• Shujat Ali Shahid

Phoolan Devi

From the ravines of Chambal Valley to the Parliament House


Introduction

Fighting her way through caste-based sexual violence, domestic violence, utter poverty and marital rape, Phoolan Devi emerged as a ruthless ‘baaghi’ (rebel). Often called the Bonnie Parker of India, Phoolan later became an MP in the Lok Sabha and was assassinated while holding office.


1974: Her parents married her off to Puttilal who was roughly 20 years older than the then-eleven Phoolan. During this time, Phoolan faced sexual violence, which would perpetuate throughout her youth.

1979: The Life-changing Year of Phoolan

After being abandoned by her husband, she returned to her parents and later became the dacoit Babu Gujjar’s captive, who violently raped her. These actions cautioned Vikram Mallah, his second-in-command, who stopped his superior and eventually killed him in the altercation that followed.

After assuming control of the gang, Mallah inducted Phoolan. They later got married and led a life of dacoity. It is noticeable that in 1979, she was the only woman member of the gang.

Adamant on confronting the abusive Puttilal, the gang attacked his village, and he was stabbed multiple times by Phoolan. The bandits left behind the message that no grown-up man should marry an underage girl.


The Bandit Queen

1980: After two upper caste members of the gang were released, they showed discontent towards Mallah. Eventually, Mallah was killed by the rebellious members.

Heartbreakingly, Phoolan was locked in a room in Behmai where again, she faced sexual assault and gang rape. After three weeks, few loyal gang members helped her escape, notable among them being Maan Singh.

1981: Phoolan and Maan Singh formed a new gang and targeted upper caste folks in particular.


On 14 February 1981, they entered Behmai looking for the two people who had tormented Phoolan. Having not found them, they rounded up 22 upper caste Thakurs and killed them. This incident created an uproar in UP and pressurized PM Indira Gandhi to take steps in the coming years.

1983: Phoolan Devi surrendered in Bhind, Madhya Pradesh after numerous of her conditions were accepted.


Road to Politics

1994: Phoolan was released on parole and later on, the Mulayam Singh Yadav establishment in UP withdrew all 48 charges against her.

1995: Dr Ramadoss, founder of Pattali Makal Katchi invited her to a conference on alcohol prohibition and woman pornography. This occurrence kick-started her political career.

1996: Phoolan was fielded as a Samajwadi Party candidate from the Mirzapur constituency in UP for the 1996 Lok Sabha elections and won the election.

1999: Having lost her seat in the 1998 elections, Phoolan got re-elected to the office which she held till her death.

2001: On 25 July, three gunmen shot her 9 times in front of her Delhi bungalow allotted to her. The Bandit Queen of India was dead.

2014: Sher Singh Rana, the assassin, was sentenced to life in prison.


Though praised for her fight against domestic violence and the emancipation of oppressed castes, Phoolan also garnered criticism for her heavy use of ‘needless’ violence. One thing we can all agree on, however, is the fact that society shaped the innocent victim of unspeakable atrocities into a dared figure.


~ Shujat Ali Shahid


Sources: India Today, Indian Express