Why Phoolan Devi's act isn't a crime but her resistance.

Ekta Sonawane


This article is a sequence of my previously published article, on the death anniversary of Phoolan Devi





'Violence and Resistance'


What is violence? What is the intensity of violence in a women’s life? What role does violence play in the life of any oppressed gender? There are many debates and different perspectives around violence, world-wide. Women, children, other oppressed genders and their experiences around violence has always been the topic of discussion. For instance, it could be a war, communal riot, domestic violence or any other similar situation, Caste based violence is not a novelty in India. So much that we are accustomed to this as now. Atrocities on Dalit’s, Tribal’s, Muslim’s and other minorities, in India, have been an indigenous part of our lives.


At the age of seventeen, I distinctly remember that violence of 2016, in our Sanjegao village, Igatpuri in the Nasik disctrict of Maharashtra, a troop of goons attacked my village house, one of them poked his sword in my grandmother’s eye, my uncle had to rush to ICU, moreover he had to undergo an operation to fix his skull, it was fearsome!! But what was more difficult, was to go through the legal battle that we had to face to condemn this attack and get justice and compensation as our right. It wasn't just our family, but other dalit families too from the village; and eventually, like the dominos falling down, one by one other villages too faced the massacre. On the basis of a rumour that a dalit boy teased an uppercaste girl, they attacked every house having blue flag or panchasheel flag (Buddhist flag having 5 colours). People were removing Ambedkar’s stickers, Buddha’s statue, or anything which reflected Ambedkarite identity; from their cars, houses, absolutely any belonging. This was done out of sheer fear, as if anyone find’s that you are 'Jai bhimwala' (that’s what they commonly call it), you will be lynched. Women of my family and the village were gathered at Buddha Vihar (samaj Mandir) with the children, for the sake of safety. Scared for their lives, they stayed hidden for two days in their own ‘rajwada’s (Maharwadas, which after Buddhist conversion became rajwadas, which are settlements of Dalits outside every village).


Imagine the huge rage of fear and suppressed anger. It was this day, which made me realize the need of 'Dalit Panthers' and the fundaments behind their establishment. If the resistance of Dalit Panther is violence for you, or if you don’t know the existence of massacres like Ramabai Nagar and Khairlanji, if you don’t know the struggle of Bhanwari Devi and if Phoolan Devi’s act of Behmai on 14 February, 1981. Where she rounded up 22 Rajput men of the village, and had them all killed is not resistance but violence for you; then let me break it to you, you won't understand it. I do not support capital punishment to rapist or any criminal of that order, in this context, however I am with Phulan Devi. The intersectional layers to her reality make me justify her resistance and furthermore call it a feminist act.


Justification of her Resistance’


In a Feminist philosophy, time and space are considered important aspects. We agree that the problems of a woman and the problems in any women’s movements are deeply rooted to the socio-political and cultural positioning of lifestyle of the nation. It is a struggle for claiming and asserting power in institutions and systems.


Socio-political and cultural recognition of women is necessarily the main concern. Considering Phoolan’s case, her oppression was deep rooted in caste-class-gender based reality and by extension the violence it offers. Her struggles back then in 1970s and 80s were for survival. She challenged social structures, with her available resources in the ways which were at her disposal. She did so with things under her control, given her socio-political-cultural powers during the time and space. Was she supposed to wait for the feminist frameworks of yours, to seek justice and survival for herself? Or was she supposed to wait for some messiah to save her or according to Gandhi’s ahimsa? Here again, I want us all to rethink and see her act as that of Buddha’s self-defense. Although, I do not wish to indulge in debate of Buddha and his disciple Anand for the inclusion of women into sangha here.This being said, one can think of this as, at least Buddha had that agency to debate and upgrade. I do not see this in any other religious philosophy.


If one still thinks that the resistance of Phoolan Devi is not justified, then one is using the tools of patriarchy to examine the fruits of that same patriarchy. This is an old and primary tool of all oppressors to keep the oppressed occupied with the master’s concerns. Phoolan’s response to her oppression was her anger, and importantly she did not fear her anger or its expression. She had various angers - exclusion, unquestioned privilege, caste-class discrimination, child abuse, sexual harassment, betrayal and many more we might not know.


Her actions exemplify the connections between experiencing oppression, developing a self-defined stand-point on that experience, and resistance. Audre lord says, “Anger is loaded with information and energy”, but Phoolan’s anger was loaded with bullets and guns.

Instead, the question I’d like to pose is, - do we know why was she assassinated? Yes, we have an answer to this. Her existence was haunting and threatening the uppercaste-class-male egos. Her living was questing their power.


And yes she is a feminist!!!



Ekta Sonawane is a student of MA in Gender studies at Ambedkar University, Delhi.









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