A muster of peacocks advance to the wheat fields of Behmai, a village of 900 people in Kanpur Dehat district. The broken tracks wind through the fields to a primary school, which was a polling booth on Thursday. The village, in the Akbarpur Lok Sabha constituency, recorded a 63 per cent turnout.
Around 50 metres from the polling booth, Raja Ram Singh, 66, a Thakur farmer, was seated on a cot after casting his vote. “Modi [BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi] will come to power. He will be good for the country. He might even develop our village. But no leader has been able to get us justice. We rest our faith in the judiciary,” Mr. Singh says.
While the rest of Uttar Pradesh debates development and caste equations, the most important issue discussed in this tiny village, on the banks of the Yamuna, even today is the massacre of 1981.
On February 14 that year, Behmai, a Thakur-dominated village, was raided by the late Phoolan Devi and her dacoit gang. The dacoits rounded up and shot dead 20 persons, reportedly to avenge her gang rape by Thakurs in the village.
A witness to the carnage, Mr. Singh remembers the sight with horror: “I hid in a bush to save my life. I watched the dacoits kill our people. I was helpless. I remember that [dacoit] Man Singh was among those who fired the most number of bullets.”
While there was helplessness then, anger wells up now for failing to send the accused to jail. A Shaheed Smarak built in memory of those killed that day in the heart of the village is a grim reminder of the events.
“We wished to see her [Phoolan] hanged for her crimes, for the way she tortured us. We will get peace when the killers are punished by law,” Mr. Singh says.
But the fight for justice has crawled. A local court in Kanpur framed charges in the case only in August 2012, 31 years after the massacre. Charges were framed against four of the surviving accused, while the court issued a non-bailable warrant against three absconders, including Man Singh.
Last November, a district court summoned Man Singh after the prosecution submitted in November 2012 that he was living in Sikandra, a town in Kanpur, and running a hotel. The fact that Man Singh still roams free is enough to anger the residents of Behmai, who are not ready to forgive or forget.
“He is still out there. Unless he is caught and punished, we cannot live in peace,” says Babu Singh Chandel, 40, who lost his father and two cousins in the massacre.