Phoolan Devi, also known as the Beautiful Bandit, the Goddess of Flowers and the Bandit Queen, was one of only three women dacoit (bandit) leaders in Indian history. When she surrendered (on her own terms1) in Feb 1983 (with a $10,400 price on her head) she stood accused of more than thirty cases of kidnapping and banditry plus at least twenty-two cases of murder (the twenty-two cases were all on the same day: The Saint Valentine's Day Massacre). Despite (or sometimes because of) her crimes, she is widely considered a hero, something of a Robin Hood figure to the lower castes.

She served eleven years in prison for the St. Valentine's Day Massacre but was eventually pardoned and released in Feb 1994. The chief minister who pardoned her is, like Phoolan, a member of one of India's lowest castes, and her release was seen as a triumph of lower castes over the upper-caste system.

The film The Bandit Queen was supposed to have been based on her life, but she was not consulted or involved and has filed several lawsuits against the director.

To the shock of many, in May 1996 she was elected to one of the lower houses of parliament, running on a platform of "upliftment of women, the downtrodden, and the poor." Her party is the Samajwadi Party. Since her election she has continued to make headlines by commandeering trains at unscheduled stops, arriving at prisons unannounced and demanding to see old friends, and despite the many criminal charges still pending against her in the courts, using her new parliamentary passport to leave India for a one-month tour of Europe to promote her new autobiography. She is still an MP and often in the news.

Update: Phoolan Devi was shot and killed July 25, 2001. She was returning from a morning session of the lower house of parliament when three masked men shot her and her bodyguard outside her home in New Delhi. The men sped away in a motorized rickshaw. Devi was pronounced dead on arrival at the local hospital.

1 The terms of Phoolan Devi's surrender:

  1. She and her gang members would not be hanged
  2. They would be released from prison after eight years
  3. They would never be handcuffed
  4. They would be permitted to live in prison together in an A-class jail (an open VIP jail)
  5. They would surrender only in Madhya Pradesh and would never be extradited to Uttar Pradesh (the site of the Valentine's Day Massacre)
  6. All her cases would be tried together in Madhya Pradesh in special courts
  7. Her father's land (which had been stolen) would be returned
  8. Her brother would be given a government job
  9. Her family would be resettled in Madhya Pradesh, on government land, and accompanied by her goat and cow
The terms of her surrender were agreed to, but not necessarily met. For example, she served eleven years in prison, not eight. I don't know about the others.


Phoolan Devi wants action on women's rights, not just words The Times of India, Sunday 11 June 2000

Weaver, Mary Ann. India's Bandit Queen. The Atlantic Monthly November 1996