Thursday, December 02, 2004

Massacres in Bihar never invited TADA until the victims were upper-castes


12 yrs after 36 were butchered, four men on death row cling to mercy petition.


VARGHESE K GEORGE

It was cold, clinical and almost primitive. On February 12, 1992, 36 people of the upper-castes were killed here, apparently by an MCC squad. All males in this Bhumihar hamlet were gathered, marched off to the bank of a nearby canal. Their hands were tied, and their throats slit. Thirty-six bled to death, the others survived.

This time, the Laloo Prasad Yadav government responded by invoking the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities Act (TADA), giving a unique twist to Bihar's caste wars. For, in no case where Dalits were killed was TADA used. The anti-terror law was only brought into play after a massacre of an upper-caste group. Death sentences were awarded to four people by the TADA court—all of them extremely poor and landless, three of them Dalits. Here, whoever is not with us is with the MCC," says Satyendra Sharma, who introduces himself as the Gaya district chief of the upper caste Ranvir Sena. This is his defence when asked about the implication of the four as accused, in a crime evidently perpetrated by a trained MCC posse.

Sharma was also the informant and prime witness in the case, though he could not appear in court because he had become a declared absconder by then. "If I had deposed, the rest would also have got the death sentence."

Nineteen people were charge-sheeted in the Bara case. And, on June 8, 2001, the TADA court in Gaya awarded the death sentence to Veer Kunwar Paswan, Krishna Mochi, Dharu Singh (alias Dharmendra Singh) and Nanhe Lal Mochi—all that stands between them and the hangman is a mercy petition before the President. Yet, the profiles of these Dalit ‘‘terrorists" are telling.

• Krishna Mochi’s father, Chaiti Rabidas, struggles to see through his scaly eyes and wonders if the visitors to his mud hut have any news of his son, in jail for the past 13 years. "My son's only fault was that he had self-respect. He had nothing to do with the killings. Please spare him," says Rabidas, a bonded labourer once, who angered his "owner" by sending Krishna to school. Krishna studied for some years at the Dihura Middle School, Tekari, but was forced to drop out before joining a musical band performing at weddings. At 13, he married Chandramani Devi—the couple have two daughters and three sons. Some suspect his mild assertion about wages and dignity was enough to anger "the landlords", leading to him being framed in the Bara case.

• At Veer Kunwar Paswan’s house, there's just his daughter Sunita. She has not seen a school in her life. "What is life and education for her?" asks a villager. Veer Kunwar was forced into cattle-herding, like so many other Dalit children in Bihar, till he tried to raise hens and goats. It was free enterprise’s little revolt against feudalism. And it resulted in Veer Kunwar being beaten up, his goats and hens being repeatedly stolen. Finally, there were demands for "compensation" for crops allegedly destroyed by his hen. When Veer Kunwar couldn't pay up, he was offered loans by local moneylenders at impossible interest rates. When he couldn't repay the loans, he was back as bonded labourer. For the past 11 years, of course, he's been in jail, four of them on death row.

• The third man awaiting the gallows is Nanhelal Mochi, also born to a bonded labourer. As a boy, he grazed the cattle of upper-caste farmers, as their children went to school, till he grew to become a bonded labourer himself. Eleven years ago, he and his brother Jugal Das were implicated in the Bara massacre case and put behind bars.

• The fourth convict is Dharmendra Singh, a Rajput who owned some land, showed great interest in school and football. Unable to study further due to financial problems, he migrated in search of work. When he came back to his native Dihura village, he realised big landlords had taken over his land. He went to court, borrowed money to pay lawyers, won the case. Then he was accused of murder in the Bara case.

THE HOLES IN EVIDENCE

The background of the four accused in the Bara massacre show them to be unlikely ‘‘terrorists". That aside, the evidence against them is questionable. When the appeal went to the Supreme Court, Justice M B Shah discounted the ‘‘quality of evidence" and disagreed with the death sentence. However, he was in a minority in the 2-1 verdict of April 15, 2002.
As Judge Shah points out, the quality of evidence raises a lot of questions:
Satyendra Sharma, the informant in the case, never deposed in court.
Confessional statement of Bihari Majhi, a Dalit labourer not even named in the FIR, was the basis of conviction. The statement, made before a police inspector, was denied by Majhi in court. Of its 10 pages, Majhi’s signature appears only on five. In any case, only an officer of the rank of at least superintendent can record admissible statements, even under TADA provisions.
Of the 34 prosecution witnesses, none stated that any of the four men took part in the murder or were members of an extremist group. No arms were recovered.

Source: The Indian Express, December 02, 2004

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