Friday, May 04, 2007

One of northern India's most feared bandits now wants to be a member of parliament

Ram Dutt Tripathi:

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.

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.

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."

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.

Reformed bandit queen runs for parliament


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