Phoolan Devi

Essay by Oni AkumaUniversity, Ph.D.A+, January 1997

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Oni Akuma


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 perception.

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...