Former dacoit Seema Parihar, the symbol of terror in the once-notorious Chambal region, has a new role to pay: urging people to vote in the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections.
Parihar, who is now a social worker, is the star attraction of The Ballot, a movie produced by the Etawah district administration to promote voting.
“In movie, I play a ‘dabangg’ (influential) former village head who is frustrated with politicians’ ‘vanishing act’ after the polls,” says Parihar.
“So, I ask villagers to boycott voting. But the district administration and Etawah residents inspire villagers to call off the boycott. I, too, decide to use the power of my vote,” says Parihar, whose character in the film bears her real life name.
Parihar, 41, did not charge any fee for The Ballot, titled Mat in Hindi, which has a cast of amateur actors. The 18.30-minute movie relies on street plays, folk song, dance, and the local dialect to convey its pro-vote message to people from all walks of life.
The district administration and co-producer Sant Vivekanand School have made 800 CDs of the film and distributed them to each village and some organisations.
Four to five screenings of the film have been held in all the villages in Etawah district, which has 705 villages under 471 village panchayats. Now, with the polling day--February 19--nearing, the villagers are being shown the movie every day.
Etawah has three assembly constituencies: Jaswant Nagar, Etawah and Bhartana. The ruling Samajwadi Party won all the three seats in 2012. The district recorded 60.16% voter turnout in the 2012 assembly election and 58.11% in the 2014 Lok Sabha poll.
The 73 western UP constituencies in 15 districts registered a voter turnout of 64.22% in the first phase of polls on Saturday, surpassing the region’s previous best turnout of 59.60%.
“We want to surpass ourselves and them,” says Prabhat Misra, who directed the movie and works with assistant Etawah National Savings.
The Ballot is not Parihar’s first foray into films. She portrayed her life story in the Bollywood movie ‘Wounded— The Bandit Queen’, which was shot in the Chambal ravines. The film won the critics’ award at the Leicester Expo Bollywood film festival in Britain in 2005.
Parihar now refers to the world of dacoits as ‘doosri duniya’ and says she has left it far behind.
Parihar’s tryst with the outlaws began after she was kidnapped from Auraiyya district at the age of 13 by dacoits Lala Ram and Kusuma Nain. She was later married to Nirbhay Gujjar, another notorious dacoit.
Parihar allegedly abducted nearly 200 people during her days in the badlands which ended in 2000 after she surrendered to the Uttar Pradesh police. She was in prison for a few years after being charged with eight counts of murder and half-a-dozen incidents of kidnapping.
While still in jail, Parihar began getting offers from political parties. Inspired by the life of the late bandit-turned-politician Phoolan Devi, she supported the Shiv Sena in the 2002 assembly elections in the state.
In 2006, she joined Udit Raj’s then Indian Justice Party (IJP) and contested the Lok Sabha by-poll from Mirzapur-Bhadohi a year later. “I lost that election by a mere 824 votes,” she recalls.
Parihar moved on to the Lok Janshakti Party and then the Samajwadi Party. She earlier campaigned for Bharatiya Janata Party leaders Manoj Tiwari, Udit Raj and Harsh Vardhan.
“But I am not with any party anymore, nor am I supporting any party or candidate,” she says.
Parihar attained celebrity status after she participated in the popular television reality show Bigg Boss 4 in 2010. She was in jail at the time and could join the show only after getting the permission from the Allahabad high court.