Sher Singh Rana visits Behmai, 20 yrs after killing Phoolan (IANS Special)

Forty years ago, on February 14, 1981, a young girl, who was pushed into the ravines, had shot dead 20 innocent persons in the Behmai village in Kanpur district to avenge her sexual exploitation by a dacoit gang.

The young girl then known as bandit queen Phoolan Devi went on to become a Member of Parliament.

Seventeen of those killed in the Behmai massacre were Thakurs.

In July 2001, Phoolan was shot dead in Delhi by a Thakur youth, Sher Singh Rana, who claimed that he had killed her to avenge the massacre of Thakurs in Behmai.

On Tuesday, the events came full circle in Behmai when Sher Singh Rana paid a visit to Behmai — his first — to pay tributes to those who had been killed by Phoolan.

He visited a memorial built in the village in memory of those who were killed in the 1981 massacre and paid floral tributes.

He also visited the house of Raja Ram Singh, the main witness and plaintiff in the massacre case. Singh died in December 2020 after a prolonged illness at the age 85.

As soon as the news of Sher Singh Rana’s visit spread, almost the entire village turned up to greet him and cheer him.

Thakurs from nearby villages also reached Behmai to catch a glimpse of the man who gunned down Phoolan Devi. He was garlanded and lifted on the shoulders by the local people.

Sher Singh Rana, while addressing the crowd, said that he would continue to fight for the honour of Thakurs.

Though the majority of the present day population in Behmai and adjoining villages has not been a witness to the massacre, everyone knows the incident.

Shirish Singh, 21, who is doing a computer science course in Kanpur, says, ‘My grandfather and father have told me about the Behmai massacre. We have grown up hearing stories.. For me, it is a dream come true to be able to see the man who avenged the massacre for us. My two relatives were among those killed. My grandfather says that he hid in a haystack to save himself.’

Shirish, and hundreds of others like him, jostled through the crowds to take a selfie with Sher Singh Rana.

‘For others, he may be a culprit, but for us, he is our hero,’ said Nandini Singh, a Class 12 student who climbed on to the roof of a neighbour’s house to have a glimpse of Rana.