Eight women gangsters and dacoits who ruled India's underworld and rural hinterlands

After playing Rani Padmavati in Padmavat, Deepika Padukone will next be seen in a completely different role – that of gangster Sapna Didi, in a yet-to-be-named movie. To be directed by Vishal Bharadwaj and featuring Irrfan Khan, Sapna Didi, will see Dipika, who has been riding high after the release and success of Padmaavat, doing another emotionally challenging of the lady gangster who took to arms to avenge her husband’s death.

Sapna Didi, or Ashraf Khan, joined hands with Hussain Ustara, Dawood Ibrahim’s enemy, to plot Dawood’s murder to avenge the death of her husband who Dawood had got killed in a police encounter.

While India’s male gangsters have been known to spread fear and terror across the country, their women counterpart are equally, if sometimes not more, fearsome. We take a look at India’s most dreaded women gangsters and criminals.

Phoolan Devi: The gangster queen of India and one of the most famous gangsters in the world, spread fear in the hearts of many when she ruled the Chambal ravines. Immortalised by Shekar Kapoor in his 1994 biography, Bandit Queen, Phoolan Devi was born into a low-caste family in the rural hinterlands of Uttar Pradesh. She was married off at the age of 11 to a man much older to her.

After suffering much physical and sexual abuse, Devi ran away from home and joined a gang of bandits. After her lover was killed, and she was abducted and brutally gang-raped by a group of Rajput men, she extracted revenge by lining 22 Rajput men from the village that her assailants hailed from, and shooting them. This incident, known as the Behmai massacre, was labelled as an act of righteous lower caste rebellion, earning her the name of Devi, or the lady Robin Hood.

After spending 11 years in jail on various charges ranging from looting to massacre, Phoolan Devi was released after which she joined the Samajwadi Party and became a Member of Parliament. She was shot dead in 2001, at the gates of her official home in New Delhi, by members of a former rival gang.

Seema Parihar portrayed herself in the film Wounded: The Bandit Queen

Seema Parihar: Seema Parihar, who is currently a member of the Samajwadi Party, was kidnapped at the age of 13 by dacoits. She went on to become a dacoit, leading her gang in looting, kidnapping and murdering, spreading fear in the regions of the Bihand jungle and the Chambal Valley.

Inspired by Phoolan Devi, Parihar has killed 70 people, kidnapped 200 and looted 30 houses. She surrendered before the UP police in October 2001, after which she was charged on 29 counts, including murder and kidnapping. She entered politics in 2002 when she supported the Shiv Sena during the Uttar Pradesh Legislative Assembly Elections. She then joined the Indian Justice Party in 2006 before switching over to the Lok Janshakti Party and finally joining the Samajwadi Party in 2008.

Parihar is currently out on bail and has been acquitted of 15 of the criminal cases against her. She has also appeared in season 4 of the reality show, Bigg Boss and has starred in a movie based on her life – Wounded – The Bandit Queen.  Now that is one multi-faceted gangster.

Bela Aunty: The illicit liquor queen built her empire in the 1970s by bribing her way through corrupt police officials. This ensured that they looked the other way, while truckloads of illegal liquor entered via Bela Aunty’s domain into the black market. No one could mess around with Aunty – even tough gangster Varadharajan Mudaliar is known to have failed.

Actress Shraddha Kapoor played the titular role of Haseena Parkar, in the film by the same name.

Haseena Parkar: The fact that she is dreaded terrorist Dawood Ibrahim’s sister is enough to put Haseena Parkar on the most dangerous list. The first woman gangster to have a film made on her, Parkar, called the Godmother of the Nagpada area, entered the world of crime in 1991, after her husband, Ismail Parkar, was allegedly murdered by gangster Arun Gawli’s men.

After the 1993 Bombay bomb blast, Parkar’s siblings fled the city, and she took over their crime syndicate, growing her business and entering into every shady deal possible – from land extortion, hawala to demarcation of cable television areas and even negotiating overseas rights for Hindi films.

Shashikala Ramesh Patankar: From a milk vendor, to a petty drug peddler, to lording over a drug business with property worth Rs 100 crores, and getting people addicted to drugs such as mephedrone or meow-meow, hash and other drugs, Baby has come a long way in the criminal world.

When she started off, Patankar’s modus operandi was to get drugs from dealers in Rajasthan and areas of Madhya Pradesh, keep some of the pure drugs for herself and mix impure substances to the rest. She would then return these to the original dealer and tip off the police to get them caught. After a long cat and mouse chase with the police, she was caught in 2015 for allegedly supplying mephedrone to a police head constable. Patankar was, however, discharged for lack of evidence.

Jenabai, called aapa (sister) by many of the dons, was respected throughout the underworld.

Jenabai Daruwala: This was one lady who commanded much respect among everyone – from dreaded gangsters and terrorists such as Dawood Ibrahim, Haji Mastan and Vardharajan to officers from the Crime Branch. While she did not engage in violence or run a gang, Jenabai, respectfully referred to as aapa (sister) by many of the gangsters, started off smuggling food grains and moved on to bootlegging.

Such was Jenabai’s clout that, in his book on women gangsters, titled Mafia Queens of Mumbai, author and former investigative journalist Hussain Zaidi talks about how Jenabai managed to protect Dawood from the wrath of his own father and the police, and unite some of the biggest gangster factions in the city. Jenabai also turned informer to the police.

Rubina Siraj Syed: Also known as Heroine, Rubina Siraj Syed was known for her charm and gift of the gab, which helped her get the right kind of connections. Under the garb of her henna business, Rubina used to supply food, arms and money to the Chhota Shakeel gang. This went on until the cops got wind of it, and the lady don is now counting the bars in her cell in the Byculla jail.

The Godmother of Porbandar became a don to avenge the death of her husband.

Santokben Jadeja: Popularly known as the ‘Godmother’, Santokben Jadeja entered the world of organised crime after her husband, a mill worker who turned into a gangster and don, was killed by an old rival gangster. Rather than go to the police, Jadeja decided to track down the 14 people who were involved in her husband’s murder and kill them with the aid of her trusted aides.

She went on to become the mafia queen of Kathaiwad and the most famous Indian woman to head an underworld enterprise in India. Jadeja also had a stint in politics, when she was an MLA from 1990-1995 with Janata Dal. She died of a cardiac arrest in 2011, and her life has been depicted in a film titled Godmother, with Shabana Azmi playing the titular role.