39 years after the 1981 Behmai massacre involving Phoolan Devi, verdict likely on Jan 18

Phoolan Devi./ File   | Photo Credit: AFP

A special court is expected to pronounce its verdict here on Saturday, January 18, 2020, on the massacre of 20 people in Behmai village in Kanpur Dehat district, allegedly by bandit Phoolan Devi nearly four decades ago.

In 1981, the 20 men belonging to that village were shot dead by Phoolan’s gang.

“We have hope that the trial court is likely to deliver its judgment in Behmai massacre tomorrow,” district government counsel (criminal) Rajeev Porwal told PTI on Friday.

Mr. Porwal said that defense counsel Girish Narain Dubey has submitted certain rulings of the Allahabad High Court and the Supreme Court before the trial court with a request to take cognisance of those rulings while delivering its judgment against the accused.

The court is now expected to give its judgment on the role of the four surviving accused — Posha, Bhikha, Vishwanath and Shyambabu.

While Posha is still in jail, Bhikha, Vishwanath and Shyambabu are out on bail.

Three other dacoits, including Man Singh, are still absconding.

Several twists

“Bandit Queen” Phoolan Devi, who later turned to politics, along with her gang members were accused of killing the 20 people belonging to the Thakur community at Behmai village in Kanpur Dehat on February 14, 1981.

The non-descript Behmai village, that shot into prominence after the killings, is 170 km from state capital Lucknow and over 400 km from New Delhi.

Phoolan Devi had stormed into Behmai in what was described as an attack to avenge her alleged rape there by two other bandits - Lala Ram and Sri Ram - both Thakurs, a dominant caste in the village.

Two years after the incident, she had surrendered to the Madhya Pradesh police in 1983 and went on to become a Lok Sabha MP from Mirzapur. She was shot dead outside her MP bungalow in New Delhi on July 25, 2001.

Initially, 35 people, including Phoolan Devi, were named as accused in the case. Eight of them were reportedly killed by police in separate encounters. Three others were reportedly absconding.

The prosecution had produced as many as 15 witnesses and seven of them were material witnesses. The process of prosecution producing evidence was closed in 2014.

The Behmai killings had led to a political fallout, with then U.P. chief minister V.P. Singh, who later became the country’s Prime Minister, resigning owning moral responsibility for the massacre.

As per the terms of her surrender under an amnesty scheme, the then Madhya Pradesh chief minister Arjun Singh agreed to keep her in the Gwalior prison, rather than being sent to a U.P. prison, as a result of which the summons and non-bailable warrants issued by a Kanpur court were returned unserved.

She spent 11 years in Gwalior and Jabalpur jails in Madhya Pradesh and was released in 1994 without facing trial as she kept fighting a legal battle against the U.P. police and the Kanpur court’s orders.

Charges against the four surviving accused were framed only in 2012. Phoolan Devi’s release was facilitated by the withdrawal of 55 cases by then U.P. chief minister Mulayam Singh Yadav’s government in “public interest“.

Mr. Yadav’s decision, however, was set aside by the Kanpur court, with the Allahabad High Court upholding the trial court’s decision. Even the Supreme Court had rejected her plea for dismissal of all cases against her in December 1996.

Phoolan Devi, however, evaded arrest and waged a legal battle against it in 2001.

The apex court directed her that if she wanted relief in the cases against her, she first needed to surrender to the trial court in Kanpur. However, in July 2001 she was killed outside her official residence in New Delhi.

She had won two Lok Sabha elections - in 1996 and 1999 - on Samajwadi Party ticket.

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Printable version | Feb 27, 2021 1:07:53 AM |

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