The Indian Woman Who Went From Bandit Queen To Member Of The Parliament

There is so much to learn about the controversial life of Phoolan Devi.

Is having a squeaky clean past a requirement for potential world leaders? Perhaps in the past it was preferable to keep all your skeletons in your closet. However, in our current panorama it's highly unlikely. Hardship can help them evolve into a stronger and more confident person that can fight for the rights of others and their own. It can even make them empathetic to the plight of marginalized communities because they've have also been on the other side. This was certainly the case with Phoolan Devi, an Indian woman who found that the only way to be free was to become as a bandit until and later on was elected as a member of her country's parliament.

On August 10, 1963, Phoolan was born in a small village in Uttar Pradesh (northeast of India), a very unfortunate place for a woman. In this small village, girls were treated as prostitutes, and sadly, Devi was no exception to the rule. Destined to live the same fate as other low-caste children, there was not much hope for her future. When Phoolan was just eleven years old, she was forced to marry a thirty-something man, who constantly raped her. Phoolan somehow managed to run away from this hideous situation, just to end up in an even darker place. A gang of upper-caste criminals who abducted, raped and tortured her. These traumatizing experiences became reasons for her to take a stand, even if it meant getting her hands really dirty.

Once again, Phoolan was able to escape from her abusers and joined other gangs, from which she later became a leader. As a very skillful delinquent, Devi managed to return to her offenders’ lair and kill 22 of them. This gory revenge turned into the biggest bloodbath by a hooligan in India's history, and eventually caught the Prime Minister’s (Indira Gandhi) attention. Suddenly, both upper and lower castes began to fear Devi, to the point that she was even described as an incarnation of the warrior goddess Durga. The Indian federal government didn’t know what to do with her, especially because she was seen as a symbol of resistance from the lower castes, so they negotiated some of Devi’s demands in exchange of her surrender. Her requests included returning her father’s land, providing a job for her sister, and freeing her fellow gang members from the death penalty by giving them 8 years in prison instead.

Certainly, Phoolan’s luck didn’t last forever. In 1983, she was accused of almost 50 criminal offenses like murder, arson, and kidnapping for ransom, leading to her receive an eleven-year sentence. In 1994, she was released on parole after intercession by a low caste preacher, Vishambhar Prasad Nishad. The government of Uttar Pradesh also withdrew all cases against her. One year later after Devi started to rebuild her life outside prison, she took a different turn on her beliefs and embraced Buddhism, but this wasn’t the only significant change in her life.

In 1996, she also stood for election to the eleventh Lok Sabha (Lower house of India's bicameral Parliament) in Uttar Pradesh. She won the election and served as a Member of the Parliament from 1996 to 1998 and reelected in 1999. Sadly, this didn’t last long. Phoolan Devi was assassinated just outside her home in 2001. Rumor has it that some of the gangs that she fought back in her youth were still looking for revenge and managed to find her years later.

Phoolan Devi had a life worth sharing. She was able to go through thick and thin for her own sake and managed to go further than she ever imagined. However, she remains as a controversial hero and role model in her country because of her past actions, which included murder, even if it was for revenge. No matter the approach to her life, Devi is an example of resilience and potential to achieve great things, even in the most detrimental conditions.


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