Phoolan Devi

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Phoolan Devi
Member of Parliament (11th Lok Sabha)
ConstituencyMirzapur
Member of Parliament (13th Lok Sabha)
In office
1999–2001
ConstituencyMirzapur
Personal details
Born(1963-08-10)10 August 1963
Ghura Ka Purwa
Died25 July 2001(2001-07-25) (aged 37)
New Delhi, India
NationalityIndian
Political partySamajwadi Party
Spouse(s)Putti Lal, Vikram Mallah, Umaid Singh
OccupationDacoit (Bandit), Politician
 
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Phoolan Devi
Member of Parliament (11th Lok Sabha)
ConstituencyMirzapur
Member of Parliament (13th Lok Sabha)
In office
1999–2001
ConstituencyMirzapur
Personal details
Born(1963-08-10)10 August 1963
Ghura Ka Purwa
Died25 July 2001(2001-07-25) (aged 37)
New Delhi, India
NationalityIndian
Political partySamajwadi Party
Spouse(s)Putti Lal, Vikram Mallah, Umaid Singh
OccupationDacoit (Bandit), Politician

Phoolan Devi (Phulan Devi, Hindi: फूलन देवी) (10 August 1963 – 25 July 2001), popularly known as the "Bandit Queen", was an Indian dacoit (bandit) and later a politician. After being gang-raped by some members of her village, Phoolan Devi turned bandit, and authorised the killing of 22 upper-caste villagers in 1981. Following this, she became notorious across India as a bandit. Some people believe that most of her crimes were committed seeking justice for women's suffering, particularly those in the unfortunate lowest castes; however, the Indian authorities consider this a myth.[1] She was once falsely imprisoned for seeking those involved in her rape to be tried for their crimes. Then made a martyr for exacting this revenge independently from authority and as part of a gang.[2] Later, she surrendered and successfully contested election as a member of the Samajwadi Party. The 1994 film Bandit Queen was loosely based on her life.

Contents

Early life

Phoolan was born into the mallah (boatmen) caste,[3] in the small village of Ghura Ka Purwa (also spelled Gorha ka Purwa) in Jalaun District, Uttar Pradesh.[4] She was the fourth child of Devi Din and Moola.[5]

Phoolan's father owned an acre (0.4 hectare) of land with a huge Neem tree on it. He hoped that the valuable timber of the tree would enable him to pay the dowry for his daughters' marriages.[6] When Phoolan was eleven years old, her grandparents passed away within a short time and her uncle declared himself the head of the family. He took over the inheritance by deceit, leaving Phoolan's family to remain in poverty. Her Uncle had a son, Mayadin. He cut down the Neem tree and sold the wood, intending to keep the proceeds for himself.[7] Although her father submitted with mild protest, Phoolan confronted her cousin. She taunted him, publicly called him a thief and attacked him.[6] With her elder sister, she 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 Phoolan, 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.[1] Devi claimed in her autobiography that he was a man of "very bad character".

Phoolan's husband raped and mistreated her, which was agonising for her to endure, particularly due to her age and isolation. She ran away several times, and would be returned to her husband for severe punishment. She was returned to her village, being deemed too young to fulfill her duties as a wife. Three years later in 1977, she was returned back to Putti Lal's home. She protested, and was returned back to her father's home.[7] A wife leaving her husband was a serious taboo in the rural areas, and Phoolan was marked as a social outcast. Phoolan continued to challenge her cousin Mayadin, accusing him of thievery. She took him to court for unlawfully holding her father's land, but lost the case.[7]

In 1979, Mayadin accused Phoolan of stealing small items from his house, and arranged for her arrest by the police. During the three days in jail, she was beaten and raped by the authorities.[7] She blamed her cousin for the injustice, and developed hatred for men who routinely denigrated women. When released from prison, she was further shunned by her village and her family. Justice was elusive and she felt hurt by her helplessness.

As a dacoit

In 1979, a gang of dacoits abducted Phoolan; some also say that she was not kidnapped but "walked away from her life".[7] The gang leader, Babu Gujjar, who was a Gujjar, wanted to rape her. However, she was protected by Vikram Mallah, the second-in-command of the gang who belonged to Phoolan's caste. One night when Babu attempted to rape Phoolan, Vikram killed him and assumed the gang leadership. Phoolan fell in love with this man who had undoubtedly protected her, and 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 across Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. The activities consisted of ransacking high-caste villages, kidnapping upper-caste landowners for ransom and train robberies. After every crime, Phoolan Devi would visit a Durga temple and thank the goddess for her protection.[3] The gang hid out in the ravines of Chambal in Dholpur.

Behmai incidents

Sometime later, Shri Ram and Lala Ram, two upper-caste dacoit brothers belonging to the Thakur caste, returned to the gang. They were outraged by the killing of the gang leader by a low caste gang member.[7] Shri Ram 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 killed Vikram, abducted Phoolan and locked her up in the Behmai village.[3]

Phoolan Devi was beaten and raped by several men in Behmai.[7] After three weeks, she managed to escape with two other Mallahs from Vikram's gang, helped by a low-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.[1]

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. Phoolan's 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 upper-caste 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.[3]

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.[8] 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.[1]

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 the Hindu goddess Durga, not to the police.[9] She put before four conditions :[citation needed]

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 and the then chief minister of Madhya Pradesh, Arjun Singh. 300 police personnel 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 30 charges of dacoity (banditry) and kidnapping. Her trial was delayed for 11 years, which she served in the prison. During this period, she was operated on for ovarian cysts and was given an unnecessary hysterectomy. The doctor of the hospital reportedly said later that "We don't want Phoolan Devi breeding more Phoolan Devis".[10] She was finally released on parole in 1994 after persuasion by Vishambhar Prasad Nishad, the leader of the Nishadha fishermen community. The Government of Uttar Pradesh, led by Mulayam Singh Yadav, withdrew all the cases against her.

Election

In 1996, she stood for election to the 11th Lok Sabha, representing the Samajwadi Party, on a platform of helping the poor and oppressed. She was elected in the constituency of Mirzapur in Uttar Pradesh. She lost her seat in the 1998 election but was reelected in the 1999 election and was a sitting member of parliament when she was assassinated.

Movie and autobiography

Shekhar Kapur made a movie Bandit Queen (1994) about Phoolan Devi's life up to her 1983 surrender, based on Mala Sen's 1993 book India’s Bandit Queen: The True Story of Phoolan Devi.[11] 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 withdrew her objections after the producer Channel 4 paid her £40,000.[11] The film brought her international recognition. Author-activist Arundhati Roy in her film review entitled, "The Great Indian Rape Trick", questioned the right to "restage the rape of a living woman without her permission", and charged Shekhar Kapur with exploiting Phoolan Devi and misrepresenting both her life and its meaning.[12]

Although she was illiterate, Phoolan composed her autobiography entitled The Bandit Queen of India: An Indian Woman's Amazing Journey From Peasant to International Legend, with the help of international authors Marie-Therese Cuny and Paul Rambali.[13]

Death

On 25 July 2001, Phoolan Devi was shot dead by three masked gunmen outside of her Delhi bungalow. She was hit five times: three shots to her head and two to her body.[citation needed] The gunmen fled the scene in a Maruti car.[14] She was taken to a nearby hospital but was declared dead. The prime person accused of the murder, Sher Singh Rana alias Pankaj, later surrendered himself to the police.[15] Rana allegedly claimed to have murdered Phoolan Devi to take revenge for the 21 upper-caste men she gunned down in the Behmai massacre.[16]

In the immediate aftermath of the murder, the police were accused of incompetence in their handling of the case. It was alleged that a party worker picked up revolvers that had been dumped by the killers and hid them. Three other people staying in her house were accused of knowing about the revolvers. The revolvers then disappeared before the police could conduct a forensic test on them.[17]

References

  1. ^ a b c d "Phoolan Devi: Champion of the poor". BBC News. 2001-07-25. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/1456441.stm. Retrieved 2006-12-11. 
  2. ^ "The queen is dead". The Guardian. 2001-07-26. http://www.guardian.co.uk/g2/story/0,3604,527406,00.html. Retrieved 2011-11-18. 
  3. ^ a b c d "Phoolan Devi, India's Bandit Queen". http://web.archive.org/web/20051228081825/www.goodbyemag.com/jul01/devi.html. Retrieved 2006-12-11. 
  4. ^ Henry Scholberg (1994). A Hindi movie. Indus (HarperCollins India). p. 24. ISBN 978-81-7223-097-5. 
  5. ^ India today, Volume 26. Thomson Living Media India Ltd., 2001
  6. ^ a b Jan Stradling (2011). "12: Phoolan Devi - 'Bandit Queen', freedom fighter, politician". Good Girls Don’t Make History. Pier. ISBN 978-1-74266-623-5. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f g John Arquilla (2011). Insurgents, Raiders, and Bandits. 9781566638326. pp. 245–251. 
  8. ^ "Kshatriya Samaj to honour Phoolan's killer". The Tribune, Chandigarh. 2006-05-21. http://www.tribuneindia.com/2006/20060501/nation.htm#5. Retrieved 2006-12-11. 
  9. ^ Anuja Pande. "Phoolan Power". http://people.virginia.edu/~pm9k/gifs/ZoForth/Pholan/power.html. Retrieved 2006-12-11. 
  10. ^ "Phoolan Devi". The Telegraph. 26 July 2001. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/1335253/Phoolan-Devi.html. Retrieved 9 August 2012. 
  11. ^ a b "Obituaries: Mala Sen". The Telegraph. 2011-05-30. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/culture-obituaries/books-obituaries/8546445/Mala-Sen.html. Retrieved 2011-11-28. 
  12. ^ The Great Indian Rape-Trick @ SAWNET -The South Asian Women's NETwork , Retrieved 25 November 2011.
  13. ^ The Bandit Queen of India: An Indian Woman's Amazing Journey from Peasant to International Legend @ Amazon.com, Retrieved 25 November 2011.
  14. ^ "The queen is dead". The Guardian. 26 July 2001. http://www.guardian.co.uk/g2/story/0,3604,527406,00.html. Retrieved 9 August 2012. 
  15. ^ "Profile of Sher Singh Rana". Times of India. 27 July 2001. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/Profile-of-Sher-Singh-Rana/articleshow/1154821372.cms. Retrieved 9 August 2012. 
  16. ^ The Telegraph. 27 July 2001. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/1335484/Man-arrested-for-murder-of-Bandit-Queen.html. Retrieved 9 August 2012. 
  17. ^ "Mystery surrounds Bandit Queen murder". The Guardian. 30 July 2001. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2001/jul/30/worlddispatch.lukeharding. Retrieved 10 August 2012. 

Further reading

Books on Phoolan Devi

Other sources

External links