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PHOOLAN DEVI (1963-2001)

Phoolan was a dacoit turned politician. She was born into a family belonging to a caste who traditionally worked as boatmen, the Mallahs, in the village of Gorha Ka Purwa near the Chambal ravines, Uttar Pradesh’s dacoit-infested badlands.

She was married at a young age and faced atrocities. In 1979, a gang of dacoits abducted Phoolan. The gang leader, Baboo, who was an upper-caste Thakur, 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 A villager freed her and smuggled her out on a bullock cart. She was covered with terrible wounds, but she gathered a gang of Mallahs with the help of Man Singh, a member of Vikram’s former gang. On 14 February 1981 Phoolan and her gang marched into Behmai disguised as police officers, lined up all the Thakur men and shot them, killing twenty-two. A massive search for her was launched. In February 1983, she agreed to surrender to the authorities, negotiating the terms herself. She was charged with 48 crimes. Her trial was delayed for eleven years, and she was finally released on parole in 1994. Then she launched a group called the Eklavya Sena. She married Umaid Singh, her sister’s former husband.

Several books and films were made about her. The most famous is Shekhar Kapur’s Bandit Queen (1994), based on the book by Mala Sen. Phoolan disputed the film’s accuracy and fought to get it banned in India, settling a suit against the filmmakers for about $60,000. Phoolan teamed up with Marie-Therese Cuny and Paul Rambali to write The Bandit Queen of India: An Indian Woman’s Amazing Journey From Peasant to International Legend. She was elected to Parliament in 1996 on a Samajwadi Party ticket. In 1998 she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by some British parliamentarians. On 25 July 2001, she was assassinated in front of her house in Delhi.
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