Birthday: August 10, 1963
Died At Age: 37
Sun Sign: Leo
Also Known As: Bandit Queen
Born in: Uttar Pradesh
Notorious As: Politician, Brigand
Spouse/Ex-: Umed Singh (m. ?–2001)
father: Devi Din Mallah
Died on: July 25, 2001
place of death: New Delhi
Who was Phoolan Devi?
Popularly known as the ‘Bandit Queen of India’, Phoolan Devi transcended her traumatic life to become the Member of Parliament. She was born into a poor household considered girls as a burden. She was married off at a very young age to a man much older. Her husband committed a lot of atrocity on her, which eventually forced her to abandon her husband. She had to undergo further humiliation as she was abused at several other occasions, before she decided to become a gun-wielding dacoit. She became a dangerous and dreaded dacoit before surrendering to spend 11 years in prison. After her release from the prison, Phoolan decided to lead a dignified life and became a politician. However, she could not spend many years of her life as a politician as she was shot dead outside her Delhi bungalow in 2001. Phoolan Devi wrote her autobiography with the help of Paul Rambali and Marie-Therese Cuny. Several films and documentaries have been made on her life story. ‘Bandit Queen’ (1994) is the most notable of the lot.
Childhood & Early Life
Phoolan was born on August 10, 1963, in a hamlet called Gorha ka Purwa in Jalaun, Uttar Pradesh.
She was the youngest child of Devi Din Mallah and Moola. She had three siblings, but only Phoolan and one of her sisters made it to adulthood.
She was born into the Mallah (boatmen) community and was considered nothing more than a burden by her family. Since her family was poverty-stricken, she couldn’t receive formal education.
Her rebellious attitude came to the fore when she was just 10 years old. When one of Phoolan’s cousins suggested the idea of cutting down a neem tree which was rooted to a piece of farmland that belonged to the family’s ancestors, the idea was rejected by Phoolan.
Though her cousin said that he wanted to grow crops on the land for subsequent profit, she felt that her cousin was trying to cheat her father and hence stood firmly against his suggestion.
She started abusing him and even staged a protest to publicly humiliate her cousin. During the protest, she kept abusing him until she fell unconscious after being hit by a brick.
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Marriage & Subsequent Struggles
A year later at the age of 11, Phoolan was married off to a widower named Puttilal Mallah who was almost thrice as old as Phoolan. Puttilal lived several miles away from Phoolan’s village.
While her family thought that her rebellious nature and her habit of using profanity would be kept in check by her husband and her in-laws, the reality turned out to be totally different.
She was repeatedly raped and abused by her husband, and after many attempts, Phoolan escaped from his clutches and went back to her home.
Meanwhile, her cousin, whom Phoolan had humiliated earlier, decided to teach her a lesson. He lodged a police complaint against Phoolan claiming that she had stolen valuables like gold and wrist watch from him. Phoolan was arrested and was physically abused by the cops over a period of three days.
Her cousin had also burnt the crops belonging to her father as an act of revenge. After her release, Phoolan once again attacked her cousin and hurled abuses at him.
At the age of 16, Phoolan was accepted by her in-laws when her parents sent them a few gifts. She was then asked to lead a peaceful life with her husband. But she once again suffered a lot of beatings and abuses at the hands of her husband.
In 1979, her in-laws returned the gifts and said that they would never accept her as their daughter-in-law. Being abandoned by one’s husband or his family was a taboo in Phoolan’s village and hence she was despised by many.
Becoming a Bandit
The exact reason behind Phoolan’s decision to turn towards banditry is unclear. Some say that she was kidnapped by the dacoits which triggered her decision of becoming one among them.
Others believe that she simply wanted to begin a fresh life and hence chose to join a group of bandits. In her autobiography, Phoolan Devi simply says that ‘it was the choice of the fate.’
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After joining the group of dacoits, she fell in love with Vikram Mallah. Vikram killed the gang leader Babu Gujjar when Babu tried to rape Phoolan. Vikram then became the new leader of the gang. Phoolan then marched into her husband’s village along with other members of the gang and stabbed her husband in front of the whole village.
She then left him on the road along with a note which warned other men that they too, would face similar fate if they marry young girls from the neighboring villages. Her husband lived the rest of his life as a recluse as people were afraid of interacting with him.
Two upper-caste Rajputs namely Shri Ram and Lalla Ram lost their cool when they heard that their leader Babu Gujjar was killed by Vikram.
Vikram was shot dead after a few weeks, while Phoolan was locked away in a room in the Rajput village of Behmai in Uttar Pradesh. It is said that she was gang raped several times by the Rajputs.
Phoolan was only 17 when she was put through such a misery. After weeks of humiliation, Phoolan escaped from Behmai and met a couple of close associates of Vikram. She then formed a new gang with the help of these men and even became the co-leader of the group.
She then fell in love with Man Singh Mallah, one of the two men whom she had formed the new gang with. This newly formed gang mostly had members belonging to the Mallah community. Amid the ravines and ruins of the Chambal valley, Phoolan continued to loot the wealthy in order to support her gang.
The Blood Bath at Behmai
On February 14, 1981, Phoolan returned to Behmai to hurt all those men who had raped her a year before. But she could not find any of those men. Upset over the fact that she could not find any of those men, Phoolan lined up 30 Rajput men and killed 22 of them.
Though the Behmai incident sent shockwaves across the country, it also made Phoolan the ‘Bandit Queen’. Although she became the most wanted criminal of India, it was difficult to nab her as she had the support of the lower cast people. Soon, she was dubbed as the Robin Hood of India and was also portrayed like a hero by the media.
Surrender & Imprisonment
Phoolan Devi decided to surrender to the Madhya Pradesh police department. However, she put forward a few demands before surrendering.
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She refused to surrender before Uttar Pradesh police and said that she would lay down her weapons only in front of the portraits of Goddess Durga and Mahatma Gandhi. She also asked for the protection of her family while she served her sentence.
She served 11 years in jail. She was absolved of all her charges in 1994 when Mulayam Singh Yadav became the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh and was eventually set free.
Crime Free Life
Post her release, Phoolan converted to Buddhism, and chose a peaceful life. In 1996, she represented the ‘Samajwadi Party’ and contested at the 11th Lok Sabha election from Mirzapur.
She ended up winning and soon became a Member of Parliament. In 1998, she lost her post, only to be re-elected during the 1999 election.
She served as a Member of Parliament (MP) until the day she was murdered.
Phoolan Devi was married to Puttilal Mallah. She didn’t have any children with him.
She was shot dead outside her Delhi Bungalow on 25th July, 2001. The main suspect, Sher Singh Rana, was sentenced to life imprisonment on August 14, 2014.
Even today, Phoolan Devi is hailed as the Indian Robin Hood by many. 'Devi', a respectful sobriquet, was bestowed on her by the people belonging to the lower caste.