Gestures of Cultural Justice: Narrative Justice for Phoolan Devi in Epic Recounting

The epic tale of Phoolan Devi has inspired several studies and artistic works around her life and struggle. This includes her representation in the works of literature, cinema, painting and other genres. They brought complex discourses around the politics of representations and the question of genre and medium itself.  None of these studies, however, examines how Mallah, the caste Phoolan Devi belonged or the local subaltern communities want to project Devi in their narrative discourses. Thinking through the epic and ballads on the life of Phoolan Devi, created by her own community in particular and Bahujan community in general, this article reads the representation of Devi as a case of narrative justice. From Devi’s image as a revengeful figure and the Bandit Queen of popular culture, Phoolan Devi has slowly emerged as the queen of justice for the local subaltern communities. Contrary to the sensational approach of popular and the voice to the voiceless approach of the scholarly writings, the epic narratives around Phoolan are more steady and up to the mark to engage with the contemporary discourse of caste, gender and intersectional representation. Though there are many ballad singers and performers who sing the story of Phoolan Devi in birha and alha style, I discuss the alha of Phoolan Devi by Ajay Sahni, a singer from Mallah community. I situate their representations or recounting of Phoolan’s life as part of cultural justice that involves the battle over the relations of representation and “correcting” the discourse of narrative injustices. This article also raises the question of genre—which is a genre more capable of bringing the agency and struggle of a particular community. As the epic performance brings the question of morality and recognition in strong ways, the forms become explicitly political, unlike the other genres. Both the epic forms alha and birha situate the discourses of what is to be human. The form is specially very popular in Bundelkhand region from where Phoolan belonged to. This makes the genre very special to discuss the question of representation.


That which is denied must be imagined.

Dear Reader,

To continue reading, become a subscriber.

Explore our attractive subscription offers.

Click here

Must Read

Do water policies recognise the differential requirements and usages of water by women and the importance of adequate availability and accessibility?
Personal Laws in India present a situation where abolishing them in the interest of gender justice also inadvertently benefits the reactionary side.   
Back to Top