Wednesday 17 April 2024

News Analysed, Opinions Expressed


Once upon a time there lived a woman called Phoolan


I could not believe that once upon a time she was a “dakoo”, a bandit of the ravines of Central India. How could I? She appeared so innocent and out of the rustic ordinary.

I saw her for the first time sleeping on one of the backbenches of the Lok Sabha (Lower House of the Indian parliament). She had covered herself with a shawl and was groaning with some kind of pain. She felt our presence and got up.

"High fever." she groaned in reply to our silent query.

"Did you consult any Doctor?" Someone asked.

"No, but I may have to." She said. She stood up and bowed reverentially to the visitors before her.

Thereafter I saw her many more times. That particular bench was her usual place in the Lok Sabha. She would rarely venture to the benches ahead of her, except when coaxed by some other Member of Parliament.

But that was not too often. She would move a few benches ahead and soon return to her favourite bench at the back. Her manners and etiquette were perfect.  She would do the Namaskar with a reverential low bow to all and sundry.

I could not believe that once upon a time she was a "dakoo", a bandit of the ravines of Central India. How could I? She appeared so innocent and out of the rustic ordinary.

There are millions like her all over the country, sweating and slogging in rain and shine in some or other field, hill or dale or chiselling or breaking stones or performing acrobatics by the roadside or at village fairs for a living.

She was one of the millions of our faceless, unfortunate, discarded, ostracized and neglected Dalit and Adivasi citizens.

The Indian Parliament does have a few more members of her kind. One or two of them are women but most of them are men. But she is the only dakoo-turned-parliamentarian.

Indian masses have sent a number of representatives of the dalits and backwards to the Indian parliament. Many of them are silent backbenchers. Others are talkative, articulate and even belligerent at times. They flare up on minor issues, rush to the well of the house to make their point and yet are obedient followers of their leaders.

In a way, they are the true representatives of the rural and rustic India. If permitted, some of them would perhaps have come to the House with their traditional weapons and implements like the bow and arrow, club and spear, sword and knife or snare and catapult. But they are conscious of the plight of their communities and their responsibilities towards their fellowmen languishing back home in poverty, ignorance, neglect and injustice.

They are an awakened lot. They have realized that the upper caste Indians had for ages kept them in bondage and slavery. They wish to fight against this injustice. They want their revenge.

Mahatma Gandhi, Mahatma Jyotiba Phule, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar and Periyar are their Messiahs. But with Jawaharlal Nehru, they have a quarrel.  Ask why and they scorn.

"Nehru had a bias in favour of Thakurs and Brahmins. He gave them all high posts. He paid lip service to Socialism but through deeds and actions, he protected the high caste and the followers of Manu."

This is their favourite scorn for not only Nehru but to all upper caste Indian leadership. Mulayamsing and late Kanshiram are their current heroes.

"Down with the Tilak ( mark on the forehead) which means the Brahmins, Taraju (weighing scales )  which means the Vaishya Community and  Talwar (sword) which  refers to the Kshatriyas"  is their election war cry.  Tilak, Taraju, Talwar inko maro jute char - Defeat them, they incite their followers. They wish to avenge the injustice of the ages. They are ready to fight for their rights. They represent the newly awakened classes.

Phoolan is one of them. Her past was another life - a dangerous, cruel life. But now she was cool, calm and as harmless as a snail, who could be crushed under your feet.

And she met her end without a fight. She was crushed like a snail under heavy boots. There was no trace of the anger and hatred, which she had for the Thakurs of Behamai whom she had shot and killed at point blank range. But she was then a dakoo of the ravines and now as helpless a woman as any other.

Phoolan is no more. But I cannot forget Phoolan. Her life after death haunts me. How will an Indian remember her, say after a few centuries or a millennium? In what form will she be remembered? What role will the Dalits, the Brahmins, Thakurs and Vaishyas of the future ascribe to her?

I believe a legend will evolve. A legend called Phoolan of the ravines will do the rounds in the lanes and bylanes.

Phoolan, a mere child, is married to an aged man. He threw her out of the house. The village goons abduct her. She is repeatedly raped and tortured. She is angry. She seeks revenge. She flees to the ravines, picks up guns and kills her tormentors. She is dreaded by the upper class but is an idol for the depressed dalits.

Police arrest her. She suffers imprisonment and atones for her past. On her release from prison, people elect her their leader. She enters Parliament. She is ambushed and killed treacherously.

Many more versions of this story will be doing the rounds at different times and at different places. A wayside stone may represent her in the villages of the high caste Thakurs and Brahmins. It would perhaps be called the "Phoolan stone". The Thakurs and Brahmins would kick the Phoolan stone every time they passed it. This ritual would be necessary to keep the ghost of Phoolan from rising.

At another place, the villagers would attempt to appease the ghost of Phoolan and pray for the well being and long life for the village girls by sacrificing fowls and goats. Temples dedicated to Phoolan may also be built in some places. Phoolan may be worshipped in these temples in the form of a deity wearing round her neck a necklace of heads of the beheaded Thakurs and Bammans. A naked and longhaired Phoolan would be depicted dancing on the dead bodies of the demon Thakurs, Brahmins and Vaishyas... a la Mother Durga. Her devotees may offer her the fresh blood of a sacrificed lamb.

In yet another place, Phoolan may be worshipped as the goddess of peace and prosperity or The Shanta of the Hindu pantheon.  
Phoolan's human existence is long over. She may now exist in the nether world as ghost or goddess. This may be an endless existence. The legend may not remain limited to India. It may cross it border and travel the world over. This may or may not happen. Her life was full of unbelievable tales.

What was she in real life? No one knows.  

Tales of the dakoos of the ravines of the Chambal valley are both heroic and cruel. Romanticism encircles lives of many a bandit. Superhuman acts are being touted as actual performances of the dacoits. Bards sing in their praise and Governments offer handsome awards to informers, who help in capturing the runaways...

Phoolan is already the Bandit Queen loved and admired, hated and cursed at the same time.

Phoolan has had her share of love, praise and admiration, fear, despise and hatred.  She was proud, beautiful, bright, upright, angry, cruel, ugly, a heroine, a despot, a heartless butcher, a benign leader. She was everything.  She was a kind mother, a devoted wife, a treacherous mistress, a whore, a devotee of the Gods. She was virtue, she was vice.

She was everything and nothing. While she lived and upon her death PHOOLAN attracted each and every good and bad adjective in the dictionary.

Question remains. Who was the real Phoolan? Was she the helpless girl who was married as a child to an old man and then abandoned, tortured and raped repeatedly? Was she a whore or a mistress of the outlaws of the Chambal ravines? Or was she a mere puppet in the hands of the powerful that may have dressed her in man's clothes and killed and robbed in her name?  Was she a woman incarnate, the Adimaya - the primordial mother, born to avenge the atrocities of the hoary past?

Who was Phoolan? What was Phoolan?.... Once upon a time there lived a woman called Phoolan...          

(A Chapter from the Blogger's Book "Pratibheche Dene" in Marathi)

Disclaimer: Views expressed above are the author's own.

thats why.................shes my hero!

sue |

As per what I have read Phoolan was abducted by dacoits when16 yrs old in 1979 after which the gang leader tried to rape her but couldn't as he was killed by Vikram who became Phoolan's second husband. This man educated her of dacoity rules and taught her rifle handling and together with their gang they went looting high caste villages. However, due to caste differences among the gang which can't be divided into two i.e thakurs and mallahs, the couple had to escape when a plot was set to kill them as Phoolan and Vikram were mallahs. Phollan was raped by MANY men after they were captured and Vikram executed by the dacoits, after which she managed to flee with the help of two other mallahs and returned to Behmai after 17 months to take her revenge and shot down 22 thakur men who were all she and her men found at their hour of arrival, most of the included were not who had raped her. She was never caught by the police, she surrendered after more than two yrs of the Behmai incident. Upon becoming an MP she is known to have stopped a train at unscheduled stops to meet her acquaintances; and abusing and later suspending the policemen on duty when they rejected her request to meet the jail inmates she had befriended while serving her time. As an MP she had also, made inspiring speeches and sounded a revolutionary, a free thinker, a feminist, a sufferer and also a victim of corruption, caste discrimination, broken trust and a WOMAN utterly appalled by the crippled state of the Indian Govt. which has prevailed since 15th August 1947 and will prevail.

The shooter who silenced her was praised by the kshatriya community of UP and made known that "he has dried the tears of the 22 widowed women in Behmai". Their state of mind is understandable as Phoolan had shot 22 thakur husbands in Behmai but who is to comprehend her plight? She is supported by the mallahs and the dalits and known internationally but to India as an ignorant country, as a whole she is nothing more than a wasted bandit, dacoit and a murderer.

rinki |

Well well ...khalap ji...I really like the way u write.Wishes all the best

Zafar Iqbal |

I agree with you, Mr. Vishwas Prabhudesai. Naxalism and Maoism have sprung or will continue to spring because of oppression for generations and these decimated citizens of India see no hope in foreseeable future. Besides greedy and visionless politicians and corrupt Govt. machinary, it is also ageold social structure present even today in India, that makes a Phoolan Devi and Maoists and Naxalites.

Look at almost every unrest in India, North East to Bengal and especially in the red corridore, and you will find many centuries of social discrimination based on birth and illiteracy.

"Well, is that my constituency?" is the only question a political king asks in democratic India."

Kalidas Sawkar |

Nicely written blog makes you think as to why are the Naxalites and Maoists are born inspite of having a Democratic set up. I think when the common man and the adivasi people feel oppressed and find themselves helpless, they revolt against the system and care no more about their own life and the life of their families!

Sometimes I feel that when a situation like the one which we see today in the mining belt in Goa, where the common man feels helpless and has to suffer heavily because of the greed of a few well-connected VIPs, a frustration and an anger is generated in his mind. This is compounded by the corruption which he has to face at every level and by the indifference shown by every authority concerned, that the seeds of revolt against the establishment starts taking root in his mind! And does this not ultimately results in violence and loss to public property? Does this not result into massacre of innocent people?

Who is to blame for all this? Is it the greedy politicians or the greedy Officials in the Govt. machinery?

Or is it the intellectuals who are indifferent to what is happening around them and are busy taking care of their own selfish motives?

Or is it the common man who is not using his power of voting judiciously to install a Govt. that would take rational decisions in the interest of the State and who could give a corruption free Govt with vision and a blue print of development without exploitation of the common man?

Vishwas Prabhudesai |

A beautiful write up written with understanding and insight for social injustice.

This is also a true Ramakant Khalap whom I knew in school and never lost sight of his elusive goodness, even when he becomes 'political'.

Ramakant bab, politics is not your cup of tea. I prey once again, shun politics, start social work. (I did tell you that a few years back!)

Kalidas Sawkar |

Phoolan Saga ....yes, her life was full of ups n downs ....but she stood up strongly against the so called higher caste...........she was a lady Vallya Koli......true "Pratibheche Dene"

Hats off to PHULANDEVI

great blog Mr. RDK

Nilesh M. Shetgaonkar |

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Ramakant Khalap

Adv Ramakant Khalap is former Chairman of the Goa State Law Commission. Being a veteran politician of Goa, he has served the political arena as the union law minister as well as Goa’s deputy chief minister and the opposition leader in the past. He also takes keen interest in literature and cultural activities while heading several institutions, especially in the field of Marathi literature.


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