The re-elected chief minister of Bihar needs to show whether he has the will to render justice to the oppressed castes.
The election of the new mahagatbandhan government in Bihar has raised hopes of various sections, with many expecting a lot from the alliance that defeated Narendra Modi. A number of demands and appeals are landing at the newly sworn-in chief minister’s door. We thought it only appropriate to appeal for justice on behalf of four prisoners rotting in jail on death row.
Dear Nitish Kumarji,
We are four citizens who reside in Bihar and wish to congratulate you on becoming the chief minister of Bihar once again!
At the outset itself we want to make it clear that we did not vote for you. But we did not even vote for Narendra Modi. In fact we did not vote for anyone. We have not been allowed to vote for anyone from almost twenty four years. That’s because we have been in jail since then and no one in jail is allowed to vote in any election.
We have spent more than fourteen of these years on death row, in the shadow of the scaffold, knowing that we could be the next to get the hangman’s noose. Over twelve-and-a-half years have been spent waiting for the government to decide on our mercy petition and we still do not know where it has reached.
Death sentence for dalits, acquittal for upper castes
Nitishji, you may have heard of our case, where we have been convicted in an offence where 35 upper caste Bhumihar landlord men were killed in February 1992. In the Supreme Court the judgment of one of the three judges pointed out how the police investigation was “totally defective” and how the evidence was unreliable. He acquitted one of us and removed the death sentence of the other three because the only evidence against us was that we were present on the spot. This evidence too we must say was totally false.
The other two judges however gave all of us death penalty because they felt that the offence was such that the collective conscience of the community demanded the death penalty. They felt that the act was “depraved” and those who committed it were “beast”.
But the courts did not use the same principle of collective conscience for judging the upper caste men who were accused of killing 21 Dalits at Bathani Tola in 1996 or of massacring 58 Dalits at Laxmanpur Bathe in1997, or of butchering 23 in Shankarbigha in 1999, or for any of the numerous other caste massacre crimes committed throughout the country, where children, women and men of oppressed castes have been killed. It seems that those who calculate collective conscience only favour the upper castes. This naturally not only makes us believe that injustice has been done to us as individuals, but also makes all the oppressed castes feel that they cannot expect justice from the casteist system.
Justice for oppressed castes
We therefore appeal to you as the CM of a mahagatbandhan, which has come to power with promises to ensure the welfare of the backward castes, minorities and dalits, to do something to ensure justice for us and for the numerous members of the oppressed castes and exploited classes who are behind bars in the jails of Bihar.
Please decide immediately regarding our petitions to the government which have remained pending since March 2003 and which now appear to have been lost. This long delay itself has been a punishment and we deserve to be released.
Please try and ensure that the casteist investigative and judicial machinery, which gives death sentence to Dalits for the death of upper castes but acquits upper caste accused who have massacred Dalits and other oppressed castes, is corrected.
Nitish Kumarji, the Bihar State Legal Services Authority (BSLSA) has recently done a survey of all the prisons in Bihar during which the surveyors visited all the jails and met many prisoners, including us in Bhagalpur. The BSLSA has brought out a Status Reort – 2015 which points out that there are over 30,000 prisoners rotting for years in Bihar’s overcrowded jails. This report has given various suggestions for improving prison conditions and changing rules. These suggestions should be implemented and the numbers in the jails should be reduced, by releasing on bail or personal bond or otherwise the countless inmates from the exploited and oppressed classes who are suffering only because they do not have the money and resources to get the legal help to set them free.
While making this desperate appeal to you we must nevertheless make it clear that we doubt whether you will give us justice or even try to give us justice. You have been the CM of Bihar for ten out of the twelve-and-half years that our mercy petition has remained pending, but your government did not even try to find out whether the petition had been lost and take a decision. But since you are now again re-elected we have no option but to ask you to decide.
We also know that you too are very much a part of the casteist state structure that is biased against the oppressed castes. When you got elected in 2005, one of the first things you did was to dissolve the Justice Amir Das commission that was investigating into the caste massacres of the Ranvir Sena and its political links. At that time many in your alliance and your party were involved in providing money, arms and political backing to the upper casteist killers. I hope you will be different this time because you have been elected through a mahagatbandhan which claims to speak for the backward and oppressed sections of society.
Hope in a hopeless situation is perhaps foolish, particularly after spending almost a quarter century behind bars. But do we have a choice? Without hope what would we be?
Nanhe Lal Mochi,
Bir Kuer Paswan and
Prisoners on Death Row, Bhagalpur Central Prison, Bihar.