Meanwhile, Phoolan Devi says: "I then decided on the date of my surrender, 10 February, and put forward my demands. I called Jaiveer Singh Chauhan, who had studied up to the 12th class in school, and asked him to write down everything I said.
"My first demand was that we should not be given the death penalty; the second was that all charges against us should be tried in the Madhya Pradesh courts, even the cases involving crimes committed in Uttar Pradesh. From what I can remember, (3) was that my family should be resettled in Madhya Pradesh; (4) my brother and brother-in-law (Rukhmini's husband, Rampal) should be employed in the police force; (5) that my family should be given land and a house in Madhya Pradesh; (6) we should all be released from prison after eight years like the gangs who surrendered in 1972 had been; (7) all the members of our gang, including me and Man Singh, should be resettled in Madhya Pradesh after we were released from jail; (8) we should also be provided with housing and land to cultivate; (9) the children of all gang members should be given free education; (10) on release, we should all be given licences for the possession of arms for self-protection; (11) we should not be forced to divulge sources of supply for arms and ammunition; (12) we should not be asked to name people who had helped us in any way, fed us, found doctors, etc.; (13) the police should not hold us on remand; (14) we should not be handcuffed; (15) we should be given two good meals a day in jail and allowed a certain amount of freedom.
In short, I asked for the same facilities given to the dacoits who surrendered in 1972."
"Some days passed before we saw him again. I asked the S P what Arjun Singh had said. He laughed and told us that the Chief Minister was very happy with the turn of events and had gone to Delhi to discuss the matter with the Prime Minister, Indra Gandhi. He said that all my terms would be agreed to and, putting his arm around my shoulder he said, "Phoolan, we will make a human being out of you!" I asked, "Will you also convert the U P police and make human beings out of them too?" We all laughed and I put forward two more demands: that all members of our gang, including myself, would be allowed to live together in jail; and that the police should be unarmed at the time of my surrender.
When Ghanshyam got the news, he decided to surrender with me." "Rajendra Chaturvedi housed us in a large bungalow with a heavy police guard round it. The place was illuminated so well that, with all those lights, I felt I was attending my own wedding and forgot the fact that I had just come out of the jungle and was considered by many to be a hardened criminal. I felt a surge of happiness and found it difficult to be coherent in my speech. Hundreds of journalists and photographers from all over the world were there, but in my state of confusion I was very inconsistent with my answers to their questions."
Thousand of villagers had walked many miles to witness the event. Phoolan Devi was a national legend. Songs had been written about her exploits although she did not know that at the time. Clay statues of her, dressed in a police uniform carrying a gun, sold in the markets of Kanpu at sixteen rupees a piece, next to statues of "goods, goddesses and other national leaders of the year", as one report put it. Women had begun praying to her, whispering in confidence that she was the reincarnation of Kali, warrior goddess worshipped throughout the Chambal Valley.
Soon after 9 a.m., Phoolan Devi, "Bandit Queen" of the country, "Rebel of the Ravines", the woman villages knew as Dasyu Sundari, mounted the 23-foot-high wooden platform which had been constructed for the occasion. She had wrapped her red shawl over the new khaki uniform and round her head was the red bandanna she had worn in the ravines to absorb the sweat from her brow. Man Singh and the rest of the gang, seven men in all, followed her up the steps. Portraits of Mahatma Gandhi and the goddess Durga, benevolent avtar of Kali, adorned the centre of the stage as she had specified. The three garlands she had asked for had also been provided and hung on a chair; one for each portrait and one for the Chief Minister. With her rifle still slung over her shoulder, the gunbelt across her chest, Phoolan Devi garlanded the portraits. Then, turning, she placed the third garland round the neck of Arjun Singh, bending down to touch his feet lightly with her forehead. It was a theatrical act of humility. It was also a sign that a deal had been struck. Turning to the thronging crowd, she raised her rifle above her head before placing it, together with the gunbelt, before the two portraits. In spirit, she was surrendering to the goddess Durga and to Mahatma Gandhi, with villagers and pressmen as her witnesses. Some cheered, some heckled and there was much confusion. A report published soon afterwards by the Times of India said:
The excitement of the show was stolen by a youthful intruder, later identified as a functionary of the Madhya Pradesh Yuva Lokdal. Shortly after the ceremony started, he stepped onto the dais unnoticed and grabbed the mike to address the gathering. Before one realized what was happening he was delivering a fiery speech in which he deplored the government for "Lionizing thugs". The chap did not have a chance to complete his speech. He was pulled out of the dais by a couple of security men and clobbered by others who could lay their hands on him, as he was being whisked away from the scene.
A news photographer, Mr Promod Pushkarna, who sought to capture a piece of the action, was roughed up. He alleged that some policemen dragged and pushed him around. A senior police officer who had rushed to the scene promptly apologized. A district official who had rushed to the rescue of the photographer also had it from the cops, who probably wanted to make a thorough job of it. Even before the incident, some policemen and the security staff were heard mumbling about the chaotic disorder displayed by the pack of media men who apparently had the run of the place.
Another report in the Hindustan Times read:
Rampus prevailed in the audience of nearly 7,000 for some time as some boys from the local students union threw broken bangles towards the dais as a mark of protest against the incompetence of the law and order authorities in arresting outlaws instead of negotiating for a surrender.
Village women and school children cheered.
Phoolan Devi, in a cold sweat from the fever, found herself being led away hastily to a waiting police van,which was promptly surrounded by journalists and photographers. They bombarded her with questions.
"Were you really leader of your own gang?"
"Does a woman not rule this country?" she snapped back.
"What do you feel about your husband, Puttilal?"
"I should have tracked that bastard down and shot him."
"How did you meet Chaturvedi, the S P of Bhind?"
"Why don't you ask him?"
"How much money did you make as a dacoit?"
"How is that your concern?"
"Who were your harbourers?"
Reply: "Your father!"
Man Singh gripped her hand and told her not to respond. It was pointless, he said. He knew she felt trapped by the van, built like a cage with iron bars across each window, and all the commotion around them, aggravated by her own fever, made her almost hysterical. Cameras clicked as she screamed abuse at the photographers, clutching the bars. "You sell my pictures and make money. My mother tells me you make a lot of money. How much do you make?"
The press turned against her. For two years preceding her surrender, journalists from everywhere had been in search of her, zeroing in on every little detail they could lay their hands on, digging up facts and making up fiction. Her life and all the gossip that surrounded it became public property. Yet not one reporter had seen or met her until the time of her surrender. Having met her face to face, they didn't like her. She hadn't lived up to their expectations. "The Avenging Angel", Bandit Queen", Avatar of Kali", became "A Jangle of Bangles", "Mistress of Murder", "Bandit Brat", and a "Neurotic Nymphomaniac". There was an article I read somewhere which said she was "too dark, too short, flat-chested and rude".
Much of what was printed about Phoolan Devi at the time reflected the nature and prejudice of the men who wrote the articles. For some strange reason, few women covered the story and those who did had been influenced by their male colleagues, or at any rate had decided to stick with mainstream of journalistic opinion. Some bizarre pieces appeared in various national newspapers. For instance, a Mr G. V. Krishnan wrote for the Times of India:
Phoolandevi, draped in a red shawl looked like a tent pole with the canvas collapsed around it. She had a red band tied around her head in the Red Indian fashion. The head band attracted one's attention to her face that would otherwise not merit a second glance. The dark and short-statured "Bandit Queen" could easily be missed in a fish-market crowd.
Another man offended by the "short and dark" women of this world! There was another piece by him a few days later, on 22 February 1983, which began:
Phoolan Devi (at least by now he was writing her name correctly) is no big deal. Blowing the chaff off the "bandit queen" image she emerges as a plain woman with a touch of the wild about her. Remember the wolf boy of Lucknow? He had acquired the habits and lifestyle of the wolves that had brought him up from infancy.
Phoolan Devi appeared no less than the product of her environment. She has spent four impressionable years of her life in the Chambal ravines. In a sense, she could be considered the "wolf boy" of Chambal.
"How was life in the ravines?" he had asked her and then wrote:
She looked bored when the question was raised by this correspondent, who met her in Gwalior Central Jail on Friday. She had just completed an interview with another correspondent. A day earlier a couple of magazine reporters had met her, and scores of applications for interviews with her are reported to be pending with the district authorities.
In the ravines no paperwallahs met me, she said, baffled by such media attention since her surrender in Bhind. Newspapermen who met her on the eve of her surrender and shortly after it hardly had a good word for her. She is reported to have told them where they got off in unprintable language."
Referring to the terms of her surrender, he asked what facilities she had been offered and then wrote:
"Those given to the dacoits who surrendered in 1972." She could not spell out what they were. "But they were listed on the paper I gave to the police." She called it an "agreement". Did she get anything in writing in response from the police or anyone? "No." How then did it become an agreement?" She would not know. Later in reply to a question, Phoolan Devi said she had wanted the "agreement" to be signed by Mr Rajiv Gandhi.
"Because he is a neta (leader)." The other leader she knew of was Mrs Gandhi. Did she know who the President was? "No idea." Another name she mentioned was of Mr Arjun Singh.
The conversation dried up for a while. Her dialect (Bundelkhandi) sounded double-dutch to this correspondent, who spoke through an interpreter…
Eventually he concluded:
Far from being thankful to the media for having turned her into a box-office draw, Phoolan believed that press reports giving her exploits in hard detail were, to a large extent, responsible for making her life miserable. The Behmai carnage put her in the headlines two years ago. "Much of what they (newsmen) wrote about me is lies," she said. "They wrote that I ordered my men to rape women. They associated my name with crimes committed by others." For a moment she displayed ungovernable fury. "Yeh paper-wallon ne meri aisi-ji-taisi kar dee." [These papermen have twisted me this way and that.] For an illiterate, she seemed highly familiar with the power of the press, and the familiarity had apparently bred contempt.
Once she was in prison, the press coverage Phoolan received was no better. In keeping with the "agreement" she was allowed to live in the male wing with the members of her gang. In October 1989, more than six years later, this fact alone still caused controversy. A South Indian magazine, The Week, carried a story headed: "Phoolan Devi's Private Sorrows". The journalist, Ravindra Dubey, wrote under an insert headed "Sexcapades row".
…This was probably the first instance in independent India of keeping females and males together in the same prison ward.
Most visitors, mainly newsmen, were after Phoolan. This hurt Malkhan who had surrendered earlier. Soon he found his followers moving around the two female dacoits (the other being Munni, a member of Ghanshyam's gang). Piqued over this, Malkhan conspired to create a rift between Phoolan and her paramour Man Singh. On July 12, 1983 Man Singh assaulted Phoolan and snatched all her money (a "domestic row", Phoolan told me, aggravated by tension and insecurity)… Finally jail officials brought the situation under control and Phoolan was shifted.
Phoolan then sent word to her political friends and came back to the male wing on June 30, 1983. By then she had understood Malkhan's designs and began making overtures to the young men in Malkhan's gang. This resulted in an open fight between Malkhan's and Phoolan's gangs on June 22, 1984. The jail staff had to put the siren on. Seven dacoits and six jail officials were seriously injured. Phoolan was again shifted to the female ward.
The writer of the article concludes: "But according to informed sources, even now both the female dacoits enter the male ward during night." Other journalists went further, speculating on what happened "during the night". Dr Manoj Marthur, in the Bombay-based tabloid Blitz 926 March 1983) in an article headed "Phoolan Fouling Jail Peace" wrote:
…The officers are helpless and have to concede her each and every demand.
Under the Jail Manual, male and female prisoners cannot be kept together, nor can they be in touch with each other. But Phoolan, who is known nymphomaniac insists that she be kept with her fellow dacoits. This has put the jail officials in a quandary…
Such were the reactions of her in the Indian press. Such is the judgement of men.
What Phoolan says in her diary about the day she surrendered to the Indian government, hounded by the press, is quite simple, without any trace of the venom she had provoked in others:
"Fear had made me ill. When I was ready, they pushed our gang forward and I found myself at the head of the line. I asked what I was supposed to do and was told by an unknown officer that the Superintendent of Police would tell me what to do. I was pushed on to the stage and the S P pointed to the Chief Minister, gesturing that I should surrender my rifle to him. After that, I just did what I was supposed to do. The whole world seemed to be gathered there and I couldn't understand why."
To be continued...