Phoolan Devi, Rape Accused & Witnesses No More: 39 Years after Behmai Massacre, Verdict Likely Today

Lucknow/New Delhi: Close to 39 years after the Behmai Massacre where Phoolan Devi allegedly gunned down 20 men, the judgment on the case is set to be delivered on Saturday.

On February 14, 1981, then bandit queen Phoolan Devi allegedly killed 20 Thakurs of the Behmai village in Uttar Pradesh's Kanpur Dehat area to avenge her rape by two other bandits Lala Ram and Sri Ram, both upper caste Thakurs.

It was the first time that lower-caste dacoits, mostly Mallahs, had joined hands to take on the Thakurs of 84 villages, who allegedly supported the upper-caste dacoit gang of Shri Ram and Lala Ram, and to avenge Phoolan Devi's gang rape.

Earlier, Kanpur's local court that was scheduled to pronounce its verdict in the case on January 6. Raju Porwal, district government counsel, said the defence counsel Raghunandan Singh and Girish Narayan Dubey sought time to file citations of judgments of superior courts that will support their case before the verdict is delivered.

Meanwhile, 17 of the 28 accused named in the case have died, including Phoolan Devi. She was murdered in 2001. Four of the five eye-witnesses have also passed away.

The killings also led to a political fallout, with then UP CM V P Singh resigning, owning moral responsibility for the massacre.

Meanwhile, Phoolan Devi surrendered to the Madhya Pradesh (MP) police in 1983, two years after the killings, under an amnesty scheme. As per the terms of her surrender, then MP CM Arjun Singh agreed to keep her in the Gwalior prison, rather than being sent to a UP 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 and was released without facing trial, in 1994 as she kept fighting a legal battle against the UP police and the Kanpur court's orders. Charges against the four accused, who are still surviving, were framed only in 2012.

Phoolan Devi also successfully contested the Lok Sabha elections on a Samajwadi Party ticket in 1996 when the Mulayam Singh Yadav government filed an application seeking withdrawal of the case against her. She won two Lok Sabha elections, in 1996 and 1999.