An Action Committee to save the lives of five Dalit labourers facing the death sentence
Various social, cultural, human rights and Dalit rights organisations have come together to save the lives of Nanhe Lal, Veer Kumar Paswan, Krishna Mochi, Dharu (Dharmendra) Singh and Shobhit Chamar, all poor Dalit landless labourers from Bihar. The sessions-cum-TADA court of Gaya has awarded them the death sentence and a black warrant of death has been issued against them.
A mercy petition to commute their death penalty into life sentence is pending with the President of India. A committee headed by Justice VR Krishna Iyer is working to save their lives. Members of the action committee formed to save the lives of these men include: Rajkishore, senior social and cultural activist from Bihar, working with the All India Committee for abolition of death penalty; Advocate PA Sebastian, Committee for the Protection of Democratic Rights (CPDR), Mumbai; Shyam Gaikwad, senior RPI leader; Sagar Sarhadi, film-maker; Teesta Setalvad, co-editor, Communalism Combat; Ramesh Pimple, People’s Media.
Brief life sketches of the five landless and poor peasants of Bihar sentenced to death by the Supreme Court:
Nanhe Lal Paswan
Nanhe Lal Mochi alias Nanhak Das was born in 1949 in Bara village, Tola Bhat Bigha, which falls under the police station area of Alipur in Gaya district (Bihar). His father, Mahadeo Das was a bonded agriculture (halwaha) labourer. In his childhood, Nanhe was forced to work as a ‘gorkha’ (herding cattle) of landlords. During this period, he was often severely beaten by the landlords and their sons.
At a very young age, Nanhe Lal was forced into the same bondage that his father had been in. Nanhe Lal married Baleshwari Devi at the age of 14. They have five daughters and two sons. He had to work like a slave every day, for a pittance, ever since his childhood and could never dream of asking for proper wages. Apart from agriculture-related work, he also had to do domestic work in the landlord’s household. This was the kind of feudal landlordism that existed in Bihar, a situation that continues to exist in many parts of Bihar and Jharkhand even today.
Gradually, agricultural workers or landless peasants started asserting themselves and this soon resulted in a mighty wave of resistance against the oppression of landlords and their private army, known as the Diamond Sena or the Swarna Liberation Front. This band of goons carried out heinous massacres of hundreds of people belonging to oppressed castes and classes in places like Sawan Bigha (Jahanabad), Rampur Chai (Jahanabad), Mein Barsimha (Gaya) and elsewhere. Angered by the inaction of the Bihar police, which secretly supported the illegal private landlord army, the affected people chose the path of resistance. The Bara incident was one such act. (In the Bara incident, which took place in 1992, crowds numbering hundreds protested the systematic massacres perpetrated by the Swarna Liberation Front that left several dozen Dalits and other oppressed people dead. In Bara, the affected people took matters into their own hands and attacked members of the SLF. More than two dozen SLF supporters were killed.)
Nanhe Lal and his brother Jugal Das were implicated in this case without any basis. Their names were falsely mentioned in the FIR, which was a fabricated one written up by the police. TADA was also imposed on Nanhe. He has been languishing in jail for the last 11 years. The designated TADA court sentenced Nanhe Lal and three others to death on June 8, 2002. He has since been shifted to Bhagalpur central prison where he is kept in miserable conditions. His wife was forced to take to agricultural labour after he was jailed, to look after the children. Now she and her children have migrated to another village called Barkibigha Chandouti in Gaya district. The landlords forcibly evicted his family from Bara.
Veer Kumar Paswan
Veer Kumar Paswan was born in 1944 in a landless Dalit family in a village called Khutbat in the Alipur police station limits of Gaya district. At a very young age, like Nanhe Lal, he was forced to work as a gorkha, the village shepherd, who had to herd the landlords’ cattle on grazing lands. He endured several periods of starvation in his childhood.
Veer Kumar married Chandramani Devi when he was ten. They have two daughters and a son. Later on, he began to make a living by selling hens and goats. The landlords of his village did not like his independent way of life and killed his hens and goats several times. He was severely beaten up by the landlords, who enjoy absolute power, on lame pretexts such as his hens spoiling their crops. He was made to pay huge amounts of compensation for the supposed damage to their crops. In turn, the landlords themselves lent Veer Kumar the money to pay these illegal fines at exorbitant rates of interest. Finally, when he was unable to repay the loans, he was forced into bonded labour again.
After the Bara incident, the landlords implicated Veer Kumar in the case because they had failed to keep him under their control. The villagers believe the police were directed by the landlords to arrest Veer Kumar from his house after the incident took place. He has been languishing in prison for the last 11 years and has been in Bhagalpur central prison since he was awarded the death penalty.
Krishna Mochi, who is also known as Krishna Das, was born in 1949 in a landless Dalit (chamar) family of Bhatbigha, a hamlet in Bara village in the police station limits of Alipur in Gaya district. His father, Chaiti Rabidas was a bonded labourer but he decided to send Krishna Das to school, which the landlords objected to. With great difficulty, Krishna Das was able to study up to Std. VII at Dihura Middle School of Tekari, district of Gaya. But Krishna could not afford to continue his education and he had to start working with his father. He also learnt to play with English music bands in baraat parties (marriage ceremonies).
Krishna married Chandramani Devi at the age of 13. They have two daughters and three sons. He began to oppose feudal repression and so became the target of landlords. After the Bara incident, he was named in the FIR and arrested. He has been in jail for about 13 years. Krishna Das also organised several struggles against oppression by jail authorities. He was sentenced to death by the TADA court of Gaya on June 7, 2002. Currently, he is in Bhagalpur central jail.
Dharu or Dharmendra Singh was born in 1973 in a middle class peasant family of the Rajput caste. His family earned its livelihood through cultivation and by selling milk. Dharu had worked hard alongside his father ever since his childhood. He started his primary education in his village, Dihura and passed the Std. VII exams from Dihura Middle School. He then shifted to Tekari and did his matriculation from Prakash Vidya Mandir, Tekari (Gaya). He was a keen footballer during his school days. He was very eager to acquire a higher education but had to stop studying due to severe economic constraints. Finally, he began to work with his father in his fields.
Dharu Singh married Lalita Devi and they have a daughter and two sons. Since he could not meet the basic economic requirements of his family through cultivation, he went looking for other work. However, he failed to get another job and decided to continue in agriculture.
The landlords of Dharu’s village tried to occupy his lands and take over his crops. Cases were filed in court and he was forced to take loans to meet the exorbitant legal expenses that accrued. Finally, by the time the court ruled in his favour, his economic condition was miserable.
Meanwhile, the Bara incident took place and his opponent, Sumiran Sharma implicated him in the case. Dharu Singh did not surrender before the police or court. Ultimately, the police arrested him at Gaya railway station with the help of the landlords of his village. He was also awarded the death sentence by the TADA designated court of Gaya, by Justice Jawahar Chaudhary. He is now in Bhagalpur central jail.
Shobhit Chamar of village Durgawati, district Bhabhua (Bihar), is a landless agriculture worker. He was made an accused by the landlords of the area in an incident that occurred under the Durgawati police station. He was awarded the death sentence by a sessions and district judge of Rohatas on February 23, 1996. The Supreme Court has confirmed the death sentence of Shobhit Chamar and he is currently languishing in Bhagalpur central prison.
The Supreme Court confirmed the death sentences in the Bara case by a majority of 2:1; the dissenting judge, Justice Shah differed from the majority view and questioned the awarding of death sentences on the basis of the "quality of evidence" of a single public witness.
Archived from Communalism Combat, September 2004 Year 11 No.101, Campaign 2