016 - PTB discusses Phoolan Devi, the caste system and the lack of cults
The caste system in India divides Hindus into four main categories and governs much of their day to day lives because it determines who they can interact with and how they are treated.
Devi was born August 10, 1963 into a lower caste. She was married at age 11 to an older man who beat and raped her. She ran back to her family, which was considered shameful. They had her beaten and imprisoned for three days before they returned her to him.
At 16 she ran away for good, eventually becoming involved with bandits. It’s unclear how she became involved, in her own autobiography she said "it was the dictate of fate”.
She drew the attention of the bandit leader, Babu Gujjar. He tried to rape her but another bandit, Vikram Mallah intervened. There was a struggle and Gujjar was killed and Mallah became the leader. She became romantically involved with Mallah.
Eventually, the bandits go back to Devi’s home village for revenge. She dragged her husband out onto the street and stabbed him leaving him to die. He didn’t die but he had to live as an outcast after that due to the shame.
After that event, infighting began amongst the bandits. Some were upset over Gujjar dying but there was also a caste issue. Mallah and Devi were from a different caste than many of the bandits. This lead to a gun fight that Devi and Mallah barely escaped. They ran away but the angry faction of the bandit group followed them. They killed Mallah and took Devi prisoner, repeatedly raping her, until she was rescued by Mallah’s remaining supporters.
From here, she formed a new gang that would attack and rob members of higher castes. This earned her a Robin Hood like reputation and the nickname ‘Bandit Queen’.
Devi wanted revenge on the men who attacked her and killed Mallah so she went to their old village. She couldn’t find the men who hurt her and instead took her revenge out on the men’s caste as a whole. She, along with her bandit troupe, ordered all the men from the Rajput caste outside and she shot them. 22 men died that day. The event was known as the Behmai Massacre.
This caused an uproar but she wasn’t caught. She stayed on the run for two years until her health forced her to turn herself in. She was charged with 48 crimes, including banditry and kidnapping and was imprisoned for 11 years but never charged. Eventually the charges were dropped and she was released.
She was invited by Dr. Ramadoss to participate in a conference about alcohol prohibition and women Pornography. This lead to her career in politics. She became an MP in 1998 and was popular with the people.
She was assassinated in 2001 because of the men she killed in the Behmai Massacre. It was a drive by shooting that occurred outside her home. Ten years later, Sher Signh Rana was convicted and given a life sentence and forced to pay ten thousand rupees.