Thirteen years after Phoolan Devi, known as the ‘Bandit Queen’ before she became a Samajwadi Party MP, was murdered in daylight at the gate of her Ashoka Road residence in Delhi, a city court has convicted the main accused Sher Singh Rana.
The court, however, acquitted the ten other co-accused, including Rana’s brother Vijay, due to lack of evidence.
"Except Sher Singh Rana, I am acquitting all the accused. Sher Singh Rana is convicted for the offences under Sections 302 (murder), 307 (attempt to murder) and 34 (common intention) under the IPC," the judge said and fixed the matter for August 12 for arguments and pronouncement of quantum of sentence.
Upon hearing the verdict, Rana cried “When there were others involved, why convict only me?”
“I can only convict as per the evidence before me,” said Additional Sessions Judge Bharat Parashar. “You can appeal in the High Court,” he added.
Read: ‘Bandit Queen’ who later took to politics
The court acquitted Dhan Prakash, Shekhar Singh, Rajbir Singh, Vijay Singh alias Raju (Rana's brother), Rajender Singh alias Ravinder Singh, Keshav Chauhan, Praveen Mittal, Amit Rathi, Surender Singh Negi alias Suri and Sharavan Kumar. The proceedings against the 10th accused, Pradeep Singh, were abated as he died of a heart attack in Tihar Jail in November 2013.
In a trial that lasted 13 years, and was handled by 12 different judges over that time, the court recorded the testimony of 171 prosecution witnesses.
Phoolan Devi, a Samajwadi Party MP from Mirzapur in Uttar Pradesh at the time of her death, was born to a dalit family in Uttar Pradesh in 1963. She was only 16 when bandits kidnapped her, reportedly at the instigation of a family member; it was then that she began her life as a dacoit.
By the time she was twenty years old, Phoolan had allegedly committed multiple murders. She later surrendered before authorities on the condition that she would not get the death penalty.
Eleven years later, she was released in 1994 and within two years was elected to parliament. Her followers called her a modern-day Robin Hood.
She was gunned down on July 25, 2001, outside her residence at Ashoka Road by Rana. The police had said he master-minded the conspiracy to murder her in order to establish himself as a upper caste leader.
While the cops ruled out any other motive, it is widely believed that his motive was to avenge the 1981 murder of 22 Kshatriya Thakurs, done on Valentine’s Day 1981 allegedly on Phoolan’s orders.
Rana was arrested in Dehradun on July 27, 2001. Three years later, he escaped from Tihar Jail while being transported from the jail to court by a police escort -- who turned out be his co-conspirators in disguise. After absconding for two years, he was finally apprehended from Kolkatta in 2006.
'Bandit Queen's' turbulent life
Her turbulent life, captured in Bollywood director Shekhar Kapur's 1996 movie "Bandit Queen", comprised many incarnations, from abused child-bride to feared outlaw and finally member of parliament.
The main accused, Rana, had been on trial for 13 years.
Police said after Devi's death that Rana had confessed to murdering the 38-year-old politician to avenge the deaths of 22 upper-caste Hindus she killed on Valentine's Day in 1981.
Devi herself said the Valentine's Day massacre in the north Indian village of Behmai was in retaliation for her gang rape by upper-caste Hindus.
Devi, born in a small village in Uttar Pradesh in 1963, began life as a fugitive at age 16 when she was kidnapped, reportedly at the instigation of a family member, by bandits who operated in the Chambal ravines.
After being blamed for multiple killings, Devi surrendered to authorities in 1983. She was released from jail in 1994 and two years later was elected to parliament with followers holding her up as a modern-day Robin Hood.
Read: Irrefutable proof nailed Sher Singh Rana
(With inputs from AFP)