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Last Updated: Friday, 4 May 2007, 14:49 GMT 15:49 UK
India's new Bandit Queen emerges
By Ram Dutt Tripathi
BBC News, Lucknow

Seema Parihar
Ms Parihar says she wants to help the poor
Another woman in India is trying to bridge the gap between a life of murder, gangsterism and crime to that of politician, law maker and film star.

Seema Parihar was once one of northern India's most feared bandits. Now she wants to be a member of parliament.

Ms Parihar, who faces charges on 29 counts of murder and kidnapping, is hoping to be elected to represent a district in the state of Uttar Pradesh for India's Lok Sabha, or lower house of Parliament.

She says that she has the perfect role model to make such a dramatic transformation - the Bandit Queen.

Inspirational predecessor

The Bandit Queen was Phoolan Devi, who became a member of parliament in 1996 after a long career roaming central India's remote countryside, allegedly stealing from and killing wealthy, upper-caste landowners who she said exploited poor, landless farmers.

Ms Devi was murdered in Delhi by an upper caste Hindu while still serving as an MP in 2001.

"I want to carry forward the legacy of Phoolan Devi," Ms Parihar told the BBC.

Like her inspirational predecessor, she is able to stand for election because Indian laws do not debar an accused person until a final conviction is handed down by the courts.

Given India's tortuously slow legal system, that can take years.

If I win, I will start a rehabilitation program for former dacoits
Seema Parihar

When journalists remind the aspiring MP about her murky past, she has a ready excuse.

"It's not my fault that I was a dacoit (bandit). They kidnapped me when I was young," she says, referring to her abduction as a child by a criminal gang operating in the remote countryside of northern India.

"I have seen violence in my early days. This violence has not helped anyone," she announced at a recent election rally. "We want peace and justice for all. Vote for me."

Wounded

Ms Parihar is now the Indian Justice Party's candidate for the Bhadoi parliamentary seat, which fell vacant after the incumbent died.

She says that she learnt to handle guns at the age of 15, and spent a total of 18 years in the custody of dacoits.

Bandit Queen Phoolan Devi and supporters
Phoolan Devi was one of India's most famous outlaws

In 2000 she surrendered and went to jail. But she was granted bail and played the lead role of a woman bandit in a film chronicling her life called Wounded.

But unlike Bandit Queen, the film made about the life of Phoolan Devi, Wounded has not been a hit.

Cynics say that her political career may well suffer the same fate as her attempts to succeed on the silver screen.

Her party is almost a non-existent - it has no well known leader and its campaigning to date has been low profile in the extreme.

So desperate has upper caste Ms Parihar become in her efforts to galvanise the lower caste masses that her entire family are constantly on hand to help her in campaigning.

On policy details, she says improvement of roads are a priority, as are improvements in working conditions for hand-made carpet industry workers. She says that she would also like to revive the brass utensil cottage industry.

Although her campaign did succeed in attracting more public attention, she did not appear to have the self-confidence of a winning candidate.

"The wind is blowing favourably, but the result is in the hands of God," she said.

Voting was on Thursday, the results come out next week.


SEE ALSO
Bandit Queen suspect is arrested
25 Apr 06 |  South Asia
Bandit Queen suspect 'confesses'
27 Jul 01 |  South Asia
Film tributes to 'Bandit Queen'
26 Jul 01 |  Entertainment
Phoolan Devi: Champion of the poor
25 Jul 01 |  South Asia
India's Bandit Queen cremated
26 Jul 01 |  South Asia

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