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Tuesday, Oct 26, 2021
Outlook.com

A Bullet-Riddled Biography

Nemesis catches up with the Bandit Queen and opens a can of ugly worms—from an exultant Behmai and cynical caste equations to a husband under cloud

A Bullet-Riddled Biography
Tribhuvan Tiwari
A Bullet-Riddled Biography
outlookindia.com
-0001-11-30T00:00:00+05:53
She had been leading a rather placid life in recent times, but she could never exorcise the ghosts of her past. There were also rumours of a troubled personal life. So, it was only natural for Phoolan Devi to be gripped by a steadily escalating sense of foreboding. "I was born into a violent life and trust me, I will have a violent death," India’s most famous outlaw told her biographer Mala Sen. That was some six years ago. The mysterious and threatening telephone calls never really stopped at her two Delhi homes. A month ago, she even applied for a licence for a Colt pistol—only to be turned down last fortnight.

On an overcast afternoon last week, her grisly premonition came true. Brutalised teenager-turned-fabled outlaw-turned-lawmaker, iconised through a hugely successful film and a couple of biographies, the Bandit Queen, as the world loved calling her, lay in a pool of blood outside her Ashoka Road MP’s bungalow in the heart of Delhi. Three assailants alighting from a bottle-green Maruti had pumped eight bullets into her, killing her almost instantly and injuring her bodyguard grievously (see infographic). A tumultuous and controversial life had come to a macabre end. One of India’s most famous women, Phoolan, who was born into a family of lower-caste Mallahs (boatmen) in Uttar Pradesh, evoked extreme reactions which reinforced her mythical status. On the one hand, there was a slick Shekhar Kapur film on her life, a place in Harper’s Bazar’s list of women involved in the global fight for human rights, even a staggering case by Mildred Gordon, British Labour Party lawmaker, for a Nobel peace prize nomination. On the other, there was the image of a foul-mouthed ruthless bandit, a vote-catching mascot of cynical lower-caste politics who repelled the elite.

On the last day of her life, Phoolan, 38, woke up early in her sprawling bungalow in...

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