Phoolan Devi and Mala Sen

Sensationalising, exploiting and benefitting from the suffering of the wretched of the earth by progressive upper castes

Over 1.5 million webpages mention the icon Bandit Queen Phoolan Devi, but her biographer is only remembered because of Phoolan Devi, the Dalit icon herself.

Mala Sen obituary

Activist and author of a book about Phoolan Devi, the Indian bandit turned MP

Ash Kotak, Monday 13 June 2011 19.42 BST

Full story at

The obituary states that:

Mala was very adept at getting people to trust her and she was soon asked to research television documentaries. On one such job in India, Mala was moved and intrigued by press reports of Phoolan Devi, a lower-caste woman who had endured poverty, an abusive marriage at the age of 11, gang rape and kidnap by bandits. Devi became a bandit herself, delivering justice for rape victims and stealing from the rich to give to the poor. At 24, she was charged with 48 major offences, including the murder of 22 high-caste Thakur men, as revenge for them having murdered her lover and for her gang rape. Devi, who became an idol to the poor, negotiated her own surrender in 1983 and was incarcerated for 11 years without trial.

By befriending Devi's family, Mala gained the trust of the bandit herself. She visited her in jail and persuaded the young woman – who could neither read nor write – to dictate her story in Hindi to fellow prisoners and smuggle these diaries out to Mala. India's Bandit Queen, written from eight years' worth of research, was translated into 11 languages.

In 1994, the year of Devi's release, Kapur's film was produced, with backing from Channel 4. The film was based on the prison diaries, and credited Mala as screenwriter, but privately it angered her. It made Phoolan out to be "pathetic", she believed, and "its moral and political implications" she could never reconcile within herself. She had delivered a long script, which had been heavily edited, with graphic scenes added.

Encouraged by the writer Arundhati Roy, Devi took the film-makers – including Mala – to court, demanding the film be banned for invading her sexual privacy by showing the gang rape and for implicating her in a mass murder that she denied having committed.

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