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Reviewed by Sudhirendar Sharma
30 Oct 2010

Outwardly firebrand, inwardly vulnerable

It is nine years since she was murdered but curiosity to learn more about her life hasn’t diminished. The sordid saga of atrocities committed on her and the tales of violence unleashed in retaliation provide limited narrative on her complex persona. Though Phoolan had become a legend of sorts in her short but vastly eventful existence, unsubstantiated conjectures continue to obscure the truth about her life.

Drawing on years of correspondence and personal interactions, Outlaw: India’s Bandit Queen and Me is a fresh attempt at unveiling the firebrand bandit by Roy Moxham. What began as a sympathetic gesture to cover her legal fees evolved into a brotherly relationship with the author following her release from jail. Outlaw is an intimate portrait of an angry woman and many faces of her vulnerable existence.

Phoolan’s has been an extreme case of exploitation on gender, caste and economic grounds but the social subjugation she went through manifests itself in the predominant patriarchal society every so often. However, Moxham tries to defend her vindictive and mostly brutal actions by asking questions that if the rich could buy immunity from justice in a country where the police and judiciary are corrupt, why victims could not be excused from delivering justice on their own?

Though she was lionized by the underprivileged for her grit and determination, her rise to power invited skepticism and mistrust as well. No wonder, as a member of parliament she remained vulnerable to dubious designs of the politicians as much as to her own family members who were eyeing their share in her new-found prosperity.

As a book and paper conservator living in London, Moxham did not plan to write a biography on Phoolan. However, the exchange of letters and personal encounters brought to light many facets of Phoolan’s life which the previous two biographies – 'Devi –The Bandit Queen' and 'India’s Bandit Queen' - were not privy to. Outlaw is not a work of scholarship but a must-read narrative on the unusual friendship between two people.

For those who have read or not read either of the two biographies and for those who have seen or not seen Shekhar Kapoor’s controversial film Bandit Queen, Outlaw offers a refreshing take on the life of a modern-day Robin Hood. I am convinced that Phoolan’s story must be told and retold in a society that has yet to come to terms with its inherent contradictions on equality and justice.

Outlaw: India’s Bandit Queen and me
by Roy Moxham ; Rider, Random House, London; 214 pages, Rs 599

 Other books reviewed by Dr Sudhirendar Sharma
Features > Book Shelf
Spoiling Tibet
Posting Date: 28 Feb 2014

A Journey in the Future of Water
Posting Date: 28 Feb 2014

Yamuna Manifesto
Posting Date: 28 Feb 2014

Corruption Watch

The bad news is that corruption has not only sustained but has grown in size and stature in the country. With scams being a regular feature, seventy per cent respondents in a survey have rightfully opined that corruption has continued to increase in India. One in every two interviewed admit having paid a bribe for availing public services during last one year. Transparency International's latest survey reveals that the political parties top the chart for the most corrupt public institutions, followed by police force and legislatures. No wonder, India continues to make new records on the global corruption arena!

The shocking revelation is that the health and education sectors haven't remained untouched by this phenomenon. With 5th and 6th positions respectively for these sectors on the public perception chart on corruption, corruption has crept insidiously into these sectors of hope for the masses. With bureaucracy being fourth in the list of corrupt institutions in the country, corruption seems to have been non-formally institutionalized with little hope if public services would ever be effective in the country. With economic growth having literally institutionalized corruption, are we now expecting corrupt to be socially responsible - a different CSR.

Poor. Who?

Not giving 'aid' to India is one thing but calling it 'rich' is quite another. If one in three of the world's malnourished children live in India, what does average daily income of $3 indicate? It perhaps means that there is a relative decline in poverty - people are 'less poor' than what they used to be in the past. But having crossed the World Bank arbitrary threshold of $2 a day does not absolve the 'developed' countries of their obligation to part with 0.7 per cent of their Gross National Income in development aid. Should this three-decade old figure not be revised?  

An interesting debate in UK's House of Commons delved on future of development assistance by the British Government. While prioritizing limited resources has been a concern, there has been no denying the fact that development aid must be guided towards tangible gains over a short period of time to start with. There are difficult choices for elected governments to make - should they invest in long-term primary education or in short-term university scholarships? Which of these will bring gains and trigger long-term transformation in the society. As politicians continue to be divided on the matter, poverty persists!!   

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People, Partition and the Pain
By Rina Mukherji
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Dr Jayanti Basu's book analyzes the complex feelings of hatred and longing for the homeland that have contributed to shaping the personalities of a generation of people who were forced to ..
Book Shelf

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