Bandit Queen takes to the road again

India's notorious Bandit Queen, Phoolan Devi, is on the run again. The former outlaw, elected as a member of parliament from Mirzapur last year, went missing last week after mass murder, kidnapping and robbery charges against her were revived and her petition for advance bail was turned down.

Police now vie to be the hero who captures Ms Devi, though some officials from the state government of Uttar Pradesh are reported to have asked them to back off, given her privileges as an MP. But many officers remember repeated humiliations from this foul-mouthed woman who for years would taunt them through her megaphone, scatter stolen jewellery in their midst to distract them, then vanish laughing into the Chambal ravines until her next raid.

Ms Devi, now 37, eluded arrest so often that legends grew about her mastery of disguise. Her favourite trick was to don the cops' own khaki uniform, which she wore during her surrender ceremony in Madhya Pradesh state. When she volunteered to lay down her arms in 1983, the government accepted her terms, which included sharing a prison cell with her male gang members and freedom after eight years. She languished in jail for 11 years, long after her lieutenants were freed, but was never tried. Charges in an adjacent state were dropped by the then chief minister, Mulayam Singh Yadav, who draws broad support from low caste voters in Uttar Pradesh. He is now Minister of Defence.

While on parole, Ms Devi launched a justice movement aimed at uplifting women and eliminating caste prejudice. Crowds gathered wherever she went, and when she stood for parliament her celebrity was boosted further by screenings of Bandit Queen, Shekar Kapur's powerful film of her life story.

The Bandit Queen's supporters justified her outlaw days as a low- caste girl's only means to avenge atrocities committed against her. A massacre at Behmai, where 22 men died, was seen as taking justice into her own hands. Ms Devi claims she was repeatedly gang-raped by higher caste men in the riverside village, but says her followers did the murders, though her stories conflict. She told one biographer that she had killed two men, but then told another that she did not know how to fire a rifle.

Witnesses from Behmai filed charges against her last year, and, according to her attorney, Nand Lal Jaiswal, the present warrant lists 57 counts of murder and dacoity (theft at gunpoint). The former Bandit Queen was forced on the defensive while still a candidate and the state supplied bodyguards for her protection. Her eventual election triumph surprised most political analysts.

But it was Ms Devi's international fame that brought envy, and has probably contributed to the prosecution of charges against her. Signing autographs in Paris, then arranging to speak as a champion of women's rights in Britain, was seen as going too far.

After Ms Devi failed to negotiate a surrender scene at Kanpur courthouse last week, she ignored all advice from her husband and lawyers and simply slipped away. The dramatic life of India's Bandit Queen may be about to have a sequel.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application Developer

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application ...

Day In a Page

Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...