I first learned of Phoolan Devi through the Chumbawamba web site, in a section called Troublemakers which every month or so features an article on someone that the band considers to have been an exceptionally successful troublemaker or transgressor. Often these transgressors are women.
Born into a lower-caste rural family, given into marriage at a very young age, and subjected to grievous sexual abuse on a number of occasions, Phoolan Devi became one of the most famous and successful women bandit chieftains in India's history. She proved so difficult to capture that Indira Gandhi's government directed the police to make her a deal, and in 1983 she surrendered on a stage before a crowd of 10 000 people.
Imprisoned without trial for eleven years, she was released at a time when lower-caste Indians were organizing among themselves and becoming more involved in political life. Phoolan was a natural candidate under these circumstances, and in 1996 was elected to parliament. After being forced into hiding by a brief scare that some 55 old criminal charges would be reinstated, she is back pursuing political action on behalf of the most oppressed of her country. To many people Phoolan is a hero, but others, for example 22 widows in a village named Behmai, consider her a common criminal and a mass murderer.
Most political doctrines tell us that the difference between war and crime lies with whether or not the perpetrators are acting in the service of the state. For anarchists, it's not that simple. Most wars meet simple definitions of crime, and there are groups and individuals whose best recourse against injustice are actions that amount to war. The purpose of the site is not to discuss that difference as such. What's touching about Phoolan is that, criminal or warrior, she took her life into her own hands and went farther than she was supposed to be able to. Troublemaker!
Weaver's Atlantic Monthly article
Most Westerners who have heard of Phoolan know her from this writeup.
|Phoolan's hunger fast against election-rigging||Phoolan Campaigns in Mirzapur|
|The Samajwadi Party's Official Website||Landlord militia massacres Dalit laborers||Book: Dalits and Peasants: The Emerging Caste-Class Dynamics||The Ambedkar Centre for Justice and Peace|
Phoolan is a very religious individual who paid respects to Durga before and after every caper, and insisted that a large image of Durga be present at her surrender.
|The Goddess Durga||History of Durga Puja|
|The Seattle Times: Bandit Queen fights for women's rights in rural India||SAFE - Save A Female through Education|
Parama Roy - Discovering India, Imagining Thuggee - The Yale Journal of Criticism 9
|A Phoolan in Every Devi||Kusuma Nain: The Butcher of Asta|
The Uttar Pradesh Government's Official Site
The Uttar Pradesh Information Department's Official Site
Search for "Phoolan Devi"
|on AltaVista||on Yahoo|
Women Bandit Queen Web Filter
At some point, I hope to add several reviews of the Bandit Queen movie made by Shekar Kapur in 1995. Phoolan at one point threatened to burn herself unless the movie was banned, because she did not want her various humiliations shown graphically to the world. It has since been re-released in a cut version. It has somewhat the feel of a rape/revenge flick, and I recommend seeing it, but with the caveat that it is only part of the story. It should make you wonder a little about Phoolan's real world.