Today, on 10th of August, we are celebrating the 59th Birth anniversary of Phoolan Devi, who was a former member of parliament and fearless leader of marginalized. She was born on 10th August 1963 at Ghura ka Purwa village of Jalaun district of Uttar Pradesh in a mallah caste which is considered as extremely backward caste and scheduled caste in different states of the country. Today the young generation of backward communities hardly knows about Phoolan Devi and those who know her they know her as Bandit, dacoit, even in mainstream media she is often referred as Bandit Queen but she is barely referred as a leader of marginalized or a feminist Icon.
The story of Phoolan Devi tells the exploitation of a marginalized women on two folds one as a woman another as a lower caste, the reason as a child bride she was raped again and again by her husband, she was sexually exploited by Babu Gujjar, the Gang leader, ganraped by Thankur men for multiple times at Behmai village, her tragic story highlights the social evils like unmatched marriages, child marriage, sexual exploitation of women, caste-based atrocities despite of all injustices, one can leave their desire of living but she refused tolerate all these silently and she fought against the patriarchy, caste based atrocities by killing her rapists. People say that she was a dacoit but they hardly care about the fact that why she had to follow such paths? As a lower caste women she had no financial, social and economic security, despite of sending her to school her family members sent her to groom’s house this shows the lack of education, lack of employment opportunities and most important lack of awareness among lower castes. She was never praised for being bold and assertive about her issues instead she was raped again and again for being bold and vocal; if she belongs to upper strata of the society does she have to meet with same fate? It cannot be denied that women from all strata had to face discrimination, but the society treats a lower and upper caste women differently, comparatively upper caste women have more financial and social security, there are many who can raise their voice for upper caste women but at the same time there was none to fight for women like Phoolan Devi, it’s has been always argued that Phoolan became Dacoit by choice but after analyzing her past it was circumstances which made her rebel.
Has the situation changed now?
Today the political representation of marginalised has improved but they are far behind in comparison to upper caste, if look at the participation of lower caste women in politics, it has been improved on Panchayat level, mainly due to reservation but their representation at upper level is miserable, presently India has only female CM that too from upper strata. If we analyse the sexual security of lower caste women they are more in vulnerable position, the issues like Hathras shows the lower caste women are still treated as sex object by upper caste men, according to report by Swabhiman society (Dalit organization), 80% of sexual violence against Dalit women are committed by dominant caste men. Another report by the National Crime Records Bureau of India, says that at least 10 Dalit women are raped per day, and their vulnerability to rape has increased by 44% in the last 10 years.
What the marginalized women needs to learn from Phoolan Devi?
Despite of various odds she never accepted defeat in her life. She always asserted her demand, before surrendering to police in Behmai case she already asserted her demand to police that she should not be given death penalty. When Samajwadi Party came to the power they withdrew all the cases against her and she was given ticket to contest election from Mirzapur constituency and finally she won the election. Looking at the miserable childhood and struggle-filled youth can anyone imagine she can become Member of Parliament? But she had realized the importance of political representation of women which provides more opportunities to work for the marginalized. She showed the country that she was not a form of tokenism of gender equality in the parliament she was there to assert her demand ensure justice to the most marginalized. She gave confidence to the marginalized women that never gulp the atrocities silently, you should fight back! The major inspiration can be drawn from her struggle is that political participation of lower caste and women are essential for their emancipation.
The story of Phoolan Devi is not a joyful story but it is story worth sharing because she represents many others in India of being a marginalized woman and powerless, women need to take inspiration from her, her will power and courage needs to accolade.
The author has completed her masters in History from Jawaharlal Nehru University, she has completed her MPhil on the topic, ‘Reconstructing the past of ex-untouchables: The Doms of colonial Bihar, she writes on caste and gender issues.