I grew up reading and listening heroic tales of Phoolan Devi, who was called “Daku Rani” (the queen of dacoits) and ” Chambal ki Rani” (the queen of Chambal). Chambal is the labyrinthine geological terrain which creates labyrinthine escape routes and blind alleys. She was the legend and periodically she will appear on the front page of the newspaper. She was haunted by the police, but she escaped all the bids to capture her as she was intelligent enough to be one step ahead of the police.
Her life is exemplary and her biographies do not capture her personality in much details. She was the crusader of human rights, dignity, and caste annihilation. Even before the gender studies started hitting academic doors of India, she was leading the gender justice movement in all the ways possible. She was the victim of triple oppression. She was violated because she was a Dalit, because she was poor, and because she was the challenge. In her case, all odds that make rural Dalit women suffer added up to deny and destroy her humanness. She was raped by the gang of Thakurs repeatedly and mercilessly. She could have given up on her life with no support from the family and the community. She did not.
She stood up and took her fate into her own hands. In the world of dacoits dominated entirely by the men laced with guns, Phoolan Devi entered this domain fearlessly. What a rise in the violent world of men of Phoolan, the legend who destroyed the patriarchy of India’s one of the backward areas. She rose not only in the ranks but also in the esteem when she started taking up the issues of oppression of the poor and wretched. She avenged her insults and her humiliation. She took charge of her own situation and changed it. She was never against the state, but she was against the Thakurs who are arrogant castes.
She tried to find many ways to end the caste oppression. She tried violence when there was no other choice. She tried politics when she got an opportunity to get elected from the state of UP. She became the member of parliament. But that was not she sought, she followed her ideal, Babasaheb Ambedkar when she embraced Buddhism publicly. The history has not seen the personality like her. Her life is inspiring for everybody.
She was silenced forever when the Thakurs gunned her down on this date. It is said that the people who live by the bullet die by it. But, Phoolan Devi had already given up violence, she was a Buddhist, she was a politician. The violent Thakurs in India understand only one language, the language of violence. Now Thakur Adityanath is encouraging the Thakur pride and violence in the community. We need a deterrent in terms of resolving the violence. We need many Phoolan Devis, and I often imagined the possibility that our two great queens, Mayawati and Phoolan Devi, leading us to the great heights for all of us. Now that Phoolan Devi is not there, may her life and her fight be a guide to us. Salutes to the great queen!
Author – Mangesh Dahiwale, Human Rights Activist
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