The twentieth-century Robin Hood is Phholan Devi, an Indian woman who formed a group of male bandits to steal from upper castes and kill 20 men who gang-raped her. After three years as an outlaw, the woman and her gang surrendered to the authorities on the condition that the police would imprison them for no longer than eight years and give their poor families land and education. The authorities instead held her without a trial for 11 years until a lower-caste politician freed her in 1994. Two years later, voters elected her to Parliament.
This champion of rights for women and lower-caste Indians became the center of attention once more this month when authorities filed charges against her again. These authorities have left other members of Parliament accused of murder alone. Phoolan Devi attributes this inconsistency to her sex and the caste system, the old Hindu hierarchy.
As a member of Parliament, Phoolan Devi is fighting for women’s rights. She plans to introduce bills that would allow women equal claims to their husbands’ property when they marry and that would permit only celibate men to marry virgin women.