The harshness of the terrain in the Bundelkhand region, south of Lucknow along the Madhya Pradesh border, and the all but unbearable heat in the summer, make it the most difficult, if intriguing, part of the state to control, and even today, its labyrinthine hills and valleys are home to infamous bands of outlaw dacoits. Many of these have become folk-heroes among local villagers, who shelter them from the almost equally brutal police force. The most celebrated in recent years was Phoolan Devi, the “Bandit Queen”, from a village near Behmai who was kidnapped by a dacoit gang, became the leader’s lover, and took over from him after he was killed. She eventually surrendered to the police, was released in 1994, and even became an MP for the socialist Samajwadi Party before being assassinated in 2001.

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