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A mukhiya who calls the shots with a pistol

Alampur Gonpura mukhiya Abha Devi (in red sari) interacting with villagers outside the panchayat bhawan.

Alampur Gonpura mukhiya Abha Devi (in red sari) interacting with villagers outside the panchayat bhawan.  

Popular as ‘Revolver Rani’ and ‘Lady Singham’, Abha Devi spells terror for troublemakers in her panchayat

Sitting in a newly constructed panchayat bhawan in Alampur Gonpura village on a sweltering Saturday morning, mukhiya (panchayat head) Abha Devi wipes the beads of sweat on her forehead as she listens to the grievances of villagers crowding the room.

Next to her chair, there’s a pistol tucked away in a holster kept on the table. Suddenly she gets a call on her mobile phone and picks up the pistol. She pushes the weapon down the waist of her bright red sari and rushes out taking long strides.

Prompt action

Her car stops a few yards from the door of a villager, Munna Goswami, who had complained to her about some village boys teasing his young daughter. The local police too had advised Mr. Goswami to seek Ms. Devi’s help to sort out the problem.

Ms. Devi asks for the family details of the boys, makes calls to their parents and asks them to mend the ways of their wards or she will take care of them “in her own way”. Immediately, she is assured that it would not happen again.

Ms. Devi, 48, is a real terror for goons and criminals in her panchayat under Phulwari Sharif block of Patna district, say villagers. She is possibly the only woman mukhiya in Bihar who moves with a pistol clung to her waist.

Alampur Gonpura panchayat is a cluster of 13 villages and Ms. Devi has been elected mukhiya for two consecutive terms — in 2011 and 2016.

Happy mother at home

At her home in Babhanpura village, the mother of four can easily pass off as a quiet, affectionate and humble lower middle-class housewife, but outside she spells terror for troublemakers. Of late, she is known by the sobriquet ‘Revolver Rani’ and ‘Lady Singham’ in her panchayat and surrounding areas.

“The outside world is quite different from home… I have to assert authority to get things done for the welfare of villagers and keep criminals and goons away,” she says.

Wearing henna, bangles and rings in her right hand, Ms. Devi recalls how once she was fired upon by goons, and attacked several times thereafter.

“In 2015, some goons fired six rounds at me in the village but somehow I escaped unhurt. I challenged them unarmed while making phone calls to the police. They ran away after a while,” she says, sitting on a cot in the verandah of her home. Her husband Ram Ayodhya Sharma, a few of her relatives and villagers are sitting behind her on plastic chairs.

“In 2016, I got an arms licence and bought this pistol made in an ordnance factory for ₹1.36 lakh,” she says. “Since then it’s been my friend.”

On people calling her ‘Revolver Rani’ and ‘Lady Singham’, she says she has no problem as long as it “spells terror among goons and criminals”.

Brave and confident

But does she know how to use the pistol? “Yes, before buying it, I practised on my husband’s pistol,” she says while declogging the pistol with her finger. “Now, I can shoot faster than my husband and others,” she quips as her husband smiles.

On December 2, 2017, communal tension flared up in Lahiyarchak village in her panchayat. Ms. Devi says she rushed to the village on a two-wheeler driven by her daughter at night. “I flashed my pistol and the troublemakers fled immediately… a major communal incident was averted,” she says.

In 2013, a similar communal clash had erupted at Gonpura village dargah and Ms. Devi got hit with a stick while trying to control the situation. “At that time I did not have the pistol. It [the pistol] gives me extra confidence and courage to handle such situations,” she says.

Ms. Devi says she has chased away harassers from villages under her panchayat a number of times. Sonam Kumari, a computer operator at the panchayat bhawan, says she was teased by some youth at the auto-stand a few months ago and the next day, Ms. Devi reached the spot and chased the men with her pistol in her hand. “They never teased me again. We feel confident even at odd hours because of our armed mukhiya,” says Ms. Sonam.

Development works

Alampur Gonpura panchayat has 2,200 Dalits, 2,500 Extremely Backward Caste members, 1,700 Yadavs, 700 Muslims and 600 upper caste voters. And the list of development works carried out by Ms. Devi for her panchayat is long. “From high school to intermediate college, roads and drains to emergency help to poor families, she has done everything for us,” say villagers Mansu Das, Jagdish Paswan, Sohan Paswan and Lalita Devi in one voice.

Her immediate aim is to get the panchayat bhawan and the Intermediate College fortified with a boundary wall and also to construct a community hall for women. “I need to free these constructions from encroachers,” says Ms. Devi.

Women empowerment

Almost 70% of her panchayat is open defecation-free. “Soon, our panchayat will be declared 100% ODF,” she says, her deputy Ranjay Kumar nodding in agreement.

She also takes care of a leprosy centre run by a missionary in her panchayat. Many a time she eats her lunch at the local government school along with children to check the quality of midday meal served to them.

“What else do we need,” asks villager Guari Das.

Recently, Ms. Devi was invited to a law college in Patna to address students on women empowerment. In 2012, she was invited to Delhi and later to West Bengal for “appreciation and recognition” of her work as a panchayat head.

“I studied till intermediate level but I know women empowerment is the only way our society can grow,” she says.

Does she aim to become an MLA or MP? “No way, I’m happy serving people of my panchayat with whatever sobriquets they have given me,” she smiles.

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Printable version | Mar 28, 2020 8:22:36 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/a-mukhiya-who-calls-the-shots-with-a-pistol/article29311912.ece

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