Phoolan Devi

10 Aug 1963
25 Jul 2001
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Phoolan Devi (10 August 1963 – 25 July 2001) was an Indian Member of Parliament affiliated with the Samajwadi Party. In 1996, Phoolan Devi successfully contested her first election and was admitted to the 11th Lok Sabha, representing the constituency of Mirzapur. Phoolan Devi would again represent the people of Mirzapur during the 13th Lok Sabha, having won her second election in 1999.

Born to a low-caste family in rural Uttar Pradesh, Devi’s early years were characterised by numerous incidents of sexual abuse, followed by a criminal career she later became known for.

At the age of 18, Devi was gang-raped by high-caste bandits after the gang she was part of was ambushed by rivals. As a result of this incident, she became a gang-leader in her own right and sought revenge. In 1981 Devi and her gang returned to the village where she had been raped and 22 Thakur caste villagers, including two of her rapists, were rounded up and executed.

The press portrayed the Behmai massacre as an act of righteous lower-caste rebellion and popularized an interpretation of Phoolan Devi herself as an oppressed feminist Robin Hood. Conversely, Indian police authorities claimed there were no recorded instances of Devi helping those in need.

Devi and surviving gang-members evaded capture for two years after the massacre had taken place before finally surrendering in 1983. She was charged for 48 crimes, including murder, plunder, arson and kidnapping for ransom. Phoolan Devi was denied trial for 11 years, the entirety of the time remaining in prison. The state government would ultimately withdraw all charges against her. She was released in 1994. She then ran for election as a candidate of the Samajwadi Party and was elected to parliament.

In 2001, Phoolan Devi, a sitting Member of Parliament in the 13th Lok Sabha, was assassinated outside her New Delhi home by three upper-caste men. The 1994 film Bandit Queen is loosely based on her life.

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