Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Phoolan Devi the Bandit Queen of India

"They Passed Me from Man to Man."

Phoolan Devi's I, Phoolan Devi
Phoolan Devi's I, Phoolan Devi

They arrived at a village on the river, and Phoolan Devis humiliation continued.   Still naked, she was taken to the center of the village where Sri Ram publicly declared that she had killed her lover Vikram.  He incited the men of the village, many of them thakurs like himself, demanding that she be punished. He was the first to rape her.  After he was finished with her, he offered her to everyone else.  They passed me from man to man, she wrote in I, Phoolan Devi.

They beat her and cursed her.   In the days that followed, Sri Ram took her to other villages, Phoolan couldnt remember how many.  I was paraded in front of the villagers.  Each time, Sri Ram called me a mallah whore.  He said I was the one who killed Vikram and, hurling me to the ground, told the villagers to use me as they pleased.

Phoolan Devi after three weeks of torture
Phoolan Devi after three weeks of torture

This torture went on for more than three weeks.   Throughout the ordeal she prayed to Durga for strength and liberation, all the while wondering how and when this could possibly end.  On the twenty-third day, she found herself in the thakur village of Behmai where Sri Ram led her around on a leash like a dog.  She was bruised and filthy from head to foot.  Sri Ram dragged her listless body to the center of the village where a group of thakur men had gathered and demanded that she fetch him fresh water from the well.  When she refused, he beat her mercilessly, tearing off her only garment, a blanket, and kicking her over and over again.   Finally, to stop the onslaught, she got up and limped to the well to do as he asked as the thakurs mocked her and spat on her.

That night an old Brahmin came to her rescue, quietly releasing her from the shed where she was kept and sneaking her out of Behmai in a bullock cart.   He took her to the jungle where she wandered until she was found by a shepherd woman who nursed her back to health.   But her hatred for the Ram brothers, especially Sri Ram, was the one wound that would not heal.  When she was well enough to travel, Phoolan began to plot her revenge. 

Eventually she joined a gang of dacoits made up of men from the gadariya caste, but she wasnt interested in working for another master.   She stayed only long enough to kidnap two wealthy merchants and earn 50,000 rupees in ransom.  She wanted to start her own gang.

Another dacoit leader, a Muslim named Baba Mustakim, offered to help her when he heard of the indignities she suffered at the hand of Sri Ram.   Mustakim offered to give her ten of his own men to start her gang, and she could pick whomever she wanted.  Man Singh was one of the men she selected even though she initially found his appearance frightening.  He was tall and bearded, and he wore his black hair to his shoulders.  Deep lines ran across his heavy brow; he had a penetrating gaze and the nose of an eagle, she recalls in her autobiography.  He was the most experienced bandit in Baba Mustakims gang, and so he became Phoolans lieutenant (and later her lover).   Man Singh gave her the red cloth to tie around her head to symbolize her quest for revenge.  With a formidable gang behind her, the hunt for Sri and Lala Ram began in earnest.

Phoolan Devi, the self-anointed Queen of the Dacoits, led raids throughout Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh where she was also the self-appointed avenger for womens rights.  Whenever she heard of a rape, a forced abortion, or the coerced suicide of a disgraced woman, Phoolan took it upon herself to punish the men responsible.  Whenever I heard of it, I crushed the serpent they used to torture women.  I dismembered them.  She tracked down a particularly lecherous old thakur who tortured women and had sex with young boys and animals.  His serpent first, then his hands, then his feet... I cut them off.  Her gang was sickened by her blood lust, but her act of retribution was performed before a picture of the goddess Durga, and Phoolan Devi felt thoroughly justified doing it.

As the gang terrorized village after village, Phoolans focus remained on the Ram brothers.  She interrogated villagers, desperate for any information that would lead her to Sri and Lala.  On several occasions these leads brought her close, but every time she thought she had them cornered, they managed to slip away. Finally, she received information that Sri Ram and his gang were hiding in Behmai, the thakur village where she had been treated like a dog.   She led her gang to the outskirts of Ingwi, a nearby village, and set up camp.  She was eager for revenge, but she was also determined not to let her targets get away again.  This time she would be patient and come up with a foolproof plan.  

The plan she and her gang came up witha frontal attack by one third of their force with two flanking groups waiting for anyone who tried to fleedid not yield the results Phoolan had hoped for.   Thakur villagers did flee from the attack, but the Ram brothers were not among them.    The flanking forces converged on the village and searched everywhere for their targets, but the Ram brothers couldnt be found.  Phoolan was losing her patience.  She grabbed a bullhorn and made a declaration from the town square.  As reported by Mary Anne Weaver, the bandit queen shouted, ...I know that Lala Ram and Sri Ram are hiding in this village.  If you dont hand them over to me, I will stick my gun into your butts and tear them apart.  This is Phoolan Devi speaking.  Victory to Durga the Mother Goddess.

Her men ransacked the village as she waited by the well where she was forced to fetch water for Sri Ram.   After an hour her men returned and reported that the Ram brothers were not there.  Phoolan refused to believe that they had slipped away.  She was convinced that the villagers were hiding them.  She ordered her bandits to round up all the young thakur men and bring them to the town square.  The bandits lined up the thakurs, and Phoolan dressed them down, threatening to roast them alive if they did not tell her the truth.   She punctuated her threats with blows to the mens groins with the butt of her rifle.  The thakurs pleaded their ignorance, but this only enraged Phoolan more.  She ordered her men to march the thakurs to the river where they were forced to kneel on the banks.  Gunfire from multiple weapons shattered the air.  Bodies keeled over and fell lifeless into the mud.  When the shooting stopped, 22 of the 30 young men were dead. 

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