Jodhpur: In a small house on the outskirts of Jodhpur, Bhanwari Devi's family pulls out one of its favourite photographs of her. She is draped in red and gold. Her head is covered. She is 12 years old, and this is her wedding day. The two other girls with her in the photo are her sisters.
Bhanwari is now feared dead. She was last seen on September 1; the CBI cannot track her down.
Bhanwari Devi, who sought power and fame, has struck the Rajasthan government hard, forcing the resignation of a minister, and implicating other politicians.
Her beginnings were far more mundane. She was born to a poor couple with four children. Her mother worked as a daily wage earner in a mill in Kishangarh town near Ajmer . She could not afford three marriages, so her girls shared a wedding.
For the next five years, Bhanwari stayed at home, managing to stay in school till Class 8. Then she was dispatched to live with her husband, a driver named Amar Chand and his family in Borunda Village in Jodhpur distict , about 120 kms away . Her father-in-law, who worked in the health department , as a link worker for Malaria prevention , got her a job with the health department as an ANM , or auxiliary nurse and midwife . Her job was to be one of the nurses at the primary health centre in a village , providing basic health care to pregnant women and children and assissting in the government's immunisation programmes
"She was posted to Jaisalmer, but that was very far away. So she got herself transferred closer to home, and that's when she began meeting people with political backgrounds," says her brother, Kailash. "That was her introduction to the high life...the rest we are seeing on TV."
Now back in Borunda , Bhanwari morphed quickly from a nurse in training to the star of more than a dozen music videos for folk songs. They became her calling card for a circle of politicians and their associates.
In her two-storey house in Borunda village, her dressing table hosts a few bottles of perfume, some lipsticks blunted by use. Her social aspirations set her apart from other women in the village. She was not afraid of the distinction. "Yes, she liked the good things in life," says her husband, Amar Chand. "She liked dressing up."
She was also not shy to leverage her political connections and patrons to her advantage. At the health centre where she was assigned to work, she rarely showed up. When she did, it was to sign the register -a marking of attendance so she could collect her salary of Rs 8000.
A few years ago, she met Congress leader Malkhan Singh, who was and still is an MLA. There is little doubt now about the nature of their relationship. Mr Singh then introduced Bhanwari to Mahipal Maderna, a minister in the government whose father was a prominent leader of the Jat community, a huge votebank for the Congress. Bhanwari Devi disappeared in September, amid reports that she had tried to blackmail Mr Maderna for crores of rupees with a sex CD of them together.
Her husband fought in court to have Mr Maderna accused of her rape and murder. He also has the impossible task of shielding their two children. His 17-year-old son has stopped attending college. "Everyone asks me all sorts of questions about her," he says. Her seven-year-old daughter recalls a mother who was attentive and generous. "She would call and ask me what she could bring back for me," she says.
Bhanwari Devi wanted more than the small towns she was born or married into. Those who knew her searing ambition say she over-played her hand. Others say she was a woman trying to make it in a world of men who had no compunction about sharing her, or removing her when her allure dimmed. The circumstances of her death- and it is increasingly unlikely that her story will end any other way - will provide the final act in a life that she was determined to make less ordinary.