Born in a rural village to a lower-caste family, Phoolan Devi (Goddess of flowers) was sold into marriage at the age of 11 to a man nearly three times her age. When her abusive husband deserted her, she returned to her village where she faced further humiliation and rejection. Kidnapped by bandits in her late teens, she first tasted power as the lover of their leader. Robin Hood-like, she plundered the rich and protected the poor, becoming both a feared and celebrated figure.
In alleged retaliation for the murder of her bandit-lover and her subsequent brutal gang rape, 22 upper-caste Hindu men were slaughtered in the village of Behmai. For two years she evaded capture and eventually surrendered on her own terms. She was incarcerated without confession or trial for 11 years, and emerged from prison a political leader. Elected to the Indian House of Parliament by India’s poor and dispossessed, she was later gunned down in the streets of Delhi in 2001.
In her short life, she captured the popular imagination as a victim of social injustice, then as a dreaded avenger, and finally as a charming politician who learned to skillfully exploit her past for political gain.