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Behmai massacre witness dies at 85 waiting for justice

Behmai massacre witness dies at 85 waiting for justice

Phoolan Devi

Kanpur (Uttar Pradesh): The key witness and plaintiff in the shocking 1981 Behmai massacre case died.

Rajaram Singh, who had been suffering from liver disease, died in his native village Behmai of Kanpur Dehat district here.

On February 14, 1981, Bandit queen Phoolan Devi and her gang killed 20 men, avenging the sexual violence committed on her by men of the Thakur caste.

Rajaram's two younger brothers, Banwari Singh and Himmat Singh,cousin Naresh Singh, nephews Dev Singh, Hukum Singh and Dashrath Singh were among those killed.

Earlier this month, in an interview to a newspaper, Rajaram had said, "I wish to see the accused of the Behmai massacre hanged for their crime. They had killed our innocent family members. But God only knows whether I would be able to get justice as I am suffering from chronic liver ailment. I will get peace only when the killers are punished in my lifetime."

Rajaram, the key complainant, recalled he was 46 when the massacre took place; even after 39 years, memories of the incident still sent shivers down his spine.

"Our village witnessed 20 cremations on a single day. I was born as a Thakur, who are considered to be brave, but on that day, I was shivering like anything and took refuge under the fodder dump. Maan Singh, Balwan, Shivpal, Mustaqeem, Phoolan Devi and their men were dragging away my brothers, some of whom were just 11, 12 and 14, forced them to kneel down and shot them one by one. They had shot 26 men, out of whom 20 succumbed," he had said.

Within an hour that day, Behmai once known as the village of Thakurs, became village of mourners with 17 young widows.

"What was more painful was how Thakurs were projected as rapists of Phoolan all these years," Rajaram had said in the interview.

He said none could even dare look in her eyes. "Now tell me, in such a situation, is it possible that people like us, having wives and children, would have sexually assaulted Phoolan, that too in the presence of our grandmothers, mothers and sisters. We are not insane, we are also a part of the society," he had stated.

"In the last 39 years, there has not been a single day when we lived happily. What is the point if an accused gets punishment 10, 20 or 30 years after the incident? Is this justice?" he had asked.

Rajaram's son, Ramkesh Singh, who is serving as a police home guard, told reporters, "Even though my father was old and ailing, he regularly visited court and never missed hearings. It is immensely painful for us that his last wish of witnessing killers getting punishment in his lifetime remained unfulfilled."

Rajaram's one son, Kandrapal Singh, is serving in the Army, while two others Badam Singh and Deshraj Singh are peasants.

A local court of Kanpur had framed charges in the case in August 2012, about 31 years after the massacre.

Out of the 23 accused in this case, 16, including Phoolan Devi, are already dead.

Charges were framed against the four surviving accused, while the court issued a non-bailable warrant against three absconders, including Maan Singh, Ramkesh and Vishwanath.

A special court (dacoity) had fixed a date for pronouncing the verdict in the case in January 2020. But it was adjourned several times as the original case diary was reported missing from court records and a probe was ordered.

Phoolan Devi was shot dead on July 26, 2001 by three masked gunmen outside her residence in Delhi.

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