Behmai Massacre Verdict After 43 Years: Does It Bring Closure to Phoolan Devi's Story?

The recent verdict in the Behmai massacre case may mark a legal resolution after 43 years, it does not necessarily signify closure to Phoolan Devi's complex and tumultuous life journey. The quest for justice in her story transcends courtroom proceedings, encompassing broader societal issues of caste discrimination, systemic injustices, and the complexities of human resilience and redemption.
While Phoolan Devi's actions earned her the moniker of "Bandit Queen" and sparked comparisons to a modern-day Robin Hood, opinions remained sharply divided. Some lauded her as a fearless and resilient figure, fighting against societal injustices, while others decried her methods as criminal and reprehensible.
While Phoolan Devi's actions earned her the moniker of "Bandit Queen" and sparked comparisons to a modern-day Robin Hood, opinions remained sharply divided. Some lauded her as a fearless and resilient figure, fighting against societal injustices, while others decried her methods as criminal and reprehensible.

Kanpur- In Behmai village of Kanpur Dehat, Uttar Pradesh, a tragic incident unfolded 43 years ago, leaving an indelible mark on the nation's consciousness. Phoolan Devi, the victim, hailing from a marginalized community, orchestrated a significant event to seek retribution for the brutality inflicted upon her.

The incident, known as the Behmai massacre, had a profound impact on the entire country and ultimately led to the Chief Minister stepping down.

The subsequent verdict by the Anti-Dacoity Court, delivered after four decades, has brought some semblance of closure. Of the 36 accused, one has been sentenced to life imprisonment, while another has been acquitted. Remarkably, 33, including Phoolan Devi herself, had passed away before the verdict was reached.

The Behmai massacre, as recounted by media reports, unfolded during a wedding ceremony in the village on February 14, 1981. Phoolan Devi and her gang, disguised as law enforcement officers, barged into the festivities. Their demand for two specific individuals, Shri Ram and Lala Ram, went unmet, triggering a series of violent actions. Allegations surfaced of widespread looting and the forcible gathering of male residents near a well before being marched to a nearby riverbank. There, Phoolan Devi and her accomplices subjected them to a harrowing ordeal, ordering them to kneel before opening fire. The ensuing five minutes of gunfire resulted in the tragic deaths of 20 individuals, while six miraculously survived with injuries.

In the aftermath of the massacre, chaos reigned in Behmai village, with the anguished cries of women and children echoing throughout the vicinity. Despite a delayed police response, a case was registered against 36 alleged perpetrators, including Phoolan Devi, Mustaqeem, Ram Prakash, and members of the notorious Lallu gang. The enormity of the atrocity reverberated across the nation, prompting widespread outrage and condemnation. The ensuing fallout led to the resignation of the then Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, VP Singh, as authorities launched an extensive but ultimately fruitless manhunt for Phoolan Devi.

Phoolan Devi's persona underwent a complex transformation in the public eye. While her actions earned her the moniker of "Bandit Queen" and sparked comparisons to a modern-day Robin Hood, opinions remained sharply divided. Some lauded her as a fearless and resilient figure, fighting against societal injustices, while others decried her methods as criminal and reprehensible.

She travelled to Bhind in Madhya Pradesh, where she ceremoniously laid down her arms in the presence of around 10,000 people, including 300 policemen and the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, Arjun Singh. Other members of her gang also surrendered alongside her.
She travelled to Bhind in Madhya Pradesh, where she ceremoniously laid down her arms in the presence of around 10,000 people, including 300 policemen and the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, Arjun Singh. Other members of her gang also surrendered alongside her.

Even two years after the Behmai massacre, the police had not managed to apprehend Phoolan Devi. It was then that the government of Indira Gandhi opted for negotiations for her surrender. By this time, Phoolan's health had deteriorated, and most of her gang members had either been killed by the police or rival gangs.

In February 1983, she agreed to surrender, but stipulated that she would only trust the Madhya Pradesh Police, not their counterparts in Uttar Pradesh. Additionally, she demanded that her surrender take place in front of images of Mahatma Gandhi and the Hindu goddess Durga, rather than directly to the police.

Phoolan Devi laid down four conditions for her surrender: no death penalty for any member, eight years' imprisonment for the others, a plot of land, and the presence of her entire family as witnesses. She traveled to Bhind in Madhya Pradesh, where she ceremoniously laid down her arms in the presence of around 10,000 people, including 300 policemen and the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, Arjun Singh. Other members of her gang also surrendered alongside her.

After spending eleven years in jail without trial, Phoolan Devi was released in 1994 by the government of Mulayam Singh Yadav. This occurred during a period of heightened Dalit mobilization in support of Phoolan, who was regarded as a symbol of the community.

Subsequently, she converted to Buddhism. In 1996, Phoolan won a seat in the Lok Sabha from Mirzapur, Uttar Pradesh, and entered Parliament. Tragically, on July 25, 2001, she was attacked at her Delhi residence by a man named Sher Singh Rana and two accomplices, resulting in her death. Presently, only her husband, Umed Singh, remains in Phoolan Devi's family.

Seema Biswas captures the fierce spirit of Phoolan Devi in Shekhar Kapur's gripping 1994 film, 'Bandit Queen'.
Seema Biswas captures the fierce spirit of Phoolan Devi in Shekhar Kapur's gripping 1994 film, 'Bandit Queen'.

Revealing details on the Behmai case, government advocate Raju Porwal told The Mooknayak that on February 14, the Anti-Dacoity Court of Kanpur Dehat rendered its verdict.

The court sentenced the accused Shyam Babu to life imprisonment and imposed a fine of Rs. 50,000, with provision for an additional six-month sentence in case of non-payment. Vishwanath was acquitted, having been a minor at the time of the incident.

It's noteworthy that many accused, including the main perpetrator Phoolan Devi, had already passed away by the time of the trial. A total of 36 people were implicated in the incident.

The Behmai massacre was spurred by the torment inflicted upon Phoolan Devi. Following her ordeal of being locked up and allegedly raped by policemen, Phoolan joined a bandit group, finding refuge in Babu Gujjar's gang. However, another harrowing experience awaited her as Babu Gujjar subjected her to a three-day rape ordeal. Eventually, Phoolan was aided by gang member Vikram Mallah, who killed Babu Gujjar, taking over the gang's leadership himself. Phoolan and Mallah, along with their gang, engaged in rampant looting, kidnapping, and murder, even venturing into Phoolan's husband's village to commit further crimes. Cast dynamics played a role in the gang's internal strife, leading to Mallah's assassination by dissatisfied members of the Rajput community within the gang.

After Mallah's death, Phoolan was taken hostage, eventually being brought to Behmai village, dominated by the Kshatriya caste, where she was subjected to gang rape. Despite enduring continuous torment, Phoolan managed to escape and formed her own gang, comprising only members of the Nishad community. Months later, she returned to Behmai, where she orchestrated the infamous massacre, targeting 26 individuals from the Kshatriya community, resulting in 20 deaths and six injuries.

In conclusion, while the recent verdict in the Behmai massacre case may mark a legal resolution after 43 years, it does not necessarily signify closure to Phoolan Devi's complex and tumultuous life journey. The quest for justice in her story transcends courtroom proceedings, encompassing broader societal issues of caste discrimination, systemic injustices, and the complexities of human resilience and redemption.

Phoolan Devi's legacy continues to provoke introspection and dialogue, challenging us to confront the nuances of justice and equity in our society. Ultimately, whether true closure is achieved remains an open question, inviting ongoing reflection and examination of the deeper implications of her life and actions.

Story Translated by Geetha Sunil Pillai

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