Fields of Protest: Women's Movements in India

Fields of Protest: Women's Movements in India

Fields of Protest: Women's Movements in India

Fields of Protest: Women's Movements in India

Excerpt

A pivotal scene in the recent controversial Indian film Bandit Queen shows the protagonist, a lower–caste young woman, being repeatedly and gruesomely raped. A few scenes later, now the acknowledged queen of the bandits and driven to avenge the hideous crimes committed against her, she is seen leading raids on villages, plundering and looting the rich. She returns to the scene of her victimization and, with the help of her enthusiastic band of robbers, rounds up and kills many of the men in the village who had so savagely wronged her.

Bandit Queen is based loosely on the life of Phoolan Devi, a scheduled caste woman who did indeed become the queen of the Chambal Valley robbers in central India during the 1970s and early 1980s. She eventually surrendered herself, as legend has it, when she realized that too many of her people were being killed in the police hunt for her. Shortly after her release from prison, she began to contemplate running for political office, and as she did so, she called for a ban on the film. While originally interested in having a film made about her life, Phoolan Devi strongly objected to the final product on the grounds that it dwelled for too long on her multiple rapes. She asked the people of India whether they would want to see their own mothers and sisters raped repeatedly on screen. No matter how sympathetic the portrayal, Phoolan Devi, as a woman running for political office, needed to be seen as the legendary (and pure) savior of her people, not as a multiply violated (and therefore impure) woman.

This story captures the mythic polarization of “the Indian Woman” in popular imagination. Phoolan Devi is indeed seen to possess only two . . .

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