The fourth in a series of articles which recognises real-life outlaw Heroes.
GUNS N’ ROSES FOR THE BANDIT QUEEN
Phoolan Devi (1963-2001) was born in the north of India into an impoverished low-caste family.
She was married at the age of 11 to a man three times her age, but was abandoned by her husband and her family after the marriage subsequently broke down.
During her 20s, she was subjected to numerous sexual assaults, which left her with little option but to turn to a life of crime.
In 1979, she was imprisoned in Behmai, an obscure Thakur village.
Each night for two weeks, a group of Thakur men gang-raped Phoolan, many times until she lost consciousness.
It was only after three long weeks that she managed to escape, and promptly formed a gang of her own.
Around two years later, she returned to Behmai to rob the residents as a kind of retribution for what had been done to her by the villagers.
What began as a robbery, however, soon became an inquisition when Phoolan recognized two of the men in the village as being part of the gang that had raped her.
When the assembled villagers failed to disclose the whereabouts of the rest of the group of rapists, an angry Phoolan assembled the men in a line and opened fire on them.
Of the thirty men who were shot, twenty-two died in what became known as the St. Valentine massacre, the largest recorded massacre by bandits in Indian history.
Following this incident, the police launched a huge manhunt using helicopters and thousands of men, but Phoolan Devi’s already high reputation among the poor was only enhanced as she frequently outwitted her pursues and repeatedly evaded capture.
She finally surrendered to the authorities in 1983 in poor health after most of her gang members had died.
After being sentenced and serving 11 years in prison, she was seen as a reformed character and was even elected to the Indian parliament.
It was from that platform, she began to establish her reputation as a champion of the oppressed in India.
Phoolan Devi’s extensive criminal record and subsequent rehabilitation was also made into a successful movie in both India and the west.
On July 25, 2001, however, Phoolan Devi was fatally shot as she got out of her car at the gate of her New Delhi residence.
Sher Singh Rana confessed to the murder, alleging he was avenging the deaths of 22 Kshatriyas at Behmai.