NEW DELHI : The main suspect in the murder of India’s Phoolan Devi was found guilty on Friday, 13 years after the iconic “bandit queen” was gunned down in broad daylight.
Sher Singh Rana went on trial for the murder of Devi - a low-caste heroine who transformed herself from illiterate villager to opposition lawmaker - after she was shot dead by three masked men in 2001.
Devi, elected to parliament for the first time in 1996, was part of India’s bandit folklore, with her life on the run in the rugged ravines of the central state of Madhya Pradesh in the early 1980s the subject of numerous films and books.
Her turbulent life, captured in Bollywood director Shekhar Kapur’s 1996 movie “Bandit Queen”, was comprised of many incarnations, from abused child-bride to feared outlaw and finally member of parliament.
Police said after her death that Rana had confessed to murdering Devi 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.
Ten other defendants in the case were acquitted of involvement in her death. “Except Sher Singh Rana, I am acquitting all the accused,” said judge Bharat Parashar, according to the Press Trust of India.
A twelfth accused had died of a heart attack while in prison in November 2013. Sentencing will be on August 12, the judge said.
Rana had to be recaptured in 2006 after he made a daring escape while being transported to court from New Delhi’s Tihar Jail by a police escort - who turned out be fellow bandits in disguise. The break-out was a huge embarrassment for Tihar, regarded as one of India’s most secure prisons.