A Tribute to Womanhood
Welcome to "I Am Woman"...a tribute to all those women who had the courage and perseverance to stand up and fight for their rights. Thanks to those who came before us we enjoy a freedom unknown to women not too long ago. But, sadly, in many parts of the world, women continue to be repressed. In fact, even in this country there are women living today under the threat of violence...completely controlled by a violent spouse. Some may make it; others won't. Hopefully, one day ALL women will be free. May that day come soon.
The Bandit Queen
Phoolan Devi was born to a poor, low caste family in India on August 10, 1963. She was from a community where those of the lower caste were called Mallahs. Most of the Mallahs owned no land of their own and were forced to work for a higher caste of landowners. Mallahs were often harassed, abused, or beaten by the ruling caste. It was a thankless life that the young Phoolan was raised in...and, when she was only 11 years old, a man of at least three times her age asked her parents for her hand in marriage. And, her parents agreed and even got a cow in trade. Young Phoolan was terrified of this man...and with very good reason, for in her marriage, she knew nothing but rape and abuse. Then, a few years later, her husband tired of her and sent her back to her village. But, this was something that was considered shameful and dishonorable.
And this is where the next chapter of her life began. Although the other villagers and the ruling caste thought her deviant and impure, at least, she was not being openly shunned by everyone. Phoolan began spending her time devising ways to help the poor making sure that they would be paid for their work...and in doing so, she may have made friends, but she made far more enemies while she gained a reputation for being a troublemaker. It was in the late 1970's that she was kidnapped by a gang that the ruling caste had sent to remove her from the village for good. The gang leader wanted to rape her,but Mallah named Vickram took it upon himself to protect her. One night, when the gang leader attempted to rape her, Vickram killed him and then became the leader himself...declaring that Phoolan was never to be touched again.
The gang, along with Phoolan, began to travel from village to village robbing the rich to give to the poor until they reached the village where her husband was living. They found him and beat him; Phoolan made sure to stab him where he had once previously stabbed her, and then they led him down the road, naked and bleeding, in front of the villagers. Then, they left him near death on the road with a note that said, "Warning: This is what happens to old men who marry young girls."
The gang continued to loot the villages of the rich until a man named Shri Ram, one of Vickram's prison friends, was released and claimed status as leader of the gang. His brother had been with the gang for some time, and he and his men sided with him. Vickram's men were not pleased with this. Shri Ram then began making attempts to be sexual towards Phoolan. Vickram managed to get him to apologize, but the tension was inccreasing. The Mallahs were leaving the gang, and with them gone, it left only Shri Ram's followers. Vickram was killed. Phoolan was taken as a slave and repeatedly beaten and raped by Shri Ram and his men. She was also dragged by rope, naked, from village to village until one night, a lower caste man took pity on her and helped her and the few remaining Mullahs to escape the gang.
After she recovered, she gathered a new gang of bandits that she led, along with a former member of Vickram's gang. They began robbing from the rich to give to the poor. They also searched for Ram and his brother, but were unable to find the pair. It was almost two years later that they came upon a village, and what had begun as a robbery, was transformed into a massacre when Phoolan recognized two members of the Ram's gang. When the villagers refused to disclose the whereabouts of Ram and his brother, an enraged Phoolan ordered the villager into a line, and she and her gang opened fire. Thirty men crumbled, 22 died.
For two years, the police searched for her and her gang, but were unable to find them. The prime minister, Indira Ghandi, told law enforcement that it was impossible to catch Phoolan so they should offer her a deal on her terms for her surrender. And, in February, 1983, with most of her gang members dead, she agreed to surrender on the condition that she was not to be hanged and that her men would serve no more than eight years in prison. In front of a crowd of 10,000, she relinquished her rifle.
She was charged with 48 crimes, including the massacre. Then, with Indira Ghandi being assassinated, her trial was delayed for 11 years until a lower caste political party won election. The new chief minister ordered her release, saying she had had enough. And, instead of being a bandit, free, but very frail, Phoolan got involved with politics and became a member of the lower house of parliament. She focused on the rights of lower caste families, once again representing the rights of the untouchables...especially the women.
Phoolan Devi was shot to death in front of her house on July 25, 2001. To this day, it is unknown who killed her. A violent death reflecting what had been a life of violence. She had been loved, feared and hated my many, but no one can deny that she was in a class of her own. She had risen from poverty, rape, abuse, and degradation to infamy as an outlaw...avenging her honor...raiding the rich with her gang and sharing the spoils with the poor. She had become the modern-day Robin Hood, a superwoman to the poor.