is a dam located 52 km downstream of Gandhi Sagar dam on across the Chambal River near Rawatbhata in Chittorgarh district in Rajasthan. It was completed in the year 1970 and it is the second in the series of Chambal Valley Projects. It is 54 meters high. The power house is located on the left side of the spillway and consists of 4 units of 43 MW each, with firm power generation of 90 MW at 60% load factor. The total catchment area of this dam is 24,864 km², of which only 956 km² are in Rajasthan. The free catchment area below Gandhi Sagar dam is 2,280 km². The live storage capacity is 1,566 Mm3 .
The Jawahar Sagar dam is the third dam in the series of Chambal Valley Projects, located 29 km upstream of Kota city and 26 km downstream of Rana Pratap Sagar dam. It is a concrete gravity dam, 45 meter high and 393 m long, generating 60 MW of power with an installed capacity of 3 units of 33 MW. The work was completed in 1972. The total catchment area of the dam is 27,195 km², of which only 1,496 km² are in Rajasthan. The free catchment area below Rana Pratap Sagar dam is 2,331 km² [25].
The Kota Barrage is the fourth in the series of Chambal Valley Projects, located about 0.8 km upstream of Kota City in Rajasthan. Water released after power generation at Gandhi Sagar dam, Rana Pratap Sagar dam and Jawahar Sagar Dams, is diverted by Kota Barrage for irrigation in Rajasthan and in Madhya Pradesh through canals on the left and the right sides of the river. The work on this dam was completed in 1960. The total catchment area of Kota Barrage is 27,332 km², of which the free catchment area below Jawahar Sagar Dam is just 137 km². The live storage is 99 Mm³. It is an earthfill dam with a concrete spillway. The right and left main canals have a headworks discharge capacity of 188 and 42 m³/sec, respectively. The total length of the main canals, branches and distribution system is about 2,342 km, serving an area of 2,290 km² of CCA. The Barrage operates 18 gates to control flow of flood and canal water downstream, and serves as bridge between parts of Kota on both side of the river.
Dacoits

The Chambal ravine or ‘beehad’ (Hindi-बीहड़) has harbored dacoits (bandits) for centuries. One of the famous dacoits was Phoolan Devi, who terrorised the entire Chambal valley.

She was born in India to the lowest caste, a group with few rights and even fewer prospects. Enduring cruel poverty, Phoolan Devi survived the humiliation of an abusive marriage, the savage killing of her bandit-lover and horrifying gang rape to claim retribution for herself and all low-caste women of the Indian plains. In a three-year campaign that rocked the government, she delivered justice to rape victims and stole from the rich to give to the poor, before negotiating surrender on her own terms. Throughout her years of imprisonment without trial, Phoolan Devi remained a beacon of hope for the poor and the downtrodden. In 1996, amidst both popular support and media controversy, she was elected to the Parliament.

On July 25th, 2001, Phoolan Devi was shot dead in Delhi. The identity of her killers is unknown, but it is thought that they may include relatives of villagers killed by her gang nearly twenty years ago. For over a decade millions have found the power and scope of Phoolan Devi’s myth irresistible. Now she finally tells the story of her life through her eyes and in her own voice.
Truth may be stranger than fiction, but in this autobiography it is difficult to make out what is truth and what is fiction. Purportedly, this work represents the memoirs of an unlettered, teenaged Indian woman who, despite numerous adversities nearly always emanating from men, became the leader of her own gang of robbers, apparently in the 1980s, and was eventually elected to Parliament. Without an intellectual framework to validate the narrative, Marie-Therese Cuny and Paul Rambali have fashioned a storyline of a pretty, effective, female Robin Hood who roamed the villages of central India distributing her stolen riches and executing a vigilante justice on men ostensibly guilty of rape. Of course, it was not her intention to become a robber, but she was kidnapped by a gang of robbers and retained her associations with them when she married the gang’s leader. The tale is not without merit; it reads well and would nicely fill the hours of a long flight. Likewise, it has strong cinematic possibilities. But throughout Devi’s story, her mantra is “never trust anyone,” and in that spirit readers should not trust a story whose coauthors could have helped its credibility with a 20-page introduction. Recommended for its recreational value to public libraries.-John F. Riddick, Central Michigan Univ. Lib., Mt. Pleasant
A female Robin Hood, a modern day Count of Monte Cristo – Phoolan Devi, the notorious Bandit Queen of India, has become a living legend.Enduring cruel poverty and degradation, Phoolan Devi survived the humiliation of an abusive marriage, the savage killing of her bandit-lover and horrifying gang rape to claim retribution for herself and all low-caste women of the Indian plains. In a three-year campaign which rocked the government, she delivered justice to rape victims and stole from the rich to give to the poor, before negotiating surrender on her own terms. Throughout her years of imprisonment without trial Phoolan Devi remained a beacon of hope for the poor and downtrodden, and in 1996, amidst both popular support and media controversy, she was elected to the Indian Parliament.For over a decade journalists, biographers and film-makers have found the power and scope of Phoolan Devi’s myth irresistible. Now finally she tells the story of her life through her eyes and in her own voice.
On Phoolan Devi

Phoolan Devi is a low-caste Indian woman heralded by the masses as an incarnation of the Goddess Durga. She rose from poverty, rape, abuse and degradation to infamy as an outlaw, avenging her honor, raiding the rich with her gang, and sharing the spoils with the poor. After 11 years in prison she was released on bail by the newly-elected low-caste government. Although she is illiterate, and 57 court cases of murder, robbery and kidnapping are still pending against her, Phoolan Devi currently holds a seat in Xi Lok Sabha, the Indian Parliament.

Without her permission, a film called The Bandit Queen, loosely following a biography by Mala Sen, has recently been released about her life. Phoolan has denounced it as an invasion of privacy (she was never consulted or even allowed to see the film before it was released) and a gross misrepresentation of her life that sexualizes and incriminates her, placing her at the controversial Behmai massacre of at least 20 men by her gang; the film was banned briefly because of its graphic scenes of rape and murder. Phoolan is afraid no one will know the difference between the movie and real life, and the film will be used against her; and judging from half the web sites about her, her fears are eerily well-founded. People present what they saw in the movie as if it were the real story about her, rather than the commercial venture and artistic interpretation that it is, and don’t even credit the film. These sites are obvious, transposing many facts: saying, for example, that she was sold for a cow into marriage, and that she abandoned her husband: both are the other way around; more dangerously, saying she was without a doubt at Behmai, a beautiful mastermind of the bloodiest gang massacre in modern Indian history.

In I, Phoolan Devi: The Autobiography of India’s Bandit Queen, Devi tells her own life; this has been my principal source of information. I don’t want her to be condemned without trial on the Internet the way she was in India… it is my wish that her voice be heard through my brief synopsis of her story. I also want to convey some texture, to write about her simply because she is amazing; to see what face of the divine paradox she represents and examine the idea of avataras, or incarnations of the Goddess; and to share a poem about a dream I had of her.

Phoolan Devi was born in a small village called Ghura Ka Purwa, on the Yamuna river in Uttar Pradesh. She was born female, into poverty and low caste, a Shudra sub-caste of boatmen called mallahs. As a child she searched for the face of God to ask Him why her family had nothing, and others so much; why mallah children had to do chores for everyone in the village, hoping for a piece food in return. Mallahs were allowed to be beaten by thakurs, a ruling caste with wealth and land; Phoolan and her sisters were constantly beaten and insulted by her own uncle, Bihari, a mallah who denied her family their rightful inheritance of land. Her father was eternally pious, humble and submissive, seeking justice in the courts that never came. Her mother, on the other hand, was fierce in her own right: “‘Stand up straight,’ she always told me. ‘Be proud of yourself. If somebody slaps you, slap them back… if someone beats you and you don’t fight back, then I’ll beat you.’ And she always added,’Be fair; don’t steal anyone’s fruits or crops; be honest”(p. 145).

Wherever it came from, Phoolan’s pride was firmly planted, and even as a child her sense of entitlement and justice extended beyond her own safety. Even as a young girl, she refused to submit to rules, systems, and humans that she could see were corrupt and unjust, even putting her life in danger. At no more than nine years old, for example, when she saw Mayadin, Bihari’s son, leaving in the night with her family’s tree, which was to be sold for her dowry, she leapt at his moving cart and grabbed the rope harness that ran through the nose of one of the bullocks, refusing to let go, no matter how much Mayadin whipped her from his seat.

At the age of eleven, she was married into rape and more abuse. Her husband abandoned her a few years later, sending her back to her village, where she was considered deviant, impure, and shameful, but was not openly shunned. She devised ways for the poor to make sure that they would be paid for their work; she made many enemies and got a reputation for using bad language, and being a troublemaker. “I was discovering piece by piece how my world was put together: the power of men, the power of priviledged castes, the power of might. I didn’t think of what I was doing as rebellion; it was the only means I had of getting justice.” (p. 144). One thing led to another- for standing up for herself, or for her family, Phoolan was always punished tenfold by the thakurs and village elders. Eventually the son of the Sarpanch (head of the village federation) came with a gang of men in the night to her house, and raped her in front of her parents. Seeking revenge, Phoolan broke again the code of silence regarding rape, and went to a thakur, a village chief from a neighboring village who had a dispute with the Sarpanch. The chief and his men went to the Sarpanch’s house, but only the women were at home, so they drove them out, and beat them, and tore the sari off the Sarpanch’s wife.

The same evening, a council was held to decide what to do about Phoolan. The verdict was marriage to an old man, a servant of the Sarpanch. She rejected, as she would all her life, the idea that anyone should decide her fate like that: she ran away.

The elders then went to the police, and charged her with being a dacoit, a bandit, and looting Mayadin’s house. Phoolan didn’t even know what the word meant! She was arrested, gang-raped and beaten by the police, but there was no evidence against her, and she was released. When she returned to her village, the people knew what had happened to her in jail, and her reputation was really ruined. The villagers treated her like a pariah, like less than a dog. The Sarpanch told her family they would have to pay eleven hundred rupees to draw water from the well, because she was so dirty she would contaminate the water for eveyone just by drinking it: “The rich only wanted one thing from us: they wanted us to be their obedient slaves. They had provoked my rebellion, and now they were turning me and my family into pariahs because of it, with no wheat, no work, not even any water… We were born to serve others. ‘Why is it my destiny?’ I argued. ‘They’re no different from us, they have the same blood in their veins…so why us?'” (p. 199). Phoolan and her family had to barricade themselves in the house; every day was a new humiliation. Again she was raped and beaten in front of her parents; when she complained to the police, they just laughed at her, and called her shameless for telling such a thing at all.

Then there came a change, a breaking point, which is worth looking at in some detail, particularly in relation to the question of avataras of the Goddess. What is this phenomenon? Is it “real,” whatever that means? Does it come from inside or outside? Are they born or made, and how?

After working with her father one day, the man refused to pay them, saying it was Mayadin’s orders. Phoolan had had enough. “I gripped my sickle and started to scream. ‘You bastard dog, you’re going to pay us… or I’ll cut you to pieces!'” (p. 204). The next day she marched to the Sarpanch’s house, and to Mayadin’s, screaming that she had a rifle, that she was going to kill them. “From that moment on, I began to breathe again. I walked through the village without shame. I went to the river to bathe whenever I wanted. I had no more fear. I told my parents their daughter was dead. My father was alarmed. I told him not to worry, I wasn’t going to drown myself.” (p. 206)

Phoolan’s autobiography offers very little in the way of interpretation- she doesn’t explain herself and makes no excuses. What did it mean? The person they had known before, the poor mallah girl destined to be everyone’s slave and thank them for it, was dead. She would not compromise her natural sense of right and wrong to fit the rules of her community, whose actions and mores had nothing to do with justice or ethics. To save her true self, Phoolan discarded her worldly identity.

When a thakur came to her house to rape her, as they often did, she whipped him with a tree branch. “I had changed. My whole being had been fired with rage and rebellion by the nerve of the thakurs, by their contempt for us.” (p. 208) More came a week later, and she calmly asked them if they had wives, sisters or daughters. “‘Would you like someone to do to them what you want to do to me? Get out! Go back to your wives! If you set foot in here again, I’ll kill you!’ They were amazed. ‘You must be crazy to talk to us like that…’ He told his friend, ‘She must have someone behind her.'” (p. 209)

Did she? Phoolan didn’t even have a rifle herself, yet her power was obvious, just from her own claiming of it. “Word had got around and everybody was afraid of me now. Nobody from the village bothered me and nobody came from other villages to demand vile things of me.” (p. 209) If we had x-ray eyes, what would this turning point, this change, look like? What did Durga give, and how? Perhaps the power, the energy, even the identity of the gods and goddesses is in us all, and we need only to claim it as Phoolan has. If there is no such thing, what does this phenomenon mean? If you are inclined to call her strength “willpower” or “courage” or “integrity,” and give no credit to invisible hands, what is the difference?

Phoolan’s family thought she was mad. She couldn’t relate to them- she no longer feared her mother, she stood up to her and would not be controlled in any way. She resented her father for bringing her into the world, and even her little brother and sister had begun to annoy her. Sometimes she would wake from a nightmare, run to Mayadin’s house, and scream at him to come out and kill her, and she could kill him, and it would all be over. “They all thought the only reason I had the nerve to behave that way was that I was under someone’s protection. I used to howl with laughter to see them cowering from me.” (p. 210) Phoolan doesn’t claim to understand where her fearlessness came from, doesn’t say if, why, or how the Goddess was behind or inside her; she lets her story, and maybe Durga, speak for themselves.

Phoolan’s “self” had undergone a vast transformation, at the very least. Do we change, or just become more fully what we have always been, growing from seeds inside? Are we actors in this world, or just vessels of a higher game, of lila? It is usually Shiva and his wife Parvati who are described throwing the dice that spin the world for their playful enjoyment; Durga is his wife too.

In the epics and other Hindu scriptures, avatars themselves are not always aware that they are the incarnation of a god. The action takes place on many planes of existence at the same time: sometimes a character may have a flash of insight into his or her true divine identity, a glimpse behind the veil of maya, and then return to the worldly way of understanding his or her identity; in a sense, both planes are real.

It is my instinct that the question of whether the gods and goddesses incarnate in human beings is not a yes-no question, as nothing really is; rather it is a matter of degree, a nonlinear question of how they manifest themselves and why; and beyond the literalness implied in the question of divine incarnation, this is an interesting metaphor for “ordinary” humans as well.

On the worldly stage, at any rate, Phoolan was afraid. She knew it was just a matter of time before the powers she was challenging would strike to keep her in line, to punish her and maintain their position. She went to the police and asked them to put her in lock-up, saying she was afraid of being kidnapped by thakurs. They laughed again, and said how happy they would be to have her in there. So Phoolan went home, and the same night they came for her, real dacoits this time, a gang of both mallahs and thakurs, sent by the Sarpanch to remove her from the village for good. She hid when she heard them coming; the bandits grabbed her little brother, and yelled that they would take him instead if she didn’t come out, so she did. They kidnapped her and took her deep into the jungle, walking for days.

There were two factions in the gang of at least thirty men: the thakurs, led by Baboo Gujar Singh, and the mallahs, led by a man named Vickram. Baboo kept trying to touch her; again and again, Vickram defended her. “‘Why are you trying to protect her?’ asked one-eye. ‘Why her? We’ve had so many other girls before. What is it about this one? You’re on her side, is that it?’
‘I told you not to touch her. She belongs to my community… If you touch her, I’ll shoot you.'” (p. 222)

Eventually, it did come down to this. Phoolan goes with them on raids through villages, Baboo forcing her to watch him rape other women. Phoolan’s position becomes a symbol of Baboo’s authority over Vickram and his men, and by extension, of the authority of all thakurs. “‘I’m not letting a girl of your caste get away, mallah. I’m keeping her. I can do whatever I like with her, and she’s only good for one thing…'” (p. 234) Vickram tells Baboo to marry her if he wants her so much.

One night, the tensions within the gang came to a head when Baboo called Phoolan into his tent. “I heard Vickram’s voice in the dark, telling me to do as Baboo said. ‘Obey him. Go in there and lie down with him…'” (p. 237) Sobbing, she did as she was told. But as he was about to rape her, there was a sudden silence outside the tent:

I opened my eyes and saw Vickram and Bare Lal in the tent. Baboo was on top of me and he hadn’t seen them. ‘Where’s my cigarette?’ he growled.
Vickram was carrying his rifle. ‘You miserable dog! Get up from her, or it’s not a cigarette I’ll give you but a bullet in the back of the head.’
The ogre scrabbled frantically to get up but his legs were twisted around mine. Vickram fired. (p. 238)

Baboo’s men fled, and Vickram put a piece of paper in the pocket of the corpse that said he had been killed in the name of Phoolan Devi. It was the rule. Vickram and his followers adhered to a strict code of honor: “For Vickram’s men, Baboo was more than just an embarrassment; he gave them a bad reputation, and bandits, I was beginning to learn, depended on goodwill. They needed people they could rely on for information and villagers willing to supply them with food.” (p. 239-40) According to the code, Phoolan had to obey Vickram now, for killing in her name, even if it had been his own plan. “Vickram… was the first man who had ever been able to defend me. My father had only ever cried and begged impotently. Even if I was only the bait for their ambush, Vickram had avenged me! Even if I had to die, I thanked Durga and Kali and all the gods and goddesses for this one satisfaction.” (p. 241)

News of Baboo’s death spread rapidly, and Vickram was garlanded by villagers wherever they went; the villagers said he was courageous and fair, that he never mistreated women and gave money to the poor. Phoolan “exulted in a new and powerful emotion, the satisfaction of dealing out justice.” (p. 242) She decided she would go and live with her older sister when she was free, help her take care of her children… she did not see herself an avatara yet, if she ever did.

In front of the men, Vickram asked Phoolan how she felt about him him; if she thought he was worthy of her. Such unfamiliar tenderness made her laugh, and then cry. “Vickram’s uncle told me not to be afraid. ‘If you don’t like him, we’ll work something out so you can stay here, but you won’t have to live with him. Tell us.’ I took a deep breath. ‘Yes, I like him.'” (p. 246)

Vickram made the men vow loyalty to him as their leader, and to respect Phoolan as though she was their mother or sister. They performed rituals in the jungle to cement these vows; Vickram and Phoolan were married, exchanging garlands and him making the mark of teeka on her forehead. Because of the way she had been treated by men, it was a long time before the marriage was consummated; Vickram took her to his old village, and introduced her to his family as his wife. Their wedding was not at a temple, but Phoolan certainly paints a different picture of their relationship than the movie, portraying it as little more than a romantic sexual alliance.

The gang went to see an ash-covered sadhu, a holy man, that they had visited before. According to the dacoit code, one-third of their profits went to the gods. When Vickram prostrated himself, and told him the circumstances of Baboo’s death, a devotee said the sadhu was pleased. “Then he opened his eyes that burned like coals in that white face and spoke to me. ‘You have vanquished the demon, you are the incarnation of Kali the goddess herself!'” (p. 257) Phoolan prayed for a long time, thanking the gods.

The gang was near the village of the man who had molested her, beat her and kept her tied up in the cowshed when she was a child. They found him and beat him; Phoolan stabbed him where he had stabbed her. They led him naked and bleeding through the village, and left him close to death by the side of the road with a letter that said, Warning: this is what happens to old men who marry young girls! Judging from passages like the following, Phoolan was beginning to feel the identity the sadhu had seen.

As we left Maheshpur, I swore to myself I would do the same thing to all the bastards like him. I would crush them! Otherwise there was no justice for girls like me. The only thing to do with men like that was to crush their serpents, so that they could never use them again! That would be my justice! The jungle was going to be home, my village, and the men I marched with, my family. (p. 262)

Vickram trained her to be a dacoit, showed her how to use a rifle and scramble up the ravines. Phoolan marvelled at the fact that without laws and restrictions, these bandits behaved respectfully; whereas in the villages, with all their customs and duties, men so often acted like dogs. Through Vickram, she was learning the dacoit code, and the art of leading a gang. When they looted a village, they had to announce themselves through a megaphone: “‘The rich are the real enemies of the poor! You’ve made life miserable for these poor people, now we are going to make you pay!…I am Vickram Mallah, and Phoolan Devi is with me!'” (p. 268)

The gang would travel at night; during the day, Vickram often read from a holy book. He told Phoolan to pick an emblem, and she chose Durga. “Like the goddess, I was driven by my hunger for justice, for revenge over demons. That was what gave me my strength. When the rich did bad things, our duty as dacoits was to make them pay.” (p. 272) Phoolan made a conscious decision to represent this goddess. Some would argue that this fact alone shows that she is not a literal incarnation, that for a real avatar there is no choice involved. Again, I don’t think it is so black-and-white. Phoolan’s life had undoubtedly become a holy war, but whose rage had been unleashed? Durga’s? Phoolan’s? The peasants’, the rape victims’? You may say, who is she to judge, to deal out punishment? But then, who is everyone else to keep quiet and do nothing? This too is judgement, action by default. Is passive resistance always an option?

For Vickram it was a caste war, and the rules were specific: “A mallah could loot a thakur if he was rich, and punish or kill him if he was a rapist. If the thakur was honorable, than the mallah would respect him. Vengeance could only be exacted on behalf of someone of your own community…he couldn’t take revenge against someone of his family or his community.” This way of thinking, in my opinion, enforces the very divisions between humans that have caused the problems in the first place, and does not take sexism into account at all; for Phoolan the code of honor meant she would never get the revenge she wanted on Mayadin, who was sending the police constantly now to beat her parents and steal their supplies. “It was to these rules, this unwritten code, that I owed my life. But I still couldn’t accept it, couldn’t abide by it, because I was a woman. I had no place in this hierarchy of caste. I was lower than all of them, and the demons I had to slay were more devious. Whatever caste they belonged to, they were all men.” (p. 277) As a sorry substitute, the gang brought Phoolan the policeman who had overseen her torture in prison, under Mayadin’s orders. She shot him and left a note owning the deed; the next day there was a price on her head. The bandits slept in a field, and in the morning woke to a stream of villagers, led by Phoolan’s mother, bowing and praising her as a goddess, bringing her offerings and apologies. Phoolan was furious: they feared her now because she had killed the policeman, but when she was poor and helpless, they had only humiliated her. Was this fury based in ego, in her former identity? If Phoolan was born an avatara of Durga, the villagers’ cruel behavior had actually targeted a goddess, it was even more reprehensible… mostly Phoolan expresses contempt, saying “They were afraid of power – any kind of power. That was the only thing they truly worshipped.” (p. 288)

Mayadin came grovelling to her in a poor man’s clothing, offering her fifty thousand rupees. Phoolan’s father implored her to spare Mayadin, and insisted that he would only take five bighas of land, instead of the eighty his father had left him. She refused the money; she wanted to kill him, but another dacoit had taken her rifle. Vickram accepted the money, a betrayal she didn’t forgive him for some time. Even now, she had to obey the rules of men. Her father implored her to calm down. “‘Promise me to forgive, Phoolan. Ask the gods to help you. The gods know how to forgive. If you are the reincarnation of Durga, you must forgive…'” (p. 287) She gave in to him, but always regretted it afterwards. From this she learned, among other things, that there were still compromises to be made, that she was still subordinate to and dependent on Vickram, and that “there was nothing in this world that would give me peace.” (p. 288)

Vickram used the money from Mayadin to bail out his old prison friend and dacoit guru, Shri Ram, and made him the leader. Shri Ram was a thakur, which didn’t sit well with the men, and he made lewd comments and advances at Phoolan from the moment he met her. Vickram made him apologize the first time, but tensions continued to increase: when they went on raids, Shri Ram made a point of beating and insulting mallahs. The men began to rally behind Phoolan, instead of Vickram, or quit the gang altogether, seeing trouble ahead; meanwhile Shri Ram had gotten a dozen thakurs to join.

Vickram proposed that they settle accounts and split into two gangs. Shri Ram cried, appealing to his loyalty and honor, saying he should get rid of Phoolan; Vickram relented, and the next day Shri Ram shot a bullet just past Phoolan’s head, claiming it was meant for a bird. The first time he shot Vickram, he was able to get to a doctor, thanks to the protection and money of the poor. The newspapers, however, were all saying Vickram was dead to discredit him and his supporters; the police even dressed up the corpse of a shepherd for the photograph, and then told Vickram’s family they had cremated him. When Phoolan and Vickram returned from his recovery in Nepal, he had a rubber stamp made: “PHOOLAN AND VICKRAM ARE BACK FROM HEAVEN…He stamped it all over the doors of the rich like a curse.” (p. 328)

They continued with the bandit life, waiting for an opportunity to get revenge on Shri Ram. A message came saying Shri Ram wanted to negotiate, and make peace; Phoolan didn’t trust it, but Vickram agreed. They met, and talked for days. Vickram was having horrible premonitions, asking Phoolan what she would do if he died. That night Phoolan got up and woke Vickram’s bodyguard. “‘Vickram cried a lot today. Let’s kill those two…[Shri Ram and Lala Ram]. ‘No. You have to tell Vickram first. We can’t do it alone.'” When Phoolan woke him up and asked him, he said it was against the code. “‘Phoolan, they’re asleep. I’m not going to kill somebody while they’re asleep. And it’s for me to do, not you.'” (p. 339) Ironically, this is just how Shri Ram killed Vickram, two nights later, and took Phoolan prisoner.

It is this dacoit code that give their actions nobility and righteousness; this separated them from common criminals, made them heroes, and gave credibility to the idea of Phoolan being an incarnation of Durga. Yet it was Vickram’s code, not hers. Phoolan had her own rules, like the goddess; she would conform to only her own ethics.

Phoolan was beaten, tortured and raped constantly by Shri Ram and his men; She was led on a rope, naked, from village to village, displayed to thousands. Finally a poor man and an old Brahmin helped her and two others from the gang to escape, by tricking Shri Ram into thinking he wanted to rape her; for this he was doused in gasoline and burned alive, along with the rest of the village.

Phoolan’s strength had just begun to return when they found themselves cornered by the police, and dying of thirst. But a snake spoke to her silently, as they had done since she was a child: Phoolan followed it to a hidden water source.
Phoolan Devi is a low-caste Indian woman heralded by the masses as an incarnation of the Goddess. She rose from poverty, rape, abuse and degradation to infamy as an outlaw, raiding villages with her gang, sharing the spoils with the poor, and avenging her honor. After 11 years in prison she was released by the newly-elected low-caste government. Although almost 40 court cases of murder, robbery and kidnapping are still pending against her, Phoolan Devi currently holds a seat in Parliament.

Silver-blooded woman revolution
Liquid shakti furious ssh
Oh blood and bones angel,
Inside me on top of me
Love and hate and delirium
Where are you, Phoolan Devi?
In a dream that is no dream
I am with you I
Join you I am you,
Wingtips touching above my head–
Horizontal as a corpse
Floating like fire between the sheets
A holy frozen frenzy rippling
Pulsing between now and
Impending
Justice–
There is no skin between us
We are the righteous moment,
Rightful female heir riding
The revolution inside
The revelation
Without my permission
I choose my side:
Murderess
Goddess
We are alive

Phoolan Devi the Bandit Queen of India
Another St. Valentine’s Day Massacre

On February 14, 1981, 18-year-old Phoolan Devi had only one thing on her mind: revenge. Waiting outside the remote village of Behmai on the Yamuna River in northern India, a band of about 20 dacoits (bandits) waited for her instructions. The dacoits were from three different gangs, but their goal was the same: to hunt down the treacherous Ram brothers, Sri Ram Singh and Lala Ram Singh. Sri Ram was a vicious gang leader who had spent time in prison. He was the focus of Phoolan Devi’s lust for justice because he had murdered her lover, Vikram Mallah, as she slept by his side.

Phoolan Devi wearing bandit gear

Slight in build but strong and agile, Phoolan wore a military-style khaki jacket, denim jeans, and zippered boots. Her dark, straight hair was cut short, ending at her neck. By some accounts, she was wearing lipstick and red nail polish. A wide red bandana—the symbol of vengeance— was tied around her head, covering her hairline and brows. She carried a Sten rifle and a bandolier across her chest. While she mourned for her lover, she did not want to be treated as a woman. She wanted her comrades to think of her as a man because she wanted the kind of revenge only a man could achieve in India’s caste-bound society. She had told them to call her “Phool,” the masculine version of her given name.

She and her band of dacoits had spent the night in the nearby hamlet of Ingwi. As morning broke, Phoolan, her close lieutenant Man Singh, and Baba Mustakim, a fellow dacoit leader, planned their attack on Behmai. Most of Behmai’s population was thakurs, the land-owning caste and the second highest in the Indian system. Sri Ram was a thakur, and though he had once been allied with Phoolan and Vikram, he had always looked down upon them because they were mullahs, the fishermen’s’ caste and one of the lowest.

Though just a teenager, Phoolan Devi had been victimized by the caste system her entire life, treated as either a servant or a sex object. Because she was so outspoken in her objections to the men who oppressed her, she had been frequently beaten, bound, imprisoned, and raped. A dacoit gang had kidnapped her from her village, but she soon became one of them, showing that she could be as ruthless and bloodthirsty as any man. But unlike the other bandits who infested the northern states of India, Phoolan Devi did not steal for her own enrichment. Like Robin Hood, she stole from the rich and gave to the poor, particularly poor women. Her inspirations were the Durga, the Hindu goddess of shakti, strength and power, and Mohandas K. Gandhi, the Indian statesman and humanitarian who had fought for equality among all people.

Dacoit gangs have a long history of preying on travelers and looting villages in the northern states of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, which borders on Nepal. The region is characterized by its wild and rugged landscapes—mountains, maze-like ravines, desolate valleys, and uncharted jungles. To this day, buses travel in armed caravans to fight off likely raids. Some believe that the bandits who thrive in these states have been driven to criminality by extreme poverty and the inability to overcome the strictures of the caste system. Others believe that they are just the dregs of society, criminals by nature that, like the Mafia, has learned the benefits of organization.

But Phoolan Devi was unique. She was an idealist who sought to right the wrongs of society. She was also a passionate woman who had never known love or respect until she met Vikram Mallah. She swore never to rest until she avenged his murder. Now, after months of searching for Sri Lam, she had finally found him.

One of her men had learned that he was hiding out in Behmai, and she was determined to capture him there. She and the other bandit leaders decided to split their force into three units. One would take the direct path to the village and attack head-on while the other two would lie in wait on the flanks. When the villagers fled from the frontal attack, the flanking units would intercept them and isolate the Ram brothers. Sri Ram, after all, would not be hard to spot, Phoolan reasoned. He had distinctive red hair, a red beard, and bloodshot red eyes. To her he was the devil incarnate.
The Neem Tree

Phoolan Devi’s father Devidin

Phoolan Devi was born in the village of Gorha Ka Purwa in Uttar Pradesh, the second child in a family of four sisters and a younger brother. Her father, Devidin, worked as a sharecropper and was considered cursed for having had so many daughters. Although they were very poor, Phoolan’s family was not the poorest in the village because her father owned about an acre of land and the huge Neem tree that grew on it.

A Neem tree

In her autobiography, I, Phoolan Devi, she recalls that the Neem tree’s trunk was so large, she and two of her sisters together could barely encircle it with their arms. The valuable timber that could be derived from the tree was, in effect, the family’s nest egg. Phoolan came to love that tree for its beauty and majesty and would often rest under its shade.

Phoolan’s cousin Mayadin

Her father should have been richer, but his crafty older brother Bihari had seized his inheritance of 15 acres with the empty promise that he would care for Devidin and his family. When Bihari died, his estate was left to his oldest son, Phoolan’s cousin Mayadin. Though just a child at the time, Phoolan distrusted Mayadin. “He had the face of a lizard: a flat nose with big wide nostrils and lying eyes,” she wrote. After his father’s funeral, Mayadin went to his uncle Devidin and told him that he was now the elder of the family and would be accorded all the respect that position deserved. But it wasn’t long before Mayadin showed his true colors.

While Phoolan’s parents were away for a night, Mayadin sent a crew of workers to cut down Devidin’s prized Neem tree and sell the wood, taking the proceeds for himself. When Devidin returned to find his tree gone, he did not protest. After living so many years under his brother’s subjugation, he knew the futility of trying to fight back. Phoolan was stunned and appalled by her father’s passivity.

In Indian society, a woman would never dare challenge a man, no matter how offensive his behavior, but Phoolan Devi was fearless, headstrong, and provocative. Though only ten years old, she already had a reputation for promiscuity and was known to bathe naked in the river in broad daylight, unconcerned with who might be watching. She confronted her cousin and demanded that he compensate her father for the Neem tree. He tried to ignore her, but she taunted him in public, called him a thief, and staged a sit-in on his land with her older sister. Mayadin finally lost his patience and struck the impertinent girl with a brick, knocking her out cold.

The beating did not silence her. She continued to harangue Mayadin, demanding justice. To get rid of the little nuisance, Mayadin arranged to have her married to a man named Putti Lal who lived several hundred miles away. Putti Lal was in his thirties; Phoolan was eleven. Her reputation for promiscuity was totally unfounded, and after she was married, she had no idea what was expected of a wife. Fearing his “snake,” as she called his penis, she refused to have sex with him. Since he already had another wife, he accepted Phoolan’s refusal and relegated her to household labor. She was so miserable she ran away from her husband’s house and walked home. When she arrived in her village, her family was horrified. A wife simply did not abandon her husband, they believed. It was unheard of. Phoolan’s mother, Moola, was so ashamed, she told her daughter to go to the well and jump in to kill herself. Phoolan was so confused and distraught she contemplated it.

In time, Phoolan recovered her sense of self and rejected her family’s condemnations. She continued to challenge Mayadin, taking him to court for unlawfully holding land that should have been her father’s. In court she seldom contained her emotions, and her dramatic outbursts often left the courtroom stunned.

In 1979 Mayadin accused Phoolan of stealing from his house. She denied the accusation, but the police arrested her anyway. While in custody, she was beaten and raped repeatedly, then left to rot in a rat-infested cell. She knew that her cousin was behind this injustice. The experience broke her body but ignited her hatred for men who routinely denigrated women.

In July of that year a gang of dacoits led by a notorious bandit leader named Babu Gujar set up camp outside Phoolan’s village. The people of the village naturally feared for their lives and their property. Babu Gujar was apparently told of Phoolan Devi’s stubborn impertinence because he sent her a letter in which he threatened to kidnap her or cut off her nose, a traditional punishment for women who got out of line.

What happened next is the matter of some debate. Phoolan herself has given conflicting accounts of the event. The dacoits took her from her village and brought her into the rugged ravines. As Mary Anne Weaver writes in her article “India’s Bandit Queen,” “Perhaps she had indeed been kidnapped. Perhaps Mayadin had paid the dacoits to take her away. Perhaps she was trying to protect her young brother, whom she adored. Or perhaps she simply walked away…” She was brought to Babu Gujar who “brutalized” her for seventy-two hours. Gujar’s lieutenant, Vikram Mallah, could no longer stand the young girl’s torment, so he shot and killed the dacoit leader.

Tall and unusually thin with a pale complexion and long black hair, Vikram Mallah admired Phoolan since he first set eyes on her. In her autobiography she recounts her feelings about her rescuer: “I felt strange—happy but still frightened. A man had touched me softly, he had stroked my hair and touched my cheeks… I felt I could trust him, something I had never felt about a stranger or a man before. Gradually I stopped sobbing, and my tears dried. If I stayed with him, perhaps I would be happy: no more beatings, no more pain, no more humiliation.”

Bonnie & Clyde

Vikram took over as leader of the gang, and he and Phoolan became lovers. The killing of Babu Gujar was considered shocking because Vikram belonged to a lower caste than Gujar. It wasn’t long before Vikram and Phoolan were as notorious as Bonnie and Clyde. According to Weaver, Phoolan was so enthralled with her new life with Vikram, she had a rubber stamp made that she used on all her letters. It identified her as “Phoolan Devi, dacoit beauty; beloved of Vikram Mallah, Emperor of Dacoits.”
Back from Heaven

Vikram was Phoolan’s mentor in the ways of the dacoits. She learned how to use a rifle and started carrying one wherever she went. She dressed in the khaki, pseudo-police uniform that the bandits favored, and for once in her life, her bold and fearless behavior was valued as Vikram showed her how to kill, steal, and kidnap for profit. Traveling an 8,000 square-mile area of jungles, ravines, and sandy ridges, their gang raided upper-caste villages and looted trains and bus convoys.

Statue of the goddess Durga

Phoolan, however, was not in it solely for the money. She saw banditry as a way to correct social inequality by toppling the oppressors and redistributing their wealth. Like a pair of later-day Robin Hoods, she and Vikram gave away much of their ill-gotten gains to the poor. She was motivated by the spirit of the goddess Durga, and before and after every raid she would find a temple and pray to Durga for strength and success.

Their life together was a romantic dream filled with adventure, derring-do and tender intimacy, not unlike the extravagant, popular, Indian films Phoolan came to love. Vikram took her to her first movie, and she instantly became enraptured with the spectacle and splendor—as well as the bombast—of “Bollywood” cinema. Vikram bought her a cassette recorder, and she cherished listening to the soundtracks from her favorite films.

But like Bonnie and Clyde their run didn’t last forever. While the law finally ambushed the American bank-robber couple, Phoolan and Vikram were undone by one of their own.

Vikram’s “guru” in crime was Sri Ram, an older bandit who had run with Babu Gujar until his arrest. Vikram had spent time in prison with Sri Ram and was an eager pupil. Vikram’s sentence was shorter than Sri Ram’s, so when he got out, he scraped together 80,000 rupees to bail out Sri and his brother Lala Ram. After Sri was released, Vikram invited him to join his gang, telling his men that Sri would now be their leader. But many of Vikram’s bandits were leery of the change in administration. Sri Ram was a high-caste thakur while most of them were from lower castes. Suspicion and mistrust were inevitable, and Phoolan shared these feelings. Though the gang stayed together, they split into two factions: Vikram’s men and Sri Ram’s men.

Some time after Sri Ram’s return, Phoolan and Vikram were invited to a wedding in a remote village. The poor frequently invited them to wedding ceremonies, and Phoolan would often give money to impoverished parents who did not have proper dowries. On this occasion, Phoolan, Vikram, and their men were preparing to hike to the village. At the last minute the Ram brothers and their men decided to join them. They set off after dark, marching by torch light.

Along the way they stopped at the edge of field where a man was selling melons. As Vikram was taking his first bite of melon, Phoolan heard two gunshots nearby. She looked to Vikram, but he had dropped his melon and had collapsed to the ground. He had been shot twice in the back. Phoolan suddenly realized that Sri Ram was not with the pack. He had fallen back and was still in the field. Though she didn’t actually see it, Phoolan had no doubt that he was the one who had shot her lover.

She ran to Vikram. “There was blood bubbling out of his back, his clothes were burnt, and there was a stink of sulfur,” Phoolan says in her autobiography. But despite the severity of his wounds, Vikram never lost consciousness. Phoolan tied a cloth around his torso to staunch the bleeding. He was taken to a doctor who, after examining him, declared that it would be too risky to remove a bullet which had lodged next to his spine. The doctor did what he could, but he doubted that Vikram would survive. Rumors spread through the region that Vikram had already died, and for the moment police efforts to locate him were suspended.

After a period of recovery, Vikram defied the doctor’s prognosis and was able to get out of bed and walk. With Phoolan by his side, he slipped back into the jungle and returned to his gang. Oddly, despite Phoolan’s firm but unproven belief that Sri Ram had fired the shots, Vikram would not sever ties with the old bandit because Sri Ram still owed Vikram money for bailing him out of prison. Though weak and in pain, Vikram was now determined to get back to business. He had a rubber stamp made that proclaimed, “PHOOLAN AND VIKRAM ARE BACK FROM HEAVEN”, and he stamped it on the doors of the wealthy “like a curse.”

The gang picked up where it left off, raiding and looting through the Chambal River Valley, but tensions within the gang festered. Phoolan slept very little, staying vigilant through the night with her rifle close at hand. On a doctor’s advice, she and Vikram slept apart so that he could regain his strength. Despite their love for one another, they felt that this sleeping arrangement would be safer since they could not be ambushed together. But one night after an exhausting raid on a village, Vikram asked her to stay with him. She didn’t want to put him in jeopardy, but she desperately missed lying by his side, so she agreed to spend the night. Gentle rains pelted the canvas of their tent and lulled the weary lovers to sleep.

Sometime later Phoolan was roused from a deep sleep by the “deafening explosion” of gunfire. “My head was spinning as though I had been drugged,” she wrote of the incident. She reached for her gun, but she was groggy and lethargic. Vikram whispered to her, “Phoolan. It’s him. The bastard shot me…”

She looked up and saw the shadowy figure of Sri Ram holding a gun. Phoolan was confused and disoriented. She smelled something that made her nauseous. Then she realized what it was, chloroform, which the gang kept on hand for kidnappings. She later learned that Sri Ram and his men had chloroformed Vikram and his contingent to prevent retaliation.

Sri Ram and two of his men picked her up and hauled her out of the tent. She tried to fight back as best she could, but Sri Ram clubbed her with his rifle butt, knocking her to the ground. She was stripped naked and tied up. They carried her to the river and tossed her into a rowboat. As the boat pushed off the shore, she could see Sri Ram’s face looming over her.

“Why didn’t you kill me, too?” she asked

“Oh, you can still be a great deal of use,” he said with a smirk.

She could hear the oars cutting through the water and feel the rain on her body. She tried to fight the effects of the chloroform, but she couldn’t make sense of what was happening to her. Where are they taking me? she wondered. What is the red-eyed devil going to do to me?
“They Passed Me from Man to Man.”

Phoolan Devi’s I, Phoolan Devi
They arrived at a village on the river, and Phoolan Devi’s humiliation continued. Still naked, she was taken to the center of the village where Sri Ram publicly declared that she had killed her lover Vikram. He incited the men of the village, many of them thakurs like himself, demanding that she be punished. He was the first to rape her. After he was finished with her, he offered her to everyone else. “They passed me from man to man,” she wrote in I, Phoolan Devi.

They beat her and cursed her. In the days that followed, Sri Ram took her to other villages, Phoolan couldn’t remember how many. “I was paraded in front of the villagers. Each time, Sri Ram called me a mallah whore. He said I was the one who killed Vikram and, hurling me to the ground, told the villagers to use me as they pleased.”

Phoolan Devi after three weeks of torture
This torture went on for more than three weeks. Throughout the ordeal she prayed to Durga for strength and liberation, all the while wondering how and when this could possibly end. On the twenty-third day, she found herself in the thakur village of Behmai where Sri Ram led her around on a leash like a dog. She was bruised and filthy from head to foot. Sri Ram dragged her listless body to the center of the village where a group of thakur men had gathered and demanded that she fetch him fresh water from the well. When she refused, he beat her mercilessly, tearing off her only garment, a blanket, and kicking her over and over again. Finally, to stop the onslaught, she got up and limped to the well to do as he asked as the thakurs mocked her and spat on her.

That night an old Brahmin came to her rescue, quietly releasing her from the shed where she was kept and sneaking her out of Behmai in a bullock cart. He took her to the jungle where she wandered until she was found by a shepherd woman who nursed her back to health. But her hatred for the Ram brothers, especially Sri Ram, was the one wound that would not heal. When she was well enough to travel, Phoolan began to plot her revenge.

Eventually she joined a gang of dacoits made up of men from the gadariya caste, but she wasn’t interested in working for another master. She stayed only long enough to kidnap two wealthy merchants and earn 50,000 rupees in ransom. She wanted to start her own gang.

Another dacoit leader, a Muslim named Baba Mustakim, offered to help her when he heard of the indignities she suffered at the hand of Sri Ram. Mustakim offered to give her ten of his own men to start her gang, and she could pick whomever she wanted. Man Singh was one of the men she selected even though she initially found his appearance “frightening.” He was tall and bearded, and he wore his black hair to his shoulders. “Deep lines ran across his heavy brow; he had a penetrating gaze and the nose of an eagle,” she recalls in her autobiography. He was the most experienced bandit in Baba Mustakim’s gang, and so he became Phoolan’s lieutenant (and later her lover). Man Singh gave her the red cloth to tie around her head to symbolize her quest for revenge. With a formidable gang behind her, the hunt for Sri and Lala Ram began in earnest.

Phoolan Devi, the self-anointed Queen of the Dacoits, led raids throughout Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh where she was also the self-appointed avenger for women’s rights. Whenever she heard of a rape, a forced abortion, or the coerced suicide of a disgraced woman, Phoolan took it upon herself to punish the men responsible. “Whenever I heard of it, I crushed the serpent they used to torture women. I dismembered them.” She tracked down a particularly lecherous old thakur who tortured women and had sex with young boys and animals. “His serpent first, then his hands, then his feet… I cut them off.” Her gang was “sickened” by her blood lust, but her act of retribution was performed before a picture of the goddess Durga, and Phoolan Devi felt thoroughly justified doing it.

As the gang terrorized village after village, Phoolan’s focus remained on the Ram brothers. She interrogated villagers, desperate for any information that would lead her to Sri and Lala. On several occasions these leads brought her close, but every time she thought she had them cornered, they managed to slip away. Finally, she received information that Sri Ram and his gang were hiding in Behmai, the thakur village where she had been treated like a dog. She led her gang to the outskirts of Ingwi, a nearby village, and set up camp. She was eager for revenge, but she was also determined not to let her targets get away again. This time she would be patient and come up with a foolproof plan.

The plan she and her gang came up with—a frontal attack by one third of their force with two flanking groups waiting for anyone who tried to flee—did not yield the results Phoolan had hoped for. Thakur villagers did flee from the attack, but the Ram brothers were not among them. The flanking forces converged on the village and searched everywhere for their targets, but the Ram brothers couldn’t be found. Phoolan was losing her patience. She grabbed a bullhorn and made a declaration from the town square. As reported by Mary Anne Weaver, the bandit queen shouted, “…I know that Lala Ram and Sri Ram are hiding in this village. If you don’t hand them over to me, I will stick my gun into your butts and tear them apart. This is Phoolan Devi speaking. Victory to Durga the Mother Goddess.”

Her men ransacked the village as she waited by the well where she was forced to fetch water for Sri Ram. After an hour her men returned and reported that the Ram brothers were not there. Phoolan refused to believe that they had slipped away. She was convinced that the villagers were hiding them. She ordered her bandits to round up all the young thakur men and bring them to the town square. The bandits lined up the thakurs, and Phoolan dressed them down, threatening to “roast” them alive if they did not tell her the truth. She punctuated her threats with blows to the men’s groins with the butt of her rifle. The thakurs pleaded their ignorance, but this only enraged Phoolan more. She ordered her men to march the thakurs to the river where they were forced to kneel on the banks. Gunfire from multiple weapons shattered the air. Bodies keeled over and fell lifeless into the mud. When the shooting stopped, 22 of the 30 young men were dead.

The Bandit Queen Surrenders

The massacre at Behmai was the most heinous crime ever committed by a dacoit gang in the history of modern India. The nation was shocked. A low-caste woman leading a killing rampage on a group of high-caste men was unthinkable. A crime of this magnitude demanded the authorities’ full attention as Phoolan Devi suddenly became the most wanted criminal in India.

Phoolan and her gang went into hiding, but when she learned that the authorities had arrested and imprisoned her parents—in effect holding them hostage—she decided to negotiate for her surrender. Over a period of nearly a year, she haggled over the terms of her surrender with Rajendra Chaturvedi, the police superintendent of the district of Bhind. With the cunning of a criminal defense attorney, she hammered out a deal that guaranteed that she and her gang would surrender in Madhya Pradesh and would never be extradited to Uttar Pradesh where Behmai was located. Her other demands included that she would be tried for all of her crimes at once and in Madhya Pradesh; that she and her gang would not be handcuffed; that if convicted, they would not be hanged; that they would spend no more than eight years in prison; and that the prison would be an “A-class jail.” She also wanted portraits of Durga and Ghandi displayed when she surrendered. Furthermore, she insisted that the authorities force her cousin Mayadin to give back the land he had taken from her father; that they resettle her parents in Madhya Pradesh on government land; and that they guarantee a government job for her little brother. The government agreed to it all.

On a February evening in 1983, almost two years to the day from the massacre at Behmai, Phoolan Devi emerged from the ravines with her gang and finally turned herself in. It was a spectacle worthy of a movie. A crowd of 8,000 cheered for their Robin Hood, the Bandit Queen of India. Festive music blared from loudspeakers. Legions of uniformed police stood by in formation, waiting to escort her into custody. All this ceremony for a five-foot-tall, illiterate woman barely out of her teens.


Phoolan Devi in her bandits garb at her surrender
She was wearing a khaki uniform and a red shawl. A wide red bandana was tied around her head, covering her brows. She carried a .315 Mauser rifle on her shoulder, a curved dagger in her belt, a full bandolier across her chest, and a small silver statue of the goddess Durga in her breast pocket. She bowed before portraits of Durga and Ghandi and gave herself over to the chief minister of Madhya Pradesh. Before they led her away, she turned to the crowd and raised her rifle over her head. “Finally,” according to Mary Anne Weaver, “with hands folded in the traditional gesture of greeting, she demurely lowered her eyes to the ground.” The crowd went wild, vociferously showing their support.

Phoolan Devi in jail after her surrender
Ultimately the authorities disregarded the terms of the agreement, and Phoolan Devi spent more than eleven years in prison without trial, more than any of her gang members. Some of them, including Man Singh, agreed to be tried in Uttar Pradesh against her wishes but were acquitted because no witness dared come forward to identify the bloodthirsty crew. While she was “rotting” in prison, as she put it, a feature film based on her life called Bandit Queen was released. She disliked it so intensely she sued the film’s producer and director.

Phoolan Devi after her release

An ambitious lower-caste politician took up her case and secured her release from prison in February 1994. To the astonishment of the country, the skinny girl who had terrorized two states and committed multiple criminal acts announced that she would be running for office. Heavier and rounder than she had been when she was known as the Bandit Beauty, Phoolan Devi announced that she would run for a seat in the Indian Parliament’s lower house, promising to be a strong voice for women and for the poor. Running her campaign with the same shrewdness, ruthlessness, and passion that she had used to run her gang, she won the election in May 1996.

Phoolan Devi with husband Ummed Singh

On July 25, 2001, three assassins in front of her New Delhi home gunned down Phoolan Devi in broad daylight. She had walked home from Parliament after the morning session, intending to have lunch there. The leader of the assassins—a man named Pankaj, a.k.a. Sher Singh Rana—admitted to the murder. He said he was seeking retribution for the Behmai massacre. But the police were suspicious of his connections to Phoolan’s last husband, Ummed Singh, who was reportedly upset with Phoolan’s threats to cut him out of her will.

As for Sri Ram, the red devil whose merciless torture of Phoolan had caused the massacre of the thakurs at Behmai, Phoolan had the satisfaction of receiving a note before her surrender from Lala Ram, Sri’s brother. Lala had informed her that her archenemy was dead. Lala himself had killed Sri in a dispute over a woman.

Once upon a time there lived a woman called Phoolan
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I could not believe that once upon a time she was a “dakoo”, a bandit of the ravines of Central India. How could I? She appeared so innocent and out of the rustic ordinary.

I saw her for the first time sleeping on one of the backbenches of the Lok Sabha (Lower House of the Indian parliament). She had covered herself with a shawl and was groaning with some kind of pain. She felt our presence and got up.

“High fever.” she groaned in reply to our silent query.

“Did you consult any Doctor?” Someone asked.

“No, but I may have to.” She said. She stood up and bowed reverentially to the visitors before her.

Thereafter I saw her many more times. That particular bench was her usual place in the Lok Sabha. She would rarely venture to the benches ahead of her, except when coaxed by some other Member of Parliament.

But that was not too often. She would move a few benches ahead and soon return to her favourite bench at the back. Her manners and etiquette were perfect. She would do the Namaskar with a reverential low bow to all and sundry.

I could not believe that once upon a time she was a “dakoo”, a bandit of the ravines of Central India. How could I? She appeared so innocent and out of the rustic ordinary.

There are millions like her all over the country, sweating and slogging in rain and shine in some or other field, hill or dale or chiselling or breaking stones or performing acrobatics by the roadside or at village fairs for a living.

She was one of the millions of our faceless, unfortunate, discarded, ostracized and neglected Dalit and Adivasi citizens.

The Indian Parliament does have a few more members of her kind. One or two of them are women but most of them are men. But she is the only dakoo-turned-parliamentarian.

Indian masses have sent a number of representatives of the dalits and backwards to the Indian parliament. Many of them are silent backbenchers. Others are talkative, articulate and even belligerent at times. They flare up on minor issues, rush to the well of the house to make their point and yet are obedient followers of their leaders.

In a way, they are the true representatives of the rural and rustic India. If permitted, some of them would perhaps have come to the House with their traditional weapons and implements like the bow and arrow, club and spear, sword and knife or snare and catapult. But they are conscious of the plight of their communities and their responsibilities towards their fellowmen languishing back home in poverty, ignorance, neglect and injustice.

They are an awakened lot. They have realized that the upper caste Indians had for ages kept them in bondage and slavery. They wish to fight against this injustice. They want their revenge.

Mahatma Gandhi, Mahatma Jyotiba Phule, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar and Periyar are their Messiahs. But with Jawaharlal Nehru, they have a quarrel. Ask why and they scorn.

“Nehru had a bias in favour of Thakurs and Brahmins. He gave them all high posts. He paid lip service to Socialism but through deeds and actions, he protected the high caste and the followers of Manu.”

This is their favourite scorn for not only Nehru but to all upper caste Indian leadership. Mulayamsing and late Kanshiram are their current heroes.

“Down with the Tilak ( mark on the forehead) which means the Brahmins, Taraju (weighing scales ) which means the Vaishya Community and Talwar (sword) which refers to the Kshatriyas” is their election war cry. Tilak, Taraju, Talwar inko maro jute char – Defeat them, they incite their followers. They wish to avenge the injustice of the ages. They are ready to fight for their rights. They represent the newly awakened classes.

Phoolan is one of them. Her past was another life – a dangerous, cruel life. But now she was cool, calm and as harmless as a snail, who could be crushed under your feet.

And she met her end without a fight. She was crushed like a snail under heavy boots. There was no trace of the anger and hatred, which she had for the Thakurs of Behamai whom she had shot and killed at point blank range. But she was then a dakoo of the ravines and now as helpless a woman as any other.

Phoolan is no more. But I cannot forget Phoolan. Her life after death haunts me. How will an Indian remember her, say after a few centuries or a millennium? In what form will she be remembered? What role will the Dalits, the Brahmins, Thakurs and Vaishyas of the future ascribe to her?

I believe a legend will evolve. A legend called Phoolan of the ravines will do the rounds in the lanes and bylanes.

Phoolan, a mere child, is married to an aged man. He threw her out of the house. The village goons abduct her. She is repeatedly raped and tortured. She is angry. She seeks revenge. She flees to the ravines, picks up guns and kills her tormentors. She is dreaded by the upper class but is an idol for the depressed dalits.

Police arrest her. She suffers imprisonment and atones for her past. On her release from prison, people elect her their leader. She enters Parliament. She is ambushed and killed treacherously.

Many more versions of this story will be doing the rounds at different times and at different places. A wayside stone may represent her in the villages of the high caste Thakurs and Brahmins. It would perhaps be called the “Phoolan stone”. The Thakurs and Brahmins would kick the Phoolan stone every time they passed it. This ritual would be necessary to keep the ghost of Phoolan from rising.

At another place, the villagers would attempt to appease the ghost of Phoolan and pray for the well being and long life for the village girls by sacrificing fowls and goats. Temples dedicated to Phoolan may also be built in some places. Phoolan may be worshipped in these temples in the form of a deity wearing round her neck a necklace of heads of the beheaded Thakurs and Bammans. A naked and longhaired Phoolan would be depicted dancing on the dead bodies of the demon Thakurs, Brahmins and Vaishyas… a la Mother Durga. Her devotees may offer her the fresh blood of a sacrificed lamb.

In yet another place, Phoolan may be worshipped as the goddess of peace and prosperity or The Shanta of the Hindu pantheon.
Phoolan’s human existence is long over. She may now exist in the nether world as ghost or goddess. This may be an endless existence. The legend may not remain limited to India. It may cross it border and travel the world over. This may or may not happen. Her life was full of unbelievable tales.

What was she in real life? No one knows.

Tales of the dakoos of the ravines of the Chambal valley are both heroic and cruel. Romanticism encircles lives of many a bandit. Superhuman acts are being touted as actual performances of the dacoits. Bards sing in their praise and Governments offer handsome awards to informers, who help in capturing the runaways…

Phoolan is already the Bandit Queen loved and admired, hated and cursed at the same time.

Phoolan has had her share of love, praise and admiration, fear, despise and hatred. She was proud, beautiful, bright, upright, angry, cruel, ugly, a heroine, a despot, a heartless butcher, a benign leader. She was everything. She was a kind mother, a devoted wife, a treacherous mistress, a whore, a devotee of the Gods. She was virtue, she was vice.

She was everything and nothing. While she lived and upon her death PHOOLAN attracted each and every good and bad adjective in the dictionary.

Question remains. Who was the real Phoolan? Was she the helpless girl who was married as a child to an old man and then abandoned, tortured and raped repeatedly? Was she a whore or a mistress of the outlaws of the Chambal ravines? Or was she a mere puppet in the hands of the powerful that may have dressed her in man’s clothes and killed and robbed in her name? Was she a woman incarnate, the Adimaya – the primordial mother, born to avenge the atrocities of the hoary past?

Who was Phoolan? What was Phoolan?…. Once upon a time there lived a woman called Phoolan…
watch?v=WOBgcbuF0UU&feature=related
The movie tells the story of the bandit queen Phoolan Devi who was sent to prison in 1983 and got free in 1994. During five years she was prosecuted by the Indian police and turned into a legend (like a modern Robin Hood) by the Indian press. Although the press tended to make her the optimal hero with blue eyes, dark hair, being tall and beautiful she was in reality an average Indian which makes it hard for the movie to fulfill the expectations of the audience and tell the truth at the same time. Later in her life,She entered into the politics and was assassinated in 2001

Directed by Shekhar Kapur
Produced by Bobby Bedi
Written by Ranjit Kapoor (dialogue)
Mala Sen
Starring Seema Biswas
Music by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan
Roger White
Editing by Renu Saluja
Distributed by Koch Vision, USA 2004 (DVD)
Release date(s) September 9, 1994
Running time 119 min.
Country India
Language Hindi

http://rapidshare.com/files/64353550/baq.part01.rar

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Cast
Cast overview, first billed only:
Seema Biswas …
Phoolan Devi
Aditya Srivastava …
Puttilal
Agesh Markam …
Mad Woman
Ajai Rohilla …
Behmai Man
Anirudh Agarwal …
Babu Gujjar
Anil Sahu …
Vikram Gang Member
Anupam Shyam …
Ganshyam
Aseem Bajaj …
Poolan / Man Singh Gang
Ashok Bulani …
D.S.P
Ashok Sharma …
Ashokchand Servant
Avinash Nemade …
Doctor
Basant Rawat …
Poolan / Man Singh Gang
Chotelal Siraswal …
Vikram Gang Member
Deepak Chibber …
S.P. Bhind
Deepak Soni …
Miandad
Full cast and crew »

Sometimes when we hear a contemporary story from an exotic and faraway land, we feel we are moving out of reality and into dream or myth. Such was the case with the saga of Phoolan Devi, a woman of such charisma that she rose from obscurity to astound first her nation and then the world with tales of her banditry, imprisonment, and finally of her election to public office and subsequent assassination. She was regarded by some as the reincarnation of Durga, a Hindu goddess renowned for both her beauty and violence. Others thought the low-caste woman was scum. When she died in a hail of bullets beneath a neem tree, it was the end of a story as remarkable as that of any woman of modern India.

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