28. The Bandit Queen Who Massacred Her Tormentors
After fleeing from Behmai, Phoolan Devi formed a new bandit crew, this one exclusively of lower castes like her. On the evening of February 14, 1981, several months after her escape, Phoolan returned to Behmai at the head of her gang. She demanded that the villagers produce the bandit brothers who had imprisoned her, but they could not be found. So she lined up about two dozen of the village’s young men, including some who had assaulted her, and ordered them killed. What came to be known as the Behmai Massacre rocked India. A massive manhunt was ordered, but Phoolan evaded her pursuers, helped by the region’s poor, who saw her as a heroine.
Two years after the massacre, tired of life on the run, Phoolan negotiated a surrender for herself and the remnants of her gang. As over 10,000 people watched, she and her followers laid down their rifles, and were taken into custody. A villain to some, a heroine to others, Phoolan was kept in pretrial detention for eleven years, until the charges were finally dismissed and she was released in 1994. She became a women’s rights activist, and in 1995, one year after her release, she was elected to India’s parliament. Her eventful life was cut short in 2001, when a man seeking vengeance for the upper caste men killed by Phoolan assassinated her as she exited her Delhi home.