Trigger warning: talk of rape.
Phoolan Devi - From Bandit Queen to Parliament
Phoolan Devi, who was murdered in 2001, was one of India’s most famous outlaws.
She was born to a poor family in northern India. She was forced to marry at the age of 11 to a man three times her age who later abandoned her and their children. By the time she was twenty, she had been the victim of a number of sexual assaults. She turned to a life of crime and took a bandit-lover.
She eventually became a leader of a band of robbers (dacoits). Together, they orchestrated a number of robberies in Northern and Central India. Rumor suggests she was a sort of Robin Hood, targeting high-caste families and distributing the booty to the less fortunate. The Indian authorities insist this is a mere myth.
The most remembered incident took place in 1981 when Phoolan Devi’s band of dacoits entered a small village, intending to carry out a robbery. She recognized two men who had sexually abused her and killed her lover. She took her revenge by ordering her gang to open fire, and they shot and killed 22 men.
The press claimed this was the bloodiest massacre by bandits in Indian history. A huge manhunt resulted, but Phoolan Devi constantly outwitted her pursuers. However, the hunt took its toll. With most of her band dead, she surrendered in 1983. She spent the next eleven years in prison.
When she was released, she claimed she was a new woman. She was elected to the Indian Parliament where she tried to establish a reputation as a champion of the poor and oppressed in India.
She was murdered in 2001, but remains a renowned figure in Indian history.