It’s a story you’ve heard before, a young girl, born into poverty in a dangerous country, finds herself in a harrowing situation. She is captured, forced to adapt to her new, more dangerous surroundings, and has to find a way to survive.
Yet this story, contrived as you may believe it is, is not your usual tale of survival, it is one that speaks to the power of corruption and redemption…
Seema was born in Auraiya in Uttar Pradesh, India. Like many of her fellow Thakur children, she was born to a poor family who lived each day in squalor and wretchedness. Even from a young age, Seema understood that if you wanted to survive in the world, you had to do whatever it takes.
It was a good thing she learned that too because when she was kidnapped at the age of 13, she would have to grow up rather fast. She was taken from her village by Lala Ram and Kusuma Nian, both of them bandits, or dacoits as they were called in her country. They didn’t want to use her as ransom or anything though, they had other intentions…
Dacoity, or “banditry” as it is known in English is how several people in Seema’s part of the world discuss bandits, highwaymen, and other such criminals. It is a term that is synonymous in Bengali, Odiya, Hindi, Kannada, and Urdu. Armed dacoits will attack people on the road or in their homes and rob them before fleeing back to their own dacoit villages.
For many years, dacoits like the ones who stole Seema, were the scourge of native law-abiding Indians and British who had annexed the country into their empire. In order to crack down on these thugs, the East India Company established the Thuggee and Dacoity Department in 1830, as well as a few similarly named suppression acts a decade later. It worked somewhat, but only for a time…
In time, Seema ended up joining the Dacoits in their illegal escapades. Years went by and she ended up becoming a well-respected member of the band. As she grew, she learned about another famous female dacoit, Phoolan Devi, who at one point had been called “The Bandit Queen.” The more she learned about Devi, the more inspired she became. Like her, the Bandit Queen was born into poverty and escaped her parents by running away and joining a gang.
Phoolan Devi had married young, before joining the gang, but things had never really worked out. Seema noted that this was where the similarities ended. Indeed, by the late 1980’s she had married fellow dacoit Nirbhay Singh Gujjar, and the two were happy. That happiness would not last, however, and when she left Gujjar, her transformation into a new Bandit Queen began in earnest…
A few years later and Seema Parihar had ascended her way through the ranks to become the leader of her gang. In the coming years, she and her dacoits engaged in all manner of looting, kidnapping, and in some rare cases, murder in the regions surrounding Bihand jungle and Chambal River.
Over the course of her career as the new Bandit Queen, she killed more than 70 people, kidnapped 200, and looted a paltry 30 homes. It seemed that her crimes were more in the way of violence than the search for wealth. She had become a legend, a living symbol of dacoit crime in the once-notorious Chambal region…
It was June of the year 2000 and Seema Parihar had been a dacoit leader for 18 years. Nearly two decades of that kind of life had taken its toll though. Not just on her conscience, but on her body. It was time for her to make a change in her life. She had plenty of years left in her, and she was going to do something good with them.
Her decision was to surrender herself to the mercy of the authorities. She surrendered to the Uttar Pradesh police. Knowing who she was and what her laundry list of crimes contained, she was sent to jail. She faced an impressive 29 charges, including 8 counts of murder and half a dozen for kidnapping. Perhaps it hadn’t been the best idea after all…
She remained jailed for a year while the courts considered her charges. In August of 2001, Seema received offers from several political parties. As much as this seems unusual to those of us on the outside, it made perfect sense for her. This can also be traced back to her idol, former Bandit Queen Phoolan Devi.
Support for Politics
Like Phoolan, political parties wanted her support in certain upcoming elections. As much as she was a criminal, she was also notorious enough to wield a great deal of support from the people who lived in her region. In 2002, the Uttar Pradesh Legislative Assembly election took place and Seema supported Shiv Sena. It was her first time, but it wouldn’t be her last…
In November 2006, Seema Parihar joined the Indian Justice Party. She even ran as its candidate for the Mirzapur-Bhadohi Lok Sabha by-election a year later. She switched parties a year after that, all the while fighting the courts for the many cases against her. She hadn’t been tried officially yet, so she still had time.
As of October 2008, when Seema was trying to figure out a new political affiliation, the former Bandit Queen had been acquitted of 15 of the criminal cases against her. It wasn’t all of them, but it was enough for her to be out on bail for the remaining 14 cases. Her prominence in the political arena made it clear she wasn’t going anywhere…
A few years later and she had successfully fought back against more charges, all whilst also being appointed as head of the women’s wing of the National Corruption Eradication Council, an anti-corruption organization. The former criminal had become something of a legend of a different sort, and she was trying hard to change her life for the better.
Her popularity grew and Seema was even invited to play herself in the film “Wounded – The Bandit Queen.” It was the first instance of a criminal playing her own real-life story on the silver screen. It even took place in her hometown of the Chambal Valley. As if that weren’t enough, she was even offered a place on a popular TV show…
In 2010 Seema Parihar had been invited to participate in season 4 of the popular Indian reality TV show, Big Boss. Despite all her political work. she was in jail at the time and had to file a petition to appear on the program. Eventually, after initially rejecting the petition, she was allowed to participate.
Despite being on the show for 11 weeks, Seema was eventually voted off (evicted). Still, she was so popular that she was invited to appear in a music concert in Delhi organized by Moxx Music Company and Raj Mahajan. She spoke to the audience about her 17 years of experience living in the jungles…
Today, after serving time for many of her crimes, and being acquitted of many more, Seema Parihar is a social worker, helping others who need it instead of taking property or lives. She is also the star attraction of The Ballot, a movie produced by the Etawah district administration to promote voting. Her popularity has not waned much since her days as the Bandit Queen.
She has stated that despite her part in the Ballot, she is “Mot with any party anymore, nor am I supporting any party or candidate.” This story though, one of a fall into criminality and dragging oneself out of it and into a life of redemption and public service.
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