Phoolan Devi: Perceptions Of Power

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Phoolan Devi: Perceptions of Power

The purpose of this paper is to analyze and index gender and power as they

factor into the life of one Dalit woman, Phoolan Devi. Particularly, I have

chosen to examine the idea of whether or not she wielded real power. In an

attempt to make it more useful to speak of this slippery thing called power, I

would like to make some declarations and pose some questions about its' nature.

Cynthia Emerson has suggested that power is ultimately based on dependency

relationships (Emerson 1962). It is important to remember that almost all

manifestations of power require a power holder and at least one other party that

believes that the first holds power. I would like to stress the word

"believes" in the previous sentence because I think it is one of the key

ingredients in understanding relationships of power. I realize that in many

instances the power of the first party may not be undone merely by the second

party ceasing to accept it, and that the power of one individual over another

may sometimes be physically or otherwise inescapable. Often, the belief follows

the direct experience of power, but regardless of the order in which it is

conceptualized, I feel the nature of power is inextricably founded in belief and


One of the most striking characteristics of Phoolan Devi is her refusal to

accept her power-deficient positions in her relationships. From the time that

she was a child, she seems to have refused to conform to her society's

hierarchical indexing. She resisted attempts to categorize and fix her into

typical gender, class, and matrimonial positions. This is not to say that her

resistance was always successful, but I am trying to show a lack of willingness

to conform and accept her positions in her power relations. Her belief that the

status that had been prescribed to her was unjust and her reluctance to accept

it are key factors that led to her gaining power and breaking from her power

deficient relationships. Her belief in her upward mobility made it possible.

This belief in her self and resistance towards accepting the power forced on her

helped undermine that same power. This is the one factor that makes Phoolan so

different from so many of her Indian sisters that are still living under the

thumb of Manu's Code.

Does Phoolan Devi possess real power? So far we have considered

theoretical power in relationships, but what about physical manifestations of

power? The first example that comes to mind is the fact that over two hundred

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