The true story of an extraordinary woman revealed in Leamington

AN INDIAN girl is born into poverty, married off at 11, kidnapped by bandits, imprisoned without trial and elected as an MP. She is later assassinated at the age of 37.

Sound like an unlikely story? The extraordinary fact is that this is a true account of the life of Phoolan Devi – known to many in India as the ‘bandit queen’.

And this year writer Roy Moxham, who was a close friend of the determined woman, wrote the first book about her since her release.

Ahead of his visit to Leamington next week, Roy spoke to the Courier.

Recalling the first time he came across Phoolan, he said: “I had gone to India earlier that year for the first time ever and had been completely shocked. It wasn’t the lack of money, it was the incredibly uneven distribution of it.

“I read an article about this woman who was standing for Parliament at the time. She wanted to get into politics to help the poorer aspects of society.

“I felt maybe she could give some sort of voice to these people.”

After Roy initially wrote to Phoolan, an unlikely relationship based on letters developed between the two and he was able to give her advice on finding a good lawyer to help her fight for her release.

He said: “She was never tried – she was just put in jail by politicians. She had no criminal record.”

Roy and Phoolan finally met in the year she was released in 1994 and from then on, the Englishman found himself travelling to the subcontinent every year until Phoolan was gunned down in 2001.

He said: “It was a pretty big shock to me. I was very attached to her. She tried to do her very best for the poor and for women.”

Roy, who grew up in Evesham and worked on a fruit farm before spending 13 years as a tea planter in Eastern Africa, was working as senior conservator at the University of London Library when he first came across Phoolan.

Recalling the first time he met her, he said: “I was wholly taken aback. She was such a small person – the idea that she was carrying heavy weapons was incredibly difficult to imagine.”

As he approached his mid-70s, he decided to write the book “to set the record straight” about the kind of person she was.

He said: “She was smiling all the time. She was surprisingly cheerful. Even when she became relatively wealthy and she became an MP, she still stayed a simple person.”

Roy will be speaking at Leamington Library on Wednesday at 7pm. Entry is free but places must be booked. Call 412398 or email [email protected]

Outlaw: India’s Bandit Queen and Me is available in bookshops and online, priced £14.99.