The Bandit Queens: Longlisted for the Women's Prize for Fiction 2023
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In July 1979, a gang of bandits led by Babu Gujjar kidnapped Phoolan Devi from her family's home, for reasons she explained in multiple ways. [C] Gujjar took her as his property and raped her repeatedly. His second in command, Vikram Mallah, became fond of Phoolan Devi and objected to her mistreatment; he killed Gujjar and became leader of the gang.  He trained Phoolan Devi to use a rifle. Over the following year, the gang robbed trains and vehicles, and looted higher caste villages, sometimes disguising themselves using stolen police uniforms.  :247  Vikram Mallah and Phoolan Devi fell in love.  :332 The gang lived in the ravines, constantly moving between places such as Devariya, Kanpur, and Orai.  :113 They found and punished Puttilal.  :99 As news of Phoolan Devi's exploits spread, she became popular with the poor, who called her Dasyu Sundari (Beautiful Bandit), and she was celebrated by most of the Indian mainstream media as a Robin Hood figure, who robbed from the rich to give to the poor.    She was seen as an incarnation of the Hindu goddess Durga, and a doll was produced of her in police uniform wearing a bandoleer.   The notorious “Bandit Queen” who became legendary in India both for her acts of revenge and her aid to the lower castes. In what ways does the past seem to control, or at least influence, the present in The Bandit Queens? How do the characters try to repress or escape the pain of their pasts?
a b c d e f g h i j k l Weaver, Mary Anne (1 November 1996). "India's Bandit Queen". The Atlantic. Archived from the original on 17 December 2022 . Retrieved 20 December 2022. In this novel, women are frustrated over their constant demoralization by the patriarchal system but seem powerless to do much about it. Ramesh physically and mentally abuses Geeta. There is a vivid scene of attempted rape. There are child molesters, crooked police, thugs, caste ostracization, animal abuse, an acceptance of domestic abuse, and gender inequality. One of the characters casually makes the comment “Try naming a village that hadn’t seen a new bride burned alive when retroactive dowry demands weren’t met.” Geeta comments “But from the get-go, they trained boys not to apologize and women to not expect it of them, to instead mutate pain into an art form.”
What did you think about the ending—were you satisfied or disappointed? How do you picture Geeta’s life after the story closes? On the positive side, the novel is well-written, well-researched, and is an impressive debut for Parini Shroff. The storyline involving the sisterhood of the women was realistic and interesting. I certainly won’t forget this story for a long time.
Kumar, S. R. Ashok (12 January 1996). "The cream of Indian cinema". The Hindu. p.26. Archived from the original on 21 December 1996. There's a lot here that's pretty bleak--horrendous misogyny and everyday abuse of women and girls, caste, colourism, poverty. It's kept from being incredibly depressing by the female solidarity (which is shonky beyond belief in a realistic way) and by the super-dark humour that pervades the book (the ongoing gag about motherhood being so rewarding is hysterical). And also by the regular injections of horrible men getting theirs. Plus, a wonderfully exuberant ending. I think if you enjoyed Jane Doe or Killers of a Certain Age or Now You See Us, this will float your boat: it's pure revenge fantasy at points.
Siddiqui, Faiz Rahman (26 July 2021). "Uttar Pradesh: District administration stalls unveiling of Phoolan Devi's statue in Unnao". The Times of India. Archived from the original on 18 December 2022 . Retrieved 18 December 2022.
What did you think about the ending—were you satisfied or disappointed? How do you picture Geeta's life after the story closes?I won’t deny the existence of ugly in my country. But we have so much good too. We have people working for equality, balance, and overall growth of the country. Presenting a more balanced view wouldn’t make one any less of an activist.