There’s one sentiment that former bandit Seema Parihar carries over from her gun-toting days – her love for trees.
“I equate tree felling to cow slaughter,” says Parihar, who allegedly killed 70 men during her days as a dacoit. She calls those 17 years in the Chambal Valley her 'doosri duniya’ (other world).
On World Environment Day on Friday, Parihar tied a red tape to a banyan tree in Etawah as she joined the tree protection movement in the district that includes parts of Chambal.
“Trees and jungle fascinated me then, they enamour me even now when I have left that life far behind,” she says.
In her “doosri duniya” days, she would order farmers and shepherds not to cut any trees.
“Once, I rounded up 150 farmers and shepherds who cut green trees and threw their axes in the Chambal river,” she says. "Cutting a green tree is a sin against the environment. I feel earlier the monsoons used to come on time and it rained well. But with depleted forest cover, we have this unbearable heat and erratic monsoons."
Parihar, 39, was kidnapped from Auriya district at the age of 13 by dacoits Lala Ram and Kusma Nain. She was later married to Nirbhaya Gujar, a famous dacoit.
She then went on to kidnap nearly 200 people in a career which ended in 2000, when she surrendered to the Uttar Pradesh police. She stayed in jail for a few years after being charged with eight counts of murder and half a dozen kidnappings.
While still in jail, Parihar began getting offers from political parties. Inspired by the life of late bandit-turned-politician Phoolan Devi, she supported the Shiv Sena in the 2002 Uttar Pradesh assembly elections. In 2006, she joined Udit Raj’s Indian Justice Party (IJP) and contested the Lok Sabha polls from Mirzapur-Bhadoia 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.
“Presently, I am not in any political party but I am still in politics. I campaigned for Manoj Tiwari, Udit Raj and Harshwardhan recently. If I am called to do political campaigning as a celebrity, I go,” she adds.
Parihar attained celebrity status when she participated in the reality show Bigg Boss hosted by Salman Khan. She was in jail at the time, and she joined the show after getting permission from the Allahabad high court.
She portrayed her real life story in the Bollywood movie ‘Wounded - The Bandit Queen’, which was shot in the ravines of Chambal. The film went on to win the critics award at the Leicester Expo Bollywood film festival in Britain in 2005.