Men sit on striped durries, sipping cold drink in disposable glasses, at the community hall of Bond village in Haryana’s Bhiwani district. Addressing the gathering is Sher Singh Rana, who was convicted of the 2001 murder of bandit-turned-politician Phoolan Devi. Rana was granted bail by the Delhi High Court in 2016 and has been participating in what he calls “social activities” since then. In a starched yellow kurta at the Bond gathering, he talks of unity between Hindu and Muslim Rajputs under a Rajput political banner, and about leveraging the political clout to help youth from the community find jobs.
With eyes on the assembly polls in Haryana later this year, he has started a 50-day tour called Rashtrawadi Janlok Parivartan Yatra to drum up support for demands such as capital punishment for rape of a girl below 12 years, securing of pastures, a farmers’ commission, and a law that promises a job to one person in each household. He wants to be remembered as somebody who got jobs for lakhs of people.
“Whoever killed her (Phoolan Devi) did the right thing.... I was framed, but I believe I will be acquitted,” says Rana.
“I was framed, but I believe justice shall prevail and I’ll be acquitted,” says Rana, though he was introduced to the gathering as the one who avenged the killing of 22 Rajputs by Phoolan Devi, who had in 1981 avenged her gang-rape by Rajput men of Behmai village. “Whoever killed her did the right thing. I would have stood by her if she had killed those actually responsible for assaulting her, but she killed innocent men of the village,” adds Rana.
Staying away from his family for over 15 years was tough, and property worth crores was sold to pay the lawyers, says Rana, who was in Afghanistan and whose two brothers were in jail when their father passed away in 2004. None of the sons could light the father’s pyre. An alumnus of Saint Gabriel Academy in Roorkee, Rana aspired to be an army officer—“but then I realised I had to do bigger things,” he adds. Arrested first in 2001, he escaped from Delhi’s Tihar jail in 2004, and travelled to Bangladesh, Dubai and Afghanistan. In 2006, he was rearrested in Calcutta. He has written about these experiences in his Jail Diary: From Tihar to Kabul-Kandahar and claims a biopic is in the works and would be announced soon. Rana got married in February last year and has a seven-month-old daughter.
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By Salik Ahmad in Bhiwani