Women have often been viewed as inferior to men as a result of the predominantly male chauvinistic tendencies in most societies. They have often been given subordinate roles while their male counterparts take the forefront in critical decision making responsibilities. This situation has often made women to be subjected to unacceptable acts such as rape, early marriages, verbal abuse and physical violence, which violates their right to human dignity. Regardless, there have been women of outstanding character and personality who have stood up against these suppressions that limit the potential of many women across the world. ‘The Bandit Queen’ is a Bollywood blockbuster film directed by Shekhar Kapur that addresses the plight and role of women in the patriarchal society of India. It shows a unique side of women capabilities through the character of the protagonist female character Phoolan Devi. This is a masterpiece of a film written, produced and directed based on a true story. It is a film about the story of a woman who has undergone abuse, caste and suppression to emerge stronger as a heroine in the eyes of many people in her Indian society.
Early marriage is an issue that is prevalent in the Indian society. At the tender age of eleven years, Phoolan gets married to Puttilal who is quite senior to her in terms of age. Her mother does not assent to the marriage but her opinion does not count since her aging husband has the final word on the issue. This implies that decision making in the Indian society is a domain for the men; women’s views are not put into consideration. One of the reasons that influences Phoolan’s father to compel her into an early marriage is poverty. By allowing Puttilal to marry his daughter, he has one less stomach to feed.
Puttilal is a violent man who beats Phoolan and also forces her into having sexual encounters with her. The sanctity of sexual consent in marriage is not respected by the men. Men such as Puttilal believe that sex is a right that they are entitled to receive from their wives without obtaining their consent. As a result he continuously forces the young and inexperienced Phoolan into having sex with him and brutalizes her in the process. This frightens young Phoolan who escapes from the abusive marriage to return home. This indicates how women are regarded as tools for sexual satisfaction and servitude. Men expect them to fulfill their needs without any objection.
Growing up as a young child, Phoolan had been ostracized by the caste system where the society is divided on the basis of the role of authority figures. These include social class, political status and gender differences. Phoolan’s predicaments were compounded by the fact that she constantly remained quiet in her objections to the men who abused her. She had been repeatedly violently beaten, raped, abducted and imprisoned. A mercenary gang had kidnapped her from her village, but she soon became a member of the gang. This revealed that she could also be act ruthlessly and heartlessly as her male counterparts in the gang. However, she had a lot of regard for the poor members of the society. Unlike most of the thieves who chromed the northern states of India, Phoolan did not go into stealing for her own personal gain. Like the legendary Robin Hood, she stole from the affluent and took it to the poor members of the society, especially poor women. She drove inspiration from a number of people. These comprised of the Hindu goddess of Shakti, and Gandhi Mohandas, an Indian statesperson and humanitarian who had fought in order to attain equality among all individuals in the society.
Phoolan is mistreated when she is abducted by a mercenary leader called Babu Gujjar. Gujjar abuses and embarrasses her. One day, Vikram who is Gujjar’s lieutenant catches him raping Phoolan. Since Vikram is sympathetic towards her, he is enraged by Gujjar’s action and shoots him dead in the process. This emphasizes the fact that men in the society view women as instruments of satisfying their sexual desires. All the while, the brutality that these women are exposed to is not put into consideration. Vikram takes charge of the gang, and his empathy towards Phoolan grows with time into a mutually respectful mature adult relationship. During this time, Phoolan decides to make another visit to Puttilal, her ex-husband. With the assistance of Vikram, Phoolan abducts him and subjects him to her system of justice for his abuse on her; both physical and psychological. In an emotional scene, she shares her painful past with Vikram. This depicts as a revengeful woman who has been consumed by hatred and spite.
When Thakur Shri Ram is released from prison, Phoolan relives his sad history again. This previous leader of the gang is attracted towards Phoolan and is against the notion that she should be treated as an equal member of the gang. Since he considers Vikram to be very protective of Phoolan, he plans for his assassination to get him out of the way. After Vikram is killed, he abducts Phoolan and abuses her sexually together with the other members of the gang. The peak of the humiliation that she is subjected to is being publicly stripped nude, beaten up and asked to go fetch water from the well. This is a complete show of lack of respect for human dignity. The strong personality of Phoolan is shown when she picks herself up from the setbacks that she has encountered in life. Her persuasive character is seen when she manages to obtain some men and weapons from Baba Mustakim, the leader of a large gang, through the aid of Man Singh. With the help of Man Singh, she co-heads the newly-formed gang.
In spite of the abuse of that Phoolan goes through, she is discriminated against by her family and members of the society instead of sympathizing with her situation. It seems that the society turns a blind eye on the injustices that women in the society are subjected to particularly by male members of the society. Most of the women seem accustomed to this situation. They do not object to the suppression that they are exposed to. Phoolan steps up to bring all her oppressors to justice. She believes that the abusive men should not be left to get away with their inhumane actions. They should be punished when they intrude on the rights of the women. According to her, women should be given equal status as their male counterparts. A society that upholds the rights of all people is considered to be fair and just.
In recent times, there has been public outrage over increased cases of violence against women. One of the latest incidents occurred in December 2012 which involved the gang rape of a female Indian intern by unknown perpetrators who assaulted her and left her for dead. The woman was in the company of a male counterpart who was beaten up. The intensity of the brutality exerted on her was so severe that the victim eventually succumbed to her injuries. This event sparked widespread condemnation in India and the rest of the world as humanitarian and civil rights groups made protests against the inhumane nature of this act. It re-ignited the long overdue debate about the suppression of women rights in the country and other parts of the world in extension.
In conclusion, the movie ‘The Bandit Queen’ continues to address the persistent violation of women’s rights in India and some parts of the world. The situation is particularly worse in patriarchic societies where male chauvinistic tendencies are predominant. There is need by members of the contemporary society to realize that the importance of treating women equally. Although ways such as those adopted by Phoolan should not be necessarily used, there are still very many mechanisms of ensuring an equitable society. By upholding the rights of women to education, economic opportunities, and freedom of expression, their potential will be realized. In order to achieve true freedom and equity in the society, it is essential that perpetrators of violence and abuse against women be prosecuted. In addition, the existing legislation should be amended to make the punishment more severe for violators of the law. This will be a positive step towards creation of a healthy society that respects the dignity of all human beings.
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