The day they killed Phoolan Devi: 25 July 2001
By Dalem, [By permission from the author]
["I wrote this. I don't know what you think .... It's written from the heart. 26 July 2001"]

In the afternoon of a sunny summer day -
because cruelty always comes in an unexpected manner, disguised in an illusory shape -
that afternoon i received an email just like any other email.
Its words were black and bloody.
Black like the horrible fate that pounces over us
when we least expect it.
Bloody like the body of a woman who lied dead on the ground
after the bullets of hate had killed her,
only one of too many women
silenced for their acts and words,
for their life of struggle and revolt.

"Phoolan Devi has been shot dead this afternoon", i read.
I choked on the tears before the horrible phrase.
It was not possible -
yet it was there in front of my eyes -
just some hours ago, that brave and strong woman,
who faced the most atrocious horrors and fears,
who fought bravely defying the oppressive caste system and the
cruelty towards women in India,
who for years had ruled the bandit gangs and imposed justice
across no matter what land she came across,
who protected the voiceless,
who fought for the rights of the low-caste, the exploited workers, the women,
had died.

They had gotten her, at last.
Even after having her beaten, raped, abused, insulted, humilated,
mistreated beyond belief and locked in jail,
she came alive and stronger than before,
and entered the Indian Parliament to defend
the rights of those which before had no rights at all.
She proved that by all means she was strong and brave,
that she was in fact
the incarnation of Goddess Durga as she claimed.
The Goddess of Flowers, as her name meant.

She had recently travelled to New York
to have a treatment for a tumour -
ironically, her life ended a different way.
Had she died of old or diseased,
she had been a landmark no less,
yet in some time she would be forgotten.
Ironically, her murder
immortalizes her into a heroine, a fighter, a justicer.
Her name will always be heard and pronounced
with a shiver of fear
or with a smile of gratitude.

Yet her killers have no faces -
where she fought in the bandit gangs,
defied local caste authorities
or surrendered herself,
she always showed her face,
proud of herself,
never having to hide behind a mask.
The masked assassins who took her life are
as pathetic as their masks - coward, weak men
who have to hide behind masks to desecrate the life of a Goddess.

From a small child of Uttar Pradesh,
who defied her own relatives because of land matters,
to a child bride sold for a cow and a bycicle,
who at the age of 12 abandoned her husband,
walking home across a land of hundreds of kilometers
after being repeatedly beaten and raped by the husband -
thus refusing to live the normal life of a wife in India,
that is - to living with her family as a repudiated wife,
to being charged with fraudulent accusations
and paying the price of one month in jail,
where each day was a sucession
of savage beatings and rapes -
the norm for imprisoned women in India.

In 1979 Phoolan was sold to a gang of bandits
who gave her no better treatment
until the day the gang leader was killed
by fellow bandit Vikram Mallah,
who admired Phoolan for her courage.
Vikram became the gang leader and
took Phoolan as his protégé and common-law wife.
He compared her to Goddess Durga,
respected her and helped her to recover her honour.
Along with Vikram she became leader of the gang,
hiding in the Chambal ravines
while not robbing villages
and at roadblocks, not without giving away part of the pillaged goods
to the lower-caste and thanking their Goddess Durga.

In 1980 Vikram Mallah was murdered by higher-caste gang rivals.
These same rivals kidnapped Phoolan and
took her to the village of Behmai,
keeping her locked in a hut for twenty-three days
where each day dozens of higher-caste inhabitants of the village
would come to beat her and rape her, one by one.
At the end of the twenty-third day she was taken from the hut, disfigured by despair,
paraded naked in front of the same men
who had abused her, and publically insulted and humiliated.
Later she was rescued by fellow bandit Man Singh
with whom she formed a new gang.

On Valentine's day, 1981, she returned to the village of Behmai
to reveal herself as Durga and claim justice.
In the same place where she was paraded naked and humiliated,
she gathered all the higher-caste men in Behmai -
the same who had repeatedly beaten and raped her
for twenty-three consecutive days -
and ordered her fellow gangsters to open fire on them,
not without beating some of the men first.
The Goddess of Flowers was revenged.

In 1983 she surrendered along with Man Singh and her gang
in a public ceremony in which she deposed her guns -
her farewell to arms.
She survived 11 years in jail.
After being released, in 1996,
was elected to Parliament in Uttar Pradesh.

Until today, she was continuing her strife
for justice on politics - but bullets spoke louder.

My heart freezes when i think that
this morning she was still alive -
this same morning she was breathing,
alive and well -
that a few hours ago her blood ran happy in her veins,
her heart beated like mine does,
that a few hours ago she was still alive,
under the same sun i was.
I freeze if I think that
they killed one of my heroines -
a person i longed to have the honour of meeting one day -
i will never talk to her,
i will never hear her voice,
i will never be able to hug that woman
whose history has helped me and
guided me through some of the most horrible moments of my life.
The masked assassins took her away from me
and from all the voiceless, lower-caste people
she was defending,
selfish me,
those miserable people who needed her priceless political help.

I can't help crying while i write this.
It is too unfair.
Who will continue her struggle?
How many of these women could do what she did?
How many women in the future
will not be silent about the injustices and be brave enough
to handle the guns and
do justice by their bare hands?
Who will be Phoolan's sucessors?
Maybe the day of tomorrow knows another woman,
maybe more than one,
who for a change
decides to raise her voice and make herself heard,
even if it is through suffering and tragic justice.

Phoolan Devi has been a hero for all of us women,
and for all the socially exploited,
those who never had a voice.
Those whose work is hard and unpaid and never done,
whose rights do not exist,
whose life is lived in complete misery and is expendable,
who are exploited like cattle by rich,
high-caste masters, must be grateful to her,
because she helped them in their long struggle
for basic social rights in her political carreer.
Those women who have been mistreated,
abused, raped, beaten,
must honour her,
because she survived the unimaginable horror
with a super-human courage -
i speak as an abuse and rape survivor myself
and she is a role-model to any of us,
for her courage to stand up,
claim her life and make justice.

The world has lost a heroine,
one of the bravest and strongest women of this century.
Yet, like those who are immolated in the fire of their beliefs,
silenced for their truth being too loud
- like Joan of Arc, Giordano Bruno, Savonarola -
she will be remembered,
the fire and rage of her strife for justice alive and burning,
in our memory of her
and into the future generations.


Pvra Dalem

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