Life sentence for upper-caste killer of India’s famous ‘Bandit Queen’

Phoolan Devi long roamed Central India’s desolate valleys, allegedly stealing from and killing upper-caste landowners she said exploited poor, landless farmers, before she became a member of Parliament in 1996.

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NEW DELHI // An Indian court on Thursday sentenced the man convicted of killing India’s “bandit queen” Phoolan Devi to life imprisonment, 13 years after she was gunned down in broad daylight.

Devi, a heroine of India’s lower castes who transformed herself from an illiterate villager to a member of parliament, was shot by three masked men outside her home in central New Delhi in 2001.

Sher Singh Rana, who police said had confessed to her murder, was convicted last week after a trial that had dragged on for more than a decade.

On Thursday Judge Bharat Parashar announced the life sentence to a packed courtroom in Delhi and fined Rana 100,000 rupees (Dh6,044).

The court had earlier acquitted 10 other defendants in Devi’s killing, with the judge saying the prosecution failed to prove its case against them beyond reasonable doubt.

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 was accused of murdering 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.

Reports published after the massacre say that Devi, carrying a gun and with ammunition strung across her chest, led a group of around 20 people posing as police officers into the village where the men lived.

She reportedly ordered the villagers to hand over two rival gangsters, and when they failed to do so, told her men to round up all the young men in the village. They were then lined up on a riverbank and shot.

Devi finally surrendered to authorities in 1983 after years spent on the run with her gangster lover.

Together they are said to have laid siege to villages in the impoverished and sparsely populated badlands of the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, looting and killing and holding up trains.

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.

Her life story was captured in the 1996 movie Bandit Queen, which traced her journey from abused child-bride to feared outlaw in the ravines of central India and finally a member of parliament.

Rana, 38, is expected to appeal against the sentence in a higher court.

* Agence France-Presse