Phoolan Devi the Bandit Queen of India
The Bandit Queen Surrenders
The massacre at Behmai was the most heinous crime ever committed by a dacoit gang in the history of modern
Phoolan and her gang went into hiding, but when she learned that the authorities had arrested and imprisoned her parentsin effect holding them hostageshe decided to negotiate for her surrender. Over a period of nearly a year, she haggled over the terms of her surrender with Rajendra Chaturvedi, the police superintendent of the district of Bhind. With the cunning of a criminal defense attorney, she hammered out a deal that guaranteed that she and her gang would surrender in Madhya Pradesh and would never be extradited to Uttar Pradesh where Behmai was located. Her other demands included that she would be tried for all of her crimes at once and in Madhya Pradesh; that she and her gang would not be handcuffed; that if convicted, they would not be hanged; that they would spend no more than eight years in prison; and that the prison would be an A-class jail. She also wanted portraits of Durga and Ghandi displayed when she surrendered. Furthermore, she insisted that the authorities force her cousin Mayadin to give back the land he had taken from her father; that they resettle her parents in Madhya Pradesh on government land; and that they guarantee a government job for her little brother. The government agreed to it all.
On a February evening in 1983, almost two years to the day from the massacre at Behmai, Phoolan Devi emerged from the ravines with her gang and finally turned herself in. It was a spectacle worthy of a movie. A crowd of 8,000 cheered for their Robin Hood, the Bandit Queen of
She was wearing a khaki uniform and a red shawl. A wide red bandana was tied around her head, covering her brows. She carried a .315 Mauser rifle on her shoulder, a curved dagger in her belt, a full bandolier across her chest, and a small silver statue of the goddess Durga in her breast pocket. She bowed before portraits of Durga and Ghandi and gave herself over to the chief minister of Madhya Pradesh. Before they led her away, she turned to the crowd and raised her rifle over her head. Finally, according to Mary Anne Weaver, with hands folded in the traditional gesture of greeting, she demurely lowered her eyes to the ground. The crowd went wild, vociferously showing their support.
Ultimately the authorities disregarded the terms of the agreement, and Phoolan Devi spent more than eleven years in prison without trial, more than any of her gang members. Some of them, including Man Singh, agreed to be tried in Uttar Pradesh against her wishes but were acquitted because no witness dared come forward to identify the bloodthirsty crew. While she was rotting in prison, as she put it, a feature film based on her life called Bandit Queen was released. She disliked it so intensely she sued the films producer and director.
An ambitious lower-caste politician took up her case and secured her release from prison in February 1994. To the astonishment of the country, the skinny girl who had terrorized two states and committed multiple criminal acts announced that she would be running for office. Heavier and rounder than she had been when she was known as the Bandit Beauty, Phoolan Devi announced that she would run for a seat in the Indian Parliaments lower house, promising to be a strong voice for women and for the poor. Running her campaign with the same shrewdness, ruthlessness, and passion that she had used to run her gang, she won the election in May 1996.
As for Sri Ram, the red devil whose merciless torture of Phoolan had caused the massacre of the thakurs at Behmai, Phoolan had the satisfaction of receiving a note before her surrender from Lala Ram, Sris brother. Lala had informed her that her archenemy was dead. Lala himself had killed Sri in a dispute over a woman.