PUDR welcomes the decision of the President commuting the death sentences of Nanhe Lal Mochi, Veer Kuar Paswan, Krishna Mochi and Dharmender Singh, convicted in the Bara massacre of 1992 for killing 35 members of the Bhumihar caste in Bihar. Commutation in this case, however, is justice half done as the four prisoners will continue to languish in jail indefinitely in the absence of any clarity on the terms of commutation. The four prisoners were sentenced to death in 2001 by a TADA designated court in an extremely biased trial and the sentence was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2002. Their mercy petitions were filed in 2003 which never reached the authorities for over 10 years and the commutation of their sentences after inordinate delay comes in the wake of them having served over two decades in jail and 15 years under the shadow of death. The commutation without release at this point in response to call for ‘mercy’ therefore, inadvertently sentences them to an endless ordeal of prison life to which they have already been subjected, for years. In the same case, the TADA designated court in 2009 awarded death penalty to Vyas Kehar and Bugal Mochi which was later commuted by the Supreme Court in 2013 into life imprisonment. Life imprisonment however was clarified as imprisonment for ‘the rest of their natural life’ meaning they would continue to rot in jail till death rescues them.
PUDR believes that the implications of such sentences that ensure imprisonment till the end of natural life, are brutal and purposeless to the least. In absence of any possibility of release or remission, the confinement of prisoners for the rest of their lives defeats the very purpose of punishment which is reform. In such a situation the punishment ensures that the justice system is stripped off any reformative intent and provides for no opportunity of rehabilitation for the prisoners and remains only retributive. The fundamental right to life which an order of commutation grants to prisoners, also means a life with dignity. Imprisonment till the end of life and allowing them to rot in over-crowded jails under inhuman and torturous conditions fundamentally excludes any prospect of dignity. Incarceration till death is no less mentally cruel than waiting for a verdict on the mercy petition, as it simply substitutes waiting for a natural death for waiting for an unnatural one. It pushes the prisoner to a point where the longer he lives, the greater is his punishment.
PUDR would also like to draw attention to the fact that the prisoners in the Bara case, mainly Dalits, hail from very poor sections of the society. Given the fact that the justice system in India is fractured by inequalities based on caste, class, religion, gender etc. the verdict of death in Bara case which now amounts to life imprisonment after commutation, was a culmination of extremely biased and discriminatory trails. The nature of evidence presented in courts was shoddy and unreliable. For instance, the FIR of this case was filed on the basis of the eyewitness account given by one person naming 35 persons and many others allegedly involved in the massacre. That eyewitness was however never produced in the court. That the investigation, evidence and trial were all flawed was reflected in the Supreme Court verdict as well. The Supreme Court while hearing the Bara case in appeal in relation to the 2001 judgement given by the TADA court, was divided in its decision. The two-member majority judgement upheld the death penalty, whilst the third dissenting judgment acquitted one, Dharmender Singh, and awarded life imprisonment to the other three.
It needs to be remembered that the verdicts in the caste massacres in Bihar have gone against Dalits and Backward castes, whereas in cases where the perpetrators have been so called upper castes and the victims were from lower castes, the accused have largely gone scot free. In 23 incidents of mass killings by the upper caste landlord army, Ranvir Sena slaughtered 256 poor and Dalit persons were killed, in 1980s and 1990s. However in the cases related to some of these massacres e.g. Bathani Tola, Lakshmanpur-Bathe, Nagari Bazaar and Mianpur, 125 members of Ranvir Sena were tried under ordinary sections of IPC, of which 56 were initially acquitted by the lower courts and 68 were later acquitted by the Patna High Court for want of evidence. Only 1 person was given life imprisonment in the Nagari massacre. Similar infirmities in evidence were completely ignored in the Bara case. Many other cases of killings of Dalits by Ranvir Sena have similarly resulted in the acquittal of all the accused, for instance Narayanpur 1999, Shankarbigha of 1999. There has been no convictions in so many massacres committed by Ranvir Sena. Comparatively the Bara accused having tried and penalized under a ‘terror law’, TADA, convicted through flawed trials and have served long sentences.
In 2015, when PUDR activists visited Bhagalpur jail the four convicts whose punishment to death has now been averted by the President, narrated their stories and ordeals concluding with that rather than being alive in jail for the rest of their lives, they would prefer to die to end their suffering. While the commutation does mean the postponement of death, for justice to prevail the six convicts in the Bara case must be immediately released. PUDR believes that their release wouldn’t just mean the restoration of their lives and liberties but a victory of the justice system in India to achieve the constitutional goals of equality and justice to all.
We demand the immediate release of Nanhe Lal Mochi, Veer Kuar Paswan, Krishna Mochi, Dharmender Singh, Vyas Kehar and Bugal Mochi.
Anushka Singh, Cijo Joy