The name may be same but this Phoolan Devi of Unnao in Uttar Pradesh is a woman with a mission – to bring upon a change in village women’s lives. She believes in the saying; ‘hope and determination never let you down.’ Farah Zehra of the2is followed Phoolan’s story of determination and perseverance:
Aanth in Unnao district is a nondescript village where lives semi-literate Phoolan. Despite having gone through a troubled life, Phoolan took initiative in having a solar micro-grid installed at her house, prompting others to follow suit. The Gram Pradhan is all praise for Phoolan Devi, he says, “ Phoolan Devi is an inspiration for us, her initiative in solar power is commendable.” Now people of the village including the Gram Pradhan get their dongles (device used for solar electrification) recharged at Phoolan Devi house to illuminate their houses.
Not only solar power, Phoolan Devi also took initiative to form Self Help Group (SHG) of women in her village. Now she manages 25 of such groups of different villages. Money collected through SHG’s is used to fulfill the needs of pregnant women, ailing children and overall health of women in the village. Members of these groups deposit Rs. 100 every month and whenever a family is in need, a lump sum amount is given to them. Phoolan says, “we have people of different economic backgrounds, through this group we try to bring people at one level. If a family in a village wants to get his daughter married but is not in a position to do so. The deposited amount is given to help the family. Phoolan recalls how difficult it was initially to convince women to join the group but the scenario is changed now.
Journey from Kolkata to Unnao
Phoolan Devi was born in Kolkata where lost her parents at the tender age of 9. Left alone with no family around Phoolan tried to commit suicide by consuming poison. But when she regained consciousness she found herself at a railway station in Punjab, surrounded by some mysterious men. They took her around some places and tried to push her into prostitution. Somehow, she managed to escape. Pushed into the darkness of hopelessness, she again tried to end her life by laying on railway tracks. But vendors at the railway station saved her life and took her to a shelter home. There she started afresh and was eventually married to a laborer from Unnao. After marriage she settled in Unnao but after few years her husband died from a fatal disease. She was married to her husband’s cousin who mentally unstable.
To manage her household, Phoolan Devi started a grocery shop at her home and started working as an Anganwadi worker. She also works in a factory for an extra income. Phoolan Devi now not only manages her household chores and profession but is also involved in various social activities. She is much respected in her village, and everyone respects and abides by her decisions. She is closely associated with the political leaders of her village and surrounding area. She is now actively working to get concrete roads and school in her village.