Phoolan Devi, the bandit queen was born on 10th August 1963 in Gorha Ka Purwa, Uttar Pradesh. She belonged to the Mallah community, a fisherman subcaste belonging to the Shudra Varna under the Hindu Caste system. She grew up in poverty and adversity, where she got assaulted and abused repeatedly by the upper castes which led her down a path of rebellion against social norms and became a bandit queen who carried out criminal activities in her retribution to avenge the injustices faced by her community.
Phoolan’s family survived by collecting dung cakes and growing chickpeas, sunflowers and pearl millet. Phoolan was married at the age of eleven years in exchange for a cow. He raped her for several years, but somehow, she managed to escape from under his clutches and joined a dacoit group becoming the leader of the group.
The Rise of Phoolan: A Robin Hood Figure
After the downfall, Phoolan Devi rose like a phoenix from the ashes. When she came back home after running from her husband, she was accused of burglary by her cousin and had nowhere to go. She took shelter in the Chambal ravines, meticulously trained and started her journey as a dacoit in 1979. She formed a gang with Vikram Mallah and they together carried out several attacks, including nabbing her husband and stabbing him in front of the whole village. Also, they looted trucks and containers on highways.
Betrayal at the hands of their own gang member
Two dacoits who joined Phoolan and Vikram betrayed them and killed Vikram while abducting Phoolan in her sleep and gang-raped her brutally for three weeks. A few members helped her escape and with the fury of vengeance burning in her eyes, she went to the same village of Behmai and lined up all 22 men who assaulted her and shot them in their head. The outrage was massive and the news spread like wildfire, where the then Chief Minister of U.P., V.P. Singh resigned, taking responsibility for the happenings.
Phoolan Surrenders Marking Her Entry into Politics
Her life took a turn when she surrendered to the authorities in 1983, paving the way for her reintegration into society. She surrendered only on the condition that she would only lay down her arms in front of Mahatma Gandhi and Goddess Durga.
In 1983, Phoolan Devi was charged with 48 criminal offences. Murders, plunder, arson, and kidnapping for ransom were among them. She was released a year later in 1994.
This marked the beginning of her journey into politics, where she sought to address the issues that had shaped her tumultuous life. She fearlessly raised her voice against oppression, advocating for marginalized groups and fighting against gender-based violence.
Phoolan Devi was elected to the Mirzapur constituency in 1996 as a member of Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party. She was re-elected in the general election of 1999. Phoolan Devi was killed by three masked shooters outside her Delhi residence on July 25, 2001. She was struck nine times.
A Life of Struggle and Resilience
Phoolan Devi’s life story was a tapestry of struggle, resilience, and transformation. Her trajectory from banditry to political leadership left an indelible mark on India’s social fabric. As we commemorate her birth anniversary, we honour the legacy of a woman who defied expectations, shattered barriers, and championed the cause of the downtrodden.
Let us remember Phoolan Devi not just as a historical figure, but as an inspiration for all those who strive to make the world a more equitable and just place.
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