The Facts in the Fiction

Virgin Sharks features a section that appears after the novel itself, called The Facts in the Fiction. It gives readers a behind-the-scenes look at some of the factual background to the fictional story.

The Facts in the Fiction section in The Virgin Birth of Sharks consists mostly of text (the images below have been added for the online version), with links to online material such as web pages, PDF documents, and videos.

Virgin Sharks wasn’t my first book, but it was the first one where I included a section like this, and since it was well received I now include a similar section in all my other books.

Below is a sample from The Facts in the Fiction. In total TFITF includes eight sections, of which this is one.


Seven: The Dacoits and the Bandit Queen

Rachelle tells Rani that her ancestors were dacoits, Indian bandits, just like Phoolan Devi the Bandit Queen:

A dacoit?  A dacoit is what you are, girl. A robber. A bandit. In India dacoits run around in the countryside, robbing traders and travelers. Sometimes raiding small villages. Most of them are men, and usually female dacoits are just the wives of robbers, they don’t do much. But there are some women who are real bandits, your mother said. Like Phoolan Devi, the Bandit Queen. Your grandma was that kind of dacoit. She was shot dead in northern India somewhere. Your mother told me where but I forget the name of the place now.

Dacoits are real, as is Phoolan Devi.

Devi (1963–2001), who became known as the Bandit Queen, was a girl from a low caste (the mallahs) who was mistreated from a very young age, even within her own family. As a result of a family dispute she was married off to an abusive man in his 30s when she was just eleven years old, although she eventually left him.  Her cousin had her jailed on trumped up charges when she was 16 and in jail she was raped and beaten by police.

Devi was then either abducted by, or ran away with, a gang of dacoits and married the man who became its leader. In 1981 internal strife within the gang eventually led to her husband’s murder and to Devi being locked up in the village of Behmai, where a number of local  men of a higher caste raped her. She escaped and started her own gang, engaging in robberies and carrying out a massacre of twenty-two men in Behmai, some of whom were involved in the assault on her, although others were not.

Phoolan Devi in Prayer at the time of her surrender.

Phoolan Devi in Prayer at the time of her surrender.

The Behmai incident led to an intense man-hunt. Many Indians regarded Devi as just another outlaw, while for others she became a folk hero as a kind of Robin Hood figure. She was celebrated as the incarnation of the Hindu goddesses Durga and Kali by members of low castes, especially other mallah women, and was respected her for fighting back against the upper-caste men who had raped her and for stealing from the rich and giving to the poor.

In 1983 Devi, who was by then in poor health and who had lost several members of her gang, finally negotiated with the Indian government to surrender.  She imposed a number of conditions, however, including the stipulation that she would not surrender to police — instead she would surrender to an image of Mahatma Gandhi and an image of the goddess Durga. She did so at a public event attended by 10,000 onlookers. Devi went to jail, where she remained until 1994.

Some of the many books about Phoolan Devi.

Some of the many books about Phoolan Devi.

In 1996, Devi was elected to the Indian Parliament as a member of the Samajwadi Party. She lost her seat two years later but then regained it in 1999. She was killed in 2001 by by masked assassins who shot her outside her home.

There are numerous biographies of Devi, including the acclaimed Outlaw by Roy Moxham, who knew her from 1992 until her death.  There are at least two autobiographies as well, I, Phoolan Devi, of which she is the sole author, and The Bandit Queen of India, with co-authors Marie-Therese Cuny and Paul Rambali.

Devi is the subject of more than one film, the best known being Bandit Queen (1994) directed by Shekhar Kapur and starring Seema Biswas. In May 2012 the opera Phoolan Devi premiered in the United States.

You can watch the trailer from Bandit Queen below.


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