Women in History – Phoolan Devi

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Shedding light on marginalised people of history is important and many incredible women are unfortunately a part of that. While some of these women with their actions are by no means role models, they show us the rise of women in a society where patriarchy was rife, and oppression was the norm. Phoolan Devi’s story is one without doubt worth sharing. Phoolan Devi was an infamous woman in India who was more widely known as the ‘Bandit Queen’. In her short life, despite terrible and horrifying actions undone onto her, she achieved unbelievable feats such as becoming a politician in India who had derived from the low-caste.

Phoolan Devi’s life (1963 – 2001) was not one filled with sunshine and rainbows in fact I find it one very hard to read and write about. Sold to a husband at eleven and then having the ‘audacity’ to walk away from this marriage, she returned home just to be told she had brought shame upon her family. She was gang-raped by police as well as having relentless rumours hounding her of false claims that she was a prostitute. But Phoolan Devi refused to remain quiet, and in doing so resulted in her kidnapping.

But, this was a major turning point in Phoolan’s life and instead of being beaten or killed, Phoolan actually managed to befriend the second in command of the gang that had kidnapped her. To protect her, this man – Vikram – killed the leader and in turn became leader himself of the bandits and Phoolan rose in power. A turn of events no one could ever have expected.

Thus, resulting in the start of Phoolan’s life as an infamous bandit in India and gaining the reputation among her subordinates as being the reincarnation of the goddess Durga – involving herself in all sorts of crime such as kidnappings as well as holding up and robbing trains, and even exacting revenge on the men that had wronged her in her life. However, this did not last, Vikram was killed and Phoolan was taken for three weeks where she was gang-raped daily. Eventually escaping, Phoolan disappeared off the map until seventeen months later where she yet again, exacted revenge on the men that had wronged her with her own new gang.

It did not end there, Phoolan Devi became known as the modern-day female robin hood; she was notorious for stealing from the rich to give to the poor, freeing women from enslavement and having no mercy for rapists. She was responsible for the massacre of 22 men in Behmai, the village where she had been held captive and raped. For two years she avoided the manhunt for her capture until she surrendered in February 1983, when she heard the man who killed Vikram and raped her was dead.

She was imprisoned for eleven years until she was pardoned, and then ultimately decided to become a politician – she succeeded. Unfortunately, Phoolan Devi’s life was cut short when in revenge for the massacre at Behmai, she was shot in the street and killed in 2001.

Phoolan Devi’s life demonstrates how the struggles of women are continuous, especially in parts of the world such as India where equality between men and women is not prevalent, as well as the caste system that hinders equality for all. This is not a happy story, but a story worth sharing for Devi was a woman who represents many others in India of being a low caste woman who seem powerless. Devi was different because she fought outside the law in order to enact what she saw as justice. The legend of the Bandit Queen lives on.

Phoolan Devi, the ‘Bandit Queen’