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|July 25, 2002|
The Rediff Special/ Onkar SinghOne year after Phoolan Devi -- a former dacoit-turned-Member of Parliament and immortalised in the film Bandit Queen -- was gunned down in front of her residence in New Delhi, the case has made little headway in the courts.
Three masked men shot dead Phoolan Devi on July 25, 2001, when she alighted from a car on the roadside at the gate of her residence at 44 Ashoka Road, New Delhi. The assailants, who were following her in a car, shot her the moment she was stepped out of the car in which she had taken a lift. Phoolan Devi's own vehicle was apparently being serviced that day.
While the Delhi police swung into action and arrested the alleged murderers, including the prime accused Sher Singh Rana alias Pankaj, and chargesheets were filed against them before the court of metropolitan magistrate M C Gupta court on October 23 last year, the trial court is yet to frame the charges against the accused and the case is languishing. Sher Singh Rana has claimed that he killed Phoolan to avenge the Behmai massacre.
It is the Behmai massacre that made Phoolan Devi into a cult figure. On February 14, 1981, Phoolan Devi's gang shot dead 21 so-called upper caste men in Behmai village. She claimed she killed the 21 men to avenger her gang rape at the hands of the so-called upper caste men.
Hailing from among the so-called lower castes, Phoolan Devi was born in Gurah ka Purva village in central Uttar Pradesh in August 1963. Her story begins in 1979 when the Babu Gujjar gang kidnapped her, apparently at the instigation of her cousin with whom her family had an ongoing property dispute. Two days later, Babu Gujjar was killed by a gang member, Vikram Mallah, and Phoolan Devi became his consort and the gang's co-leader. Their gang operated in the Chambal ravines in central India, an area that is famous for harbouring gangsters.
A violent dispute between a gang led by Lala Ram and Shri Ram, who hailed from the so-called upper castes, and Vikram Mallah's outfit that comprised the so-called lower castes, saw the latter killed. Lala Ram and Shri Ram captured Phoolan Devi and had her raped by the entire gang. Phoolan Devi later claimed that she during a raid on Behmai village, she had spotted two of the gangsters who had raped her hiding in that village.
The outcry in the country saw the police put immense pressure on Phoolan Devi, who agreed to surrender on certain terms and conditions that were agreed upon. She was thus spared the death sentence.
Phoolan Devi surrendered before the then Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Arjun Singh April 16,1983. She was released from jail in February 1994 after the then Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav ordered that all cases against her be withdrawn. Soon after her release, Phoolan Devi, who had acquired a larger-than-life image as a brave woman who fought against upper caste tyranny, joined the Samajwadi Party led by Yadav. She was elected Member of Parliament from Mirzapur, Uttar Pradesh, in 1996.
Phoolan Devi went beyond newspaper reports after Mala Sen, a journalist working for Channel 4, wrote a book on her while she was still in prison. Bandit Queen was based on the book.
Her murder case continues to languish. Between October 2001 and July 20, 2002, when the last hearing was held, only twenty hearings have been held in this case.
"The case was first heard by Additional Sessions Judge I S Mehta, and after he had heard the arguments on the framing of charges against eight of the accused, he was transferred. Now, the matter is being heard all over again by C K Chaturvedi. The next date for the hearing is July 30.
"At this pace, it will take a long time before the charge are actually framed," said Tariq Nasir, advocate for Keshav Chauhan, who is an accused in the case.
Nasir claimed that his client Keshav did not have any role in the murder and that his name was being unnecessarily dragged in. Keshav had taken the two locally made pistols that were used in the crime in the garage of Phoolan Devi's house.
He was the first person to reach the scene of crime and, removing the two pistols and tucking them in his lungi, he rushed Phoolan Devi to hospital.
There are more complaints. Munni Devi, younger sister of Phoolan Devi and who lived with her till the end, has got her advocate, S C Sagar, to file a separate application before the court to include Umed Singh, husband of Phoolan Devi, in the list of accused. Sagar too is aggrieved at the snail pace at which the case is being heard.
"The court has so far not taken up our plea. The matter is being adjourned. We want the names of Uma Kashyap, Vijay Kashyap, and above all Umed Singh be included in the list of the accused and the court should direct the police to reinvestigate the case," said Sagar.
Umed Singh had reportedly gone to see his first wife who resides in north Delhi on the day of the murder. Uma Kashyap and Vijay Kashyap had lent their vehicle to Phoolan Devi on the morning of July 25 to enable her to go to Parliament Annexe to purchase medicines. Also, it was Uma Kashyap who had introduced the prime accused, Sher Singh Rana to Phoolan Devi. Initially, the police suspected that the Kashyaps were a part of the conspiracy, but later they were included in the list of witnesses.
In all 172 persons have been named as witnesses in this case.
Umed Singh told rediff.com that he was not satisfied with the investigations and felt that the Central Bureau of Investigation should have probed the case. An officer of the anti-robbery cell of the police's crime branch, Suresh Kaushik, led the investigation into the murder.
"I don't understand how the government functions," said an angry Umed Singh. "When poachers kill an animal with the so-called support of tehelka.com reporters, the Government of India immediately refers the matter to the CBI for investigation. But when a Dalit Member of Parliament is killed, the Delhi police are asked to investigating the case. Why?"
Umed Singh continues to believe that murder of Phoolan Devi was a larger conspiracy and the truth would not come out until a fair investigation is carried out.
"We are going to demand that the government order a fresh investigation into the Phoolan Devi murder case by the Central Bureau of Investigations," he added.
Design: Dominic Xavier
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