Phoolan Devi - India's notorious woman outlaw

Bandit Queen -Phoolan Devi, April 1,

A Jimmy Carter, former American President.
Kalpana Chawla,from India. Aboard Space Shuttle
For centuries women world over are commonly referred to  as "Frailty thy name is a woman" by men. In the past centuries, globally women did not enjoy as much freedom and fundamental rights  as men had enjoyed in the society in the past  and today the gender discrimination has come down considerably. But, still it is a long way to go. Women, it is believed, are supposed to be created for men and their lives should be dedicated to them. Further, their activities should be confined to the house alone, in particular, to the kitchen and this kind of  conservative attitude has been on the mind of a great preponderance of men in the by-gone era. In the case of Indian society, it is paradoxical that women were revered on one hand by way of giving importance to her role in many religious festivals, and on the other hand,  they were not being treated on par with men. The cloud of conservatism hanging over Indian women gradually became dissipated and now more and more women go for higher studies and enjoy good jobs not only in governments but also in private companies and banks.
Mrs.Sirima Bandaranaike former PM of Sri Lanka.
Salutations to the western world. Many western political leaders  long ago recognized the potential of women in other fields. At a time when women are competing men in every sphere of activity right from military to air force and ultimately to the most daring job assignment in the space - astronaut. In the field of science, women excelled. Ms. Madame Curie, discoverer of Radium was a  Noble laureate. Prior to that, there were many women royal rulers in Europe and also in India who ruled their kingdoms effectively in the absence of their husbands.

 Margaret Thatcher "The Iron Lady" -Former British PM,
 In modern times, Mrs. Indira Gandhi, Ms. Golda Mier, Mrs. Srimovo Pandaranayaka and Mrs. Margeret Thatcher were  highly successful PM  of India, Israel, Sri Lanka and Britain  respectively and even now they are being held in high esteem by the people of the above countries. Lately  many talented, highly motivated women such as Marissa Mayer of Yahoo, USA, Indira Nooyi (of India origin) of Pepsico, USA occupy a position of power in huge companies. Recently in India, there are successful  women CM heading  the  state governments - Ms. Jayalalitha of Tamil Nadu and Mamta Bannerji of West Bengal. As far back as in 1948 Mrs. Anna Chandy
UN Gen. Assembly President.Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit
became the first Indian woman Judge in the court in the princely state of Travancore, Kerala, India. Likewise, Mrs. Vijayalakshmi Pandit, sister of the Late Jawaharlal Nehru, first PM of India  became the first woman President of the United Nations General Assembly. The famous woman US Astronaut   Kalpana Chawla originally from Haryana, India won the heart and the soul of people world over when she and other astronauts died in a fatal mishap - February 1, 2003, encountered by the NASA's ''Space Shuttle'' while reentering the atmosphere after a successful mission

Late Indira Gandhi, India's dynamic PM of
As mentioned in some of the articles earlier, Indian dacoits  are - a class of robbers in India and Burma (now Myanmar), who plunder in armed bands. The term is also used for  "pirates who used to operate the "Ganges" between Calcutta and Burhampore about a century ago. The Morena and Chambal regions, on account of their geomorphological characteristics, abundant valleys, gorges, ravines, etc., have been heaven for decoits. Their numbers have gone down considerably in the past decades
Sheikh Hasina of Bangala Desh
 Invariably all decoits are sturdy robust men, and Indian women never participated in armed robberies. These notorious decoits used the Champal Valley as their hideout. In the1980s the  scenario in the valley had changed.   

With respect to lowly, criminal  profession like robbery and dacoity in India, no body would have ever dreamed of  a valiant woman  becoming a notorious, daring  bandit of the Champal valley of central India and hog the light for a decade plus. She was nick named ''Bandit Queen'' of the Champal Valley. One Ms. Poolan Devi(10 August 1963 – 25 July 2001) had entered the  criminal scene with gusto. Born to a low-caste family (Mallah- boatmen caste) in rural Uttar Pradesh, Devi's family was very poor, being the fourth of six children in her family. Devi's early life was ridden with numerous incidents of physical and sexual abuse, besides intimidation. Her child marriage with a 30 year old man left her with lots of scars. A young girl's hope and dreams were taken away by a man who abused her. Fate had it, being single and barely 18 years of age, Devi was gang-raped by high-caste bandits, roaming in that area.  

All these changed her psychologically and she determined to fight it out after this outrage, unlike many women folk who would just fumble, Phoolan Devi relegated her  past  painful life to the back of her mind and made up her mind to revenge the people who abused her and pushed her down to what she was today. Once she was kidnapped by a gang of dacoits, belonging to other caste and was saved by one  Vikram Mallah, another bandit. Devi joined his gang and had a liaison with Vikram. With his help and  other decoits, she rounded up 22 villagers  of Thakker caste including her rapists and finally executed them.  She also stabbed  her ex-husband who raped her when she was barely 12  and warned prospective elderly men in the village against marrying girls before attaining puberty. 

Bandit queen Phoolan Devi.
Along with the gang and Vikram she used to rob freight trains and loot villages of upper caste people and kidnap people for ransom. Giving importance to her past terrorized life of an innocent teen ager, some press report openly considered the Behmai massacre  was master minded by Phoolan Devi as the right action of an oppressed woman.

After the massacre, Devi evaded capture for two years and at last surrendered to the authorities
in 1983 as part of an amnesty deal brokered by the government on condition that her life, as well as other dacoits' lives, could be spared and, upon release, she should be provided with a small piece of land. She was sent to jail, facing a big charge sheet of roughly 48 crimes, including robberies, murder, kidnapping, extortion.etc. The government being merciless for eleven plus years denied her trial. At last, she was released from the prison in 1994, sympathetically the government gave serious consideration to her early psychological trauma  and gave her a clean chit.

Poolan Devi, once a dangerous woman bandit, became a free citizen and she, on Samajwadi Party ticket, ran for Parliament election (11th) in the constituency of Mirzapur, UP and ultimately became an M.P. She also won the second election 13th Lok Sabha Parliament election and became an MP again in 1999. What a transition for an unfortunate low-caste woman who was a puppet on the string of fate tossed here and there without a stabilized life and at last settled on the most prestigious position - a member of the Indian Parliament(at Delhi) of the largest democracy in the world. Though, she being a member of Dalit community, became a changed person, for many well-educated people her name, by virtue of her having been an out law in the past, was unsavory. She was assassinated while being an MP on 25th July 2001 in New Delhi when she was just 37.

 This is the poignant end of a  poor and unfortunate Indian woman, a victim of evils in  our society, who struggled through out her life  with out any respite whatsoever - the day she came into this merciless world that too in a poor low caste family - till the day she was felled down by unscrupulous assassins in the heart of New Delhi. She became a mythical figure and the subject of folk songs.

                                (revised February 28, 2016)