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  • Thumbnail for The rise of Phoolan Devi : from demon to divine incarnation
    The rise of Phoolan Devi : from demon to divine incarnation by Press, Elizabeth Ann

    Phoolan Devi (1963-2001) is recognized affectionately not only throughout her home state of Uttar Pradesh, but also throughout the entire country of India as the Bandit Queen. From a young age, Phoolan rejected her grim destiny as a submissive girl from a low caste and began speaking out for justice within her community. Though her early years were filled with abuse and rape, instead of her misfortune breaking her down, it only fueled her to stop injustice and reap revenge on such monsters. In her teens, as a dacoit, Phoolan’s hunger for retribution was ever increasing. At this time, she made her name on the main stage of India as a mysterious female bandit leader. The press and the people of India were in disagreement about whom and what Phoolan embodied—demon or divine being. After serving an eleven-year jail sentence for her illegal deeds as a dacoit, Phoolan Devi began a successful political career culminating in her election as a Member of Indian Parliament. Her second elected term, however, was cut short by her assassination on July 25, 2001. Throughout her life, Phoolan maintained a calm composure, an overwhelming presence of shakti, and a rare form of feminine masculinity. All of these qualities are particularly reminiscent of the great warrior goddess, Durga. This paper explores how Phoolan was able to escape India’s judgment as a demon and instead become an image of divinity. Additionally, this paper hypothesizes that this divinity is due not only to Phoolan’s modern embodiment of the myths describing Durga as a protective warrior goddess, but also to her enactment of Durga’s masculine power.