THE GRISLY MURDER of Phoolan Devi, executed with such precision in broad daylight, is indeed a pointer to the extent to which killer gangs could go about with their guns even in some of the most protected areas in the capital. While it is imperative for the police now to find out the killers and deal with them, the incident as such also reminds the nation and its civil society of some larger aspects involving the emergence of someone like Phoolan Devi and the violent times of which she was a victim throughout her life. As for instance, a section of the intelligentsia which had faulted the system for letting a person with a criminal record enter the Lok Sabha when Phoolan Devi was elected may well say that one who lived by the gun can expect such an end. They refused to realise that Phoolan Devi made it to Parliament only after she had spent 11 years as an undertrial and that her release from prison was strictly in accordance with the law. The Supreme Court's ruling in a leading case - Hussainara Vs Home Secretary, State of Bihar (AIR 1979) - that an undertrial prisoner kept in jail for a period exceeding the maximum prison term awardable on conviction must be released was indeed the basis on which she was released in 1994. Phoolan Devi entering the political scene and her getting elected to the Lok Sabha after paying the price of a life term after surrender cannot be cited as another instance of criminalisation of the political system.

Phoolan Devi's emergence as a political persona was only an integral part of the churning in the political process (in the Gangetic plains) triggered by the partial implementation of the Mandal Commission recommendations by the then V. P. Singh Government; the coming together of the Dalits and the Other Backward Castes in northern India was indeed a culmination of the social agenda that the socialists had put in place soon after Independence. The dynamics of this social chemistry (a unity of the Backward Castes with the Dalits) based as it was on a synthetic social chemistry did reflect in the evolution of Phoolan Devi too.

But given this larger context, one cannot ignore the reality that Phoolan Devi did nothing for the larger cause of social justice as an MP nor did she really emerge out of Mr. Mulayam Singh Yadav's shadow; and she was reluctant to make an issue of the Samajwadi Party's reticence in taking a strong stand on defining the scope of social justice. Phoolan Devi did not resist the process by which the idea of social justice was reduced to rhetoric, restricted to mere empowerment of the Other Backward Castes and even opposed at times to any kind of such assertion by the Dalits. But then, a victim of the odious social order that prevailed (its vestiges exist even now) in the Gangetic plains, she cannot be judged too harshly for all these. She was not among those who entered the political stage as part of the social churning. She was, instead, one of those brutalised by the old order and hence was forced into reacting in the same manner.

Be that as it may, the response to the tragic death by leaders of her own party - Mr. Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mr. Amar Singh - and their attempts to render to the tragedy a partisan political shade is indeed reprehensible. While on the one hand, it is too early now to rule out any of the suspected motives behind the killing, the charge by the Samajwadi Party leaders against the BJP in this instance reflects their inability to rise above petty political considerations. It only shows that Phoolan Devi merely remained a symbolic presentation of Mr. Mulayam Singh Yadav's ``commitment'' to the Dalit cause vis-a-vis the Bahujan Samaj Party in Uttar Pradesh. Phoolan Devi was a victim of the unequal social set-up for most part of her life and even when she managed to get out of it, she was reduced to a symbol rather than her growing into a leader in her own right.

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Referred by:Mukundan CM
Published on: July 27, 2001
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