Phoolan Devi was an Indian Bandit and later was a member of Parliament. She was popularly known as, “Bandit Queen.”
Phoolan Devi was born on 10 August 1963 (age 38 years at the time of her death) in the small village Ghura Ka Purwa (also spelt Gorha ka Purwa) in Jalaun District, Uttar Pradesh. Phoolan Devi’s family was poor, the major asset they had was farmland of about an acre with neem tree on it. At the age of 11, when his grandfather passed away, his father’s elder brother became the head of the family. They proposed to remove the neem tree use the land for cultivation of other profitable crops. She felt that his uncle was domineering over his father only because he had no sons. She started taunting her cousins and use foul tongue against them. She even hit him with attacked him. She then led a gang of village girls and sat on Dharna (sit-in) on the land, and did not even move when family elders came to drag her home. She eventually was beaten unconscious by the brick. Her Zodiac/Sun sign was Sagittarius.
Eye Colour: Black
Hair Colour: Black
Family, Caste & Husband
She was born into a Mallah (boatman caste). She was fourth child of Devi Din Mallah and his wife, Moola. Out of all her siblings only she and her older sister Munni Devi survived to adulthood. When she turned 11, she was married to a man three times elder her age Puttilal Mallah. She cohabited with a bandit named Vikram Mallah, who was the second-in-command of the gang, Phoolan fell into. She was in a love relationship with Man Singh, who helped her escape from the house she was locked in Behmai Village.
She later married Ummed Singh, who was a politician.
Life As A Bandit
In the year 1979, after her final stay in her husband’s home, Phoolan fell on the hands of dacoits. However, it is unclear as to how this happened. Phoolan in her biography says, “kismet ko yehi manzoor tha (It was dictate of the fate),” as she became a part of the gang. She soon regretted this after the gang leader Babu Gujjar abused her sexually and brutalized her. She was saved by Vikram Malla, who killed Babu Gujjar in an altercation related to rape. Phoolan and Vikram later cohibited together; both of them knowing that about each other’s previous marriages. Shri Ram and Lalla Ram, two upper-caste Rajput brothers, were released out of jail and were infuriated at the news of Babu Gujjar’s death. They attacked a village and began attacking Mallah’s of that village. The Mallahs in the gang decided that they would divide the gang into Rajputs and Mallahs. Both the communities were displeased, and a quarrel between Shri Ram and Vikram Mallah led to a gunfight. Vikram Mallah was shot dead, and Phoolan was taken captive by Shri Ram and Lalla Ram’s home in Behmai village where she was beaten, raped, and humiliated by Rajputs over the period of 3 weeks. In the final indignity, she was paraded naked in the village. She managed to escape with the help of a lower-caste villager of Behmai, two Mallahs of Vikram’s gang including Man Singh.
The Tale Of Revenge
She together with Man Singh lead the gang comprised solely of Mallahs and started violent raids and robberies across Bundelkhand targeting upper-caste people. Some say that she looted upper-caste people and shared the loot with lower-caste people, although Indian authorities claim it to be a myth. Phoolan along with her gang returned Behmai to seek revenge, dressed as police officers. On the evening of 14 February 1981, she lined upper-caste men from the village and shot them dead. The massacre provoked outrage across the country; the manhunt was carried out following several rewards for her head turned out to be unsuccessful. Two years after the Behmai Massacre, Phoolan accepted to surrender with certain conditions. She was charged with 48 crimes including dacoity, kidnapping and mass killing. Her trial was delayed until 11 years during which she remained in prison as an undertrial.
Following her release in 1994, she was invited by Dr Ramadoss (founder of Pattali Makkal Katchi) to participate in a conference about alcohol prohibition and women pornography. This conference led her way to Indian politics. She stood in 11-Lok Sabha elections from the Mirzapur constituency in Uttar Pradesh as a member of Samajwadi Party under the government of Mulayam Singh Yadav. She won the election and served as an MP from the year 1996 to 1998. She lost her seat in 1998 election but was re-elected in 1999 election, where she was a sitting member of parliament of Mirzapur when she was assassinated.
- The Government of Uttar Pradesh led by Mulayam Singh Yadav withdrew all the cases against her that sent shocks across the country; the matter became a public discussion and controversy.
- Shekhar Kapur made the movie “Bandit Queen (1983)” upon her life and 1983 surrender. Although Phoolan Devi is a heroine in the film, she fiercely disputed its accuracy and fought to get it banned. She threatened to immolate herself outside the theatre if the film was not banned.
- There was another controversy rising about the movie that producers of the movie Channel 4 had to give her £40,000 to withdraw her objections.
- Controversy followed Phoolan Devi right to her crematorium site. Her family members wanted her to be cremated in New Delhi while her party members wanted her body to be cremated her body in the place that once was her political constituency, Mirzapur. Angry supporters of the Bandit Queen rampaged out of her home and started attacking government vehicles and blaming political rivals for her death. She was finally cremated in Chaubey Ghat, Mirzapur.
- Song: Dil Hoom Hoom Kare
- Phoolan Devi’s used to study in her part-time.
- She once said in an interview that she doesn’t want to be a woman in her next birth.
- When she escaped after sufferings from her husband’s home, in order to teach Phoolan a lesson for the disgrace she caused to their family, her cousins sent her to prison accusing her of stealing their belongings. There she was abused physically. They let her off with a warning to behave herself in the future with her family.
- In 1969, her husband abandoned her few months after the ceremony of Gauna (a ceremony where married women start cohabiting with their husband). She was considered a social outcast as it was a taboo in Indian society for a woman to her husband or a husband to a woman.
- She composed her autobiography entitled “I, Phoolan Devi” with the help of international authors Marie-Therese Cuny and Paul Rambali.
- In her autobiography, she describes her husband of a “very bad character.”
- She learned to use the rifle with the help of Vikram Mallah.
- According to a legend, Vikram Mallah taught her,
If you are going to kill, kill twenty, not just one. For if you kill twenty, your fame will spread; if you kill only one, they will hang you as a murderess.”
- Phoolan was the only woman in the gang of dacoits. She would go to Durga Temple after every crime she had committed and thank the goddess for her protection.
- After the manhunt carried out for Phoolan turned unsuccessful, she was glorified by the sections of Media and came to be known as ‘The Bandit Queen.’
- V. P. Singh, the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh from 1980-82, had to resign from his post because of Behmai massacre.
- It was this time that she was acknowledged as Devi by reverent media and hence, came to be known as “Phoolan Devi.”
- Indira Gandhi Government negotiated a surrender with Phoolan through Rajendra Chaturvedi, SP in Bhind at that time.
- She agreed to surrender with a condition that she would only surrender to Madhya Pradesh Police and not Uttar Pradesh Police. With few more conditions that included not to impose any death penalty on her fellow gang members, the term for other gang members not to exceed eight years, a plot of land to be given to her, and her family should be escorted by police to witness her surrender.
- She had a condition more that she would lay down her hands only before the pictures of Mahatma Gandhi and goddess Durga; not to police.
- She was first released on parole in 1994 after intercession by Vishambhar Prasad Nishad, the leader of the Nishadha community (another name for the Mallah community of boatmen and fisherfolk).
- During her course in prison, Phoolan Devi was operated on ovarian cysts and underwent a hysterectomy.
- The doctor reportedly joked about the operation saying that they don’t want to breed more Phoolan Devi’s.
- On 15 February 1995, Phoolan Devi and her husband Umeed Singh converted to Buddhism in Deekshabhoomi, the famous Buddhist site.
- Phoolan was shot dead outside her Delhi bungalow by three gunmen. She was hit nine times, on head, chest, shoulder, and right arm.
- The gunmen fled the scene in a Maruti 800 car and later abandoned the car in mid-way boarding an auto rickshaw.
- The police recovered a Webley & Scott pistol and an improvised firearm, an IOF .32 Revolver from the spot, along with nine empty and 15 live rounds, from the car. But before any forensic tests could be performed on them, revolvers disappeared.
- Phoolan’s sister Munni Devi later accused her husband Ummed Singh of being involved in Phoolan’s murder.
- Sher Singh Rana was the main accuse of the case, who walked into the police station and confessed his crime. He said that he was motivated to take revenge on her for her actions to kill upper caste men as a leader of the bandit gang.
- Sher Singh Rana escaped Tihar Jail and reportedly escaped to Kandahar in Afghanistan, two years later he was caught in Kolkata. He even filed papers to fight elections for Uttar Pradesh assembly election in 2012, which he lost. Delhi High Court granted him bail in 2016.
- Sher Singh Rana was helped by another Uttar Pradesh-based Subhash Thakur, who gave him Rs. 15,000 to Rs. 20,000 per month as a personal expense.
- Sher Singh Rana has written his autobiography entitled “Jail Diary: Tihar Se Kabul-Kandhar Tak
“of being in prison for the murder of Phoolan Devi.
- Following the assault on well known Indian film director Sanjay Leela Bhansali in Jaipur on the sets of Padmaavat (2018). Reportedly, it came to light that Sher Singh Rana threatened him that he would be slapped if he did not budge.
- Shekhar Kapur made the movie “Bandit Queen (1983)” on her life and 1983 surrender. The film brought Phoolan Devi an international recognition.
- Author-activist Arundhati Roy in her film review entitled “The Great Indian Rape Trick”, questioned the right to “restage the rape of a living woman without her permission” charging Shekhar Kapur for exploiting Phoolan Devi and misinterpreting her life’s story and its meaning.