Bandit Queen: Raping the norms

Bandit Queen: Raping the norms

By Mohona Baidya (Year II)

“Animals, drums, illiterates, low castes and women are worthy of being beaten”. This is how the movie Bandit Queen embarks on. Tracing the story of Phoolan Devi, a young outspoken girl, the movie depicts abuse, violence, love, hatred, revenge and more. Extremely interesting is the portrayal of Phoolan, who after being gang-raped by some members of her village, turned bandit, and authorised the killing of 22 upper-caste villagers.

Few issues that the movie addressed are still present a little more subtlety today, as a part of our society. For instance, what do we say to a woman who has faced incidences of non-consensual fondling and groping? Well, today she will be questioned about the clothes she was wearing, whether she made any gesture at all that could have ‘provoked’ the behavior. Guess what happened in the movie? At the town meeting Phoolan is questioned by the Head of the Panchayat- “Ae Phoolan! Tu khet ki taraf akele kahe gayi thi?”, “tune Ashok ko khet pe kahe bulaya?”. Of course, how can the man EVER be at fault, right?

“Bandit Queen” is essentially a never ending sequence of rapes and the mindless violence of a one-dimensional Rambo-lina on a righteous rampage. There is also a kind of sexual dominance that the movie brings to light. In the two kinds of sex scenes presented, the first is when Phoolan is getting raped. Here, the men are on top of her subverting their strength and masculinity by imposing themselves on her. In another scene, Phoolan is on top of her lover bringing to light the power she holds in the relationship, and also her freedom. She is free to choose the man she wants to be with and is not merely seen as a reproductive organ.

Another interesting part of the movie is how Phoolan is looked down upon by others when she becomes a populist cult figure, albeit a vigilante liberator of their class struggle toward social justice. She is criticized for being too violent for a woman. This comes across as a rather shocking realization that when violence is acted upon a woman, we are OK with it; but when a woman has a gun in hand, we suddenly feel it’s wrong. Are these rules all but created so that men don’t feel threatened by a woman when she realizes that injustice is being done to her? How else is a woman supposed to react when she’s met with brutal atrocities all her life?

Last but not the least; guess how a woman is treated for having the courage to say ‘no’ when men make advances at her and believing herself to be an equal? She is repeatedly beaten and raped by a GROUP of men. She is paraded around the entire village, naked, as a final humiliation for merely wanting to be treated with respect. Is this how threatened men feel of women? Doesn’t the violence show their twisted insecurities in a rather clear manner?

No matter what, Phoolan has all my respect. You know why? Because she had the courage to question what was wrong, the strength to break the useless norms and will to make a change. The tradition and the system act like strong iron chains that expect woman to conform to their roles while men can go around doing as they please. It is women like Phoolan, who have the strength and audacity to bring about a change. I know that it is practically impossible to expect a change overnight, but with consistent efforts, one day it is bound to come.


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