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Biography of Phoolan Devi
Biography - Phoolan Devi
Family Background and Early Life
Phoolan Devi was born, according to most reports, on the 10th of August 1963, in Gorha Ka Purwa - a small village in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. Born into a family of poor, low-caste boatmen, Phoolan learnt that she must do everything asked of her by the higher-caste Thakurs of the village and gratefully accept every scrap of food she received. Although not the poorest in the town, her family’s inheritance of land had been cheated from them by her uncle Bihari – who constantly beat and insulted Phoolan and her sisters. Unlike her father Devidin(right), bent into a humble and submissive man by years of avoiding trouble, Phoolan took after her mother, who taught her to be proud and stand up for what she believed in. This pride and strong sense of injustice got Phoolan caught up in a high-spirited battle against Bihari and her cousin Mayadin (lower left) to reclaim her family’s rightful inheritance.
Despite having not yet reached puberty, Phoolan’s childhood came to an abrupt end when she was sold in marriage, at age 11, to a man three times her age – in return for a cow. She suffered continuous beatings and sexual abuse at the hands of her husband and, after several attempts at running away, was returned to her family in ‘disgrace’. She again became embroiled in the conflict over her father’s land until 1979, when she was arrested on the basis of a robbery at her cousin Mayadin's home. She spent a month in police custody, where she was continuously beaten and raped. After her release, her standing in society was lowered to such a degree that her parents were forced to pay extra money if their daughter wished to use the same water as the other villagers, as the police told them she would contaminate the water with her filth.
It is unclear exactly how Phoolan Devi ended up in the hands of outlaw bandits. Whether she was sold to the bandits or kidnapped by them, Phoolan Devi was marched out of Gorha Ka Purwa in 1979 and into the Chambal Ravines – the place she would call home for the next 4 years.
The making of India's 'Bandit Queen'
The gang was led by Babu singh, a higher caste man, who continuously tried to abuse Phoolan. His efforts were thwarted by gang-member Vikram Singh, who was of the same low-caste as Phoolan. The tensions arose bwteen the two men until Babu attempted to rape Phoolan one night – and was shot dead by Vikram. Vikram’s tender and respectful treatment of Phoolan drew them close and helped to restore her pride and self-respect. Operating within a 20
000 sq metre area of uncharted jungle terrain, the gang – now all low-caste and led by Vikram – carried out many raids. Hiding out in the Chambal
ravines, they would disguise themselves as policemen and venture out to stop trucks and rob landowners. The name of Phoolan Devi began to strike terror in the hearts of those who had degraded her as she would revisit all the men who had done her harm and make them pay for their crimes. However, Vikram and Phoolan’s increasing notoriety caused other gangs to see them as a threat. One night two dacoit brothers – Sri Ram and Lala Ram – killed Vikram and many of his gang-members while they slept. They captured Phoolan and took to a village called Behmai, where she was tortured and gang-raped by the men of the village. After three weeks of abuse and degradation, a sympathetic priest smuggled a shotgun into her and she managed to escape.
Phoolan Devi then met with the gang of one of Vikram’s friends. They united together with a bandit called Man Singh, and formed a new gang that Phoolan would command. After some time, Man Singh and Phoolan became lovers. This gang carried out many raids in both Uttar Pradesh and the adjacent state of Madhya Pradesh. In one notorious incident they captured a town, looted the market and distributed the goods to the poor. Phoolan was seen as a folk hero and became known as the ‘Bandit Queen’ of India.
Seventeen months after she had escaped from Behmai, Phoolan Devi and her gang returned to the village. Their goal was to hunt down Sri Ram Singh (the man responsible for Vikram's death) and his brother Lala Ram Singh, as well as others involved in the gang-rape and torture of Phoolan.
On the 14th of February 1981, whilst the high-class Thakurs in Behmai were preparing for a wedding, Phoolan Devi and her gang stormed the village. Having spent the night in the nearby hamlet of Ingwi, the band of dacoits had prepared their attack carefully. Phoolan, Man Singh, and Baba Mustakim (a fellow dacoit leader) had decided to split their forces into 3 units – one taking a direct path to the village and attacking head-on, while the other two intercepting those trying to flee. Charging the village, the gang demanded that Sri Ram, Lala Ram and her kidnappers show themselves. When the men failed to appear and no one admitted their whereabouts, Phoolan ordered twenty-two of the upper-caste villagers to be rounded up and shot. These horrific killings became known as the St. Valentine's Day massacre.B Although Phoolan denied being directly involved in the massacre, she became a wanted criminal - for what was the largest massacre to ever have taken place in India.
Surrender and Imprisonment
The sickly Bandit Queen and what remained of her dacoit gang marched through the thick, hot ravines of Chambal, the sounds of Bhind, the nearby Indian village, grew louder. Phoolan Devi, the Bandit Queen herself, glanced back at the town’s local chief of police, sent to the outskirts of Bhind to accompany them into the city. It was February 1983, two years since the Indian government had launched the greatest man-hunt ever conducted in the north-central Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. With 2, 000 police officers and a helicopter on her trail, as well as a 10,400 dollar bounty on her head, Phoolan had been able to evade capture with the aid of the lower castes – those she had always taken pains to protect.
Finally, with the number of her gang members dwindling and her own health worsening, she had been forced to end hher banditry and give herself over to the polive. A surrender deal was negotiated through the Madhya Pradesh police whereby, amongst other particulars, none of Phoolan's gang would be kept in jail for longer than eight years. Her surrender was to be a momentous event, with thousands of people waiting to witness the mystical, heroic, and almost Robin-hood like Bandit Queen put down her arms. After the procession she was escorted to Gwalior jail where, against the settled terms of her surrender, Phoolan Devi would be kept for over 11 years.
In 1991, whilst still in jail, Phoolan Devi ran for Delhi's by-election but failed to be elected - mostly as he opponents were both popular film stars. Her political career really began in 1996, two years after her release from prison and marriage to legislator Umed Singh. In 1996, Phoolan ran for election to become a member of the Samajwadi (socialist) Party and won with a majority of 37, 000 votes. Despite losing the 1998 elections to a Bharatiya Janata Party candidate, Phoolan continued her campaign and re-claimed her seat in 1999.
In July 2001, Phoolan Devi was shot dead right outside her front-door. Returning home after attending the morning session of parliament, three masked men had opened fire at Phoolan and her bodyguard, before fleeing in a nearby car.
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