Author- Maanvi Agarwal
For all our understanding on the struggles of the Indian Women, a major section remains unidentified and sometimes despite their effort to speak against the crimes and atrocities of the society, they are repeatedly thrust back into surrender. The women of the rural India face a difficult conflict, to remain subdued in the home and within the vicious caste system while working like a machine outside this realm.
These women, who are able to fight rain, hail and storms are ultimately defeated by the patriarchal norms of the society. Despite the struggles, some women stood up to fight the atrocities and succeeded. This paper tries to explore the set up of these societies, which have transformed the face of the rural women from mere slaves to perpetrators of their fate.
In the year 1994, the movie ‘The Bandit Queen’, was released based on the real life of a mallah (boatmen) caste woman named Phoolan Devi. This woman faced gang rape and exploitation at the hands of her husband and the upper class Thakur men repeatedly. Despite some helping hands, Phoolan Devi’s real victory came after she took over a gang and eliminated twenty- two Rajput men, in the village Behmai where she was raped.
The politics of the film is highly debated upon and criticised by authors like Arundhati Roy, who gives a hard remark on the theme,
“Life is a rape. The rest is jus’ details.”
Directed by Shekhar Kapur, the film takes most of its facts from Mala Sen’s book, India’s Bandit Queen: the True Story of Phoolan Devi. Shekhar had ignored the various biographical perceptions included in the book to teem up to one universal perspective of how a ‘morally chaste woman fights for the humiliation and vulgarity forced on her.’
The simple facts of the book were eluded in the movie. The idea of a woman as a rape candy is not a new one, but Phoolan Devi and several other women of India are fighting for other causes as well, which brings them out into the competitive world of the men, away from the empathetic, angelic figure that the male- sympathisers try to create. Marriage for many families was both a means to get dowry as well put a stop on the social activities of the rebellious women (which might get her into trouble). Several women engaged in the property fights of families and class issues, but the Phoolan Devi of Shekhar Kapur’s film was severely restricted,
“He has the caste-business and the rape-business neatly intertwined to kick-start that ‘swift, dense, dramatic narrative.’”
Sunil Sethi, Pioneer August 14th 
There are a lot of vices that affect the women in rural areas. While domestic violence is a major issue for them, the sacrilege of livelihood by unequal rights has also become one of the most troublesome issues for people.
“Majority of rural women suffer not only from economic poverty but also from ‘information poverty’…Women work for longer hours than men and contribute substantially to family income, they are not perceived as productive workers. (Pankajam and Lalitha, 2005) . If the family members had to pay for the whole household work and the free labour she provides in the small agricultural land of the rural families, then her real worth could have been realized. She does this day-in and day-out with compromising the family interest, but in very few families, she gets the respect which she should get.”
Kapur’s Phoolan Devi doesn’t face the financial crisis, because she is constantly fighting the physical assault on her person. Even though she takes revenge on her husband, she is the ‘suffering married woman’ and not a widow or a prostitute or an eloper, who face their own stigma and exploitation.These women are ostracised and the crime against them justified. The Khap Panchayats of Haryana take it upon themselves to punish the law-breaking couples who marry outside of their caste.
The cruelty of caste differences emerges from both the outsiders and from the members within the family. The bigger political picture inculcates both the segments, however they were easily ignored in the ‘The bandit Queen’ where the dalits suffered under the regime of the authoritarian Kshatriyas.
The construct of a woman largely influences our reaction and our laws for them. With just a 48.5% population in India, the upliftment of the women is gaining more momentum. Therefore it is important to recognize the nuances surrounding their struggles. Equality has to take the priority for now.
A woman has a lot of depth, a complexity which Mala Sen could bring out in the character of Phoolan Devi. But this reconstruction was completely annihilated by Shekhar Kapur. Phoolan Devi faced abuse from both men and women of her village, (thus disrupting the power dynamics of women as pitiable creatures), fought against injustice, both domestic, social and political and paid retribution to both the male counterparts as well as female ones in her real life.
However, the movie by taking up one issue reduces the magnitude of other problems and again suppresses the individualism of the woman who is trying to stand as an equal, as a subject rather than an object.
The women in rural India labour under harsh conditions and don’t earn the fruits due to them. Retribution is a short success, and therefore working on the grassroots level to empower women is now being depicted more. The Indian cinema’s power has bypasses all expected boundaries and some directors are trying to make a conscious effort to depict the women as a human first, followed by her gender. While films like “Lajja” and “Gulaab Gang” are taking to the larger audiences the voice of these strong women, the fight for equality and subjectivity is a long one and needs both sensitive producers as well as feeders.
In Arundhati Roy’s words, “What is she to them? A concept? Or just a cunt?”
Bhattacharya, Arundhati. “Rural Women in India: The Invisible Lifeline of Rural”. Ochr.org. Web
Gabriel, Karen. “Reading Rape: Sexual Differnce, Representational Excess and Narrative Containment”. Narratives of Indian Cinema. Ed, Manju Jain. Primus, 2009. Print
Roy, Arundhati. “The Great Indian Rape- Trick 1”. Sawnet.org. Web. 22 August 1994
Sen, Mala. “India’s Bandit Queen: The True Story of Phoolan Devi”. London: Pandora/Harper Collins, 1993. Print