… and back to Gaza

After our brief excursion into optimism, let us return to the Occupied Palestinian Territories, where Israel is launching missiles, artillery, and aggression into neighbourhoods. Using the IMEMC.org newswire, a valuable resource.

There was all the home destruction in Rafah.

The shelling of residental areas.

The shelling of a mosque.

Assassinations of Islamic Jihad and people anywhere near people suspected of belonging to said group.

Standard patterns of wreckage, destruction, and murder that are the daily diet of Palestinians, especially in Gaza, and especially in Rafah, courtesy of the Israeli military and the US government. These are being reported in the mainstream media as ‘retaliations’.

India’s Elections again

Thinking a little more about it, and reading Arundhati Roy and P Sainath’s pieces on the subject, I have decided that I am going to take a minute and celebrate the results of India’s elections. The result is only hitting me now. Readers have probably deduced that I am somewhat pessimistic. But this is actually a major event: the population of India has rejected fascism and neoliberalism and done so in a way that pulls the country back from the brink. I stand by what I said yesterday — the government can’t be relied upon to pull India back very far from the brink. But it’s not the distance from the brink that matters, it’s the depth of the hole. That 1/5 of the world is now a little further back from it is very good news indeed.

A little blog accountability

In the interests of blog accountability, I will remind readers that I made an incorrect prediction days ago, when I followed the trends and said that India’s right wing Hindu fundamentalist party, the BJP, would win the elections with a minority. Well, it looks like the BJP won’t be at the head of the government after all. Instead, it will be the Congress party.

The Congress party isn’t the fascists, but it certainly is neoliberal, corrupt, and so on. It’s BJP-Lite. Sound familiar? It seems to me that it is part of a global phenomenon. Right here in Ontario, Canada, for example, the hard-right vicious regime of Conservatives were thrown out, and the Liberals, (Conservative-lite) were put in. The Spanish got rid of Aznar in Spain, and to the new regime’s credit, they have actually withdrawn their troops from Iraq. In Colombia, regional elections brought the left to power all over the place. And of course in the previous wave in Latin America there was Kirchner, Lula, Chavez, etc.

But there’s a problem. First, it’s not all peacemakers and ‘lite’ regimes coming to power. In Sri Lanka, for example, the more conciliatory party lost elections. In El Salvador, the nasty right wing party won.

But more importantly, these ‘lite’ regimes, having come to power on the heels (optimistically interpreting) of popular repudiation of the viciousness of the ones they were replacing, have little idea what to do when they are in power or (like in Colombia) don’t really have the power to do much in this global context. There’s actually an argument to be made that such do-nothing ‘lite’ regimes, especially if they are accompanied by corruption, pave the way for hard right regimes to come to power. That’s because they don’t do anything for their own constituency (the poor and oppressed constituencies), so they don’t get access to that energy and power, but at the same time they can’t possibly serve elites as much retrogression as fast as the more brutal governments of the right. That leaves people at an impasse, and even leads to some people on the left believing that ‘the worse, the better’, that a Bush is better than a Kerry, since Bush provokes more opposition than Kerry would.

I don’t agree with this assessment. I think that more progress would be possible, more reform could be wrested, out of a more wishy-washy ‘lite’ regime than out of a ruthless right wing regime. But the basic problem remains — the electoral system is a sealed little circle that deprives people of meaningful choices. How can people force their way into the equation, in a context like this one?

Brazil and the NYT

When the US decided it was going to add a little extra humiliation for foreigners to the process of traveling through that country (which multinational transportation networks, especially in the Americas, have made difficult to avoid) by fingerprinting and scanning them, Brazil decided to do the same to US visitors of Brazil. This was greeted with gasps all over the world. The temerity! Galeano wrote about it, eloquently as usual:

“Many condemned this normal act as an expression of perilous insanity. Perhaps, if the world were not so misconditioned, things would be seen in another light. At bottom, what was abnormal was not what the Brazilian president Lula did but the fact that he was the only one to do so. What was abnormal was that everyone else simply accepted the conditions that Bush imposed on the rest of the world with the exception of a privileged few that were held beyond suspicion of terrorism and evil-doing.”

Well, President Lula has done it again. This time, Larry Rohter, the NYT bureau chief, accused Lula of being a drunk. His visa was cancelled.

Unlike the fingerprinting at airports, there are legitimate reasons why Lula ought not to have done this. But the private media, especially the US media, in Latin America, especially in Venezuela but also in Brazil, are instruments of destabilization. Perhaps the media and governments should consider a negotiated solution: the media will stop lying and participating in foreign attempts to overthrow democratic regimes; those regimes will stop doing things like these.

The truth is, this is the only incident of its kind I’ve heard about — for the most part, governments are fulfilling their end of the bargain. Reuters story below.

By Axel Bugge
BRASILIA, Brazil (Reuters) – Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has run into fierce criticism at home and abroad over his decision to expel a New York Times correspondent who wrote about his heavy drinking, with one critic calling him a “dictator of a third-rate republic.”

It will be the first time a foreign journalist has been thrown out of Brazil since the end of a 1964-1985 military dictatorship. The nation’s military rulers even jailed Lula, a former militant unionist who made his name standing up for the oppressed.

The government defended its move to cancel the visa of Larry Rohter, New York Times bureau chief in Rio de Janeiro. It said the article, which ran on Sunday, offended his honour.

The government said there was no chance it would reverse the expulsion.

“The Brazilian government is not going to retreat on this issue,” Lula’s spokesman told reporters on Wednesday. “It’s our responsibility to defend Brazil.”

Many Brazilians thought the story itself unfair. But the government’s reaction was slammed by Brazil’s opposition, human rights groups and media watchdogs, who called it an attack on press freedom.

“This was absurd, an immature decision by a dictator of a third-rate republic who does not understand the role of government,” said Sen. Tasso Jereissati of the centre-right Brazilian Social Democratic Party opposition.

The furore follows other spats between Brazil and the United States over trade policy and fingerprinting at airports.

It is also another distraction for the Lula government, which has just emerged from a corruption scandal and is struggling to get Brazil’s economy back on track and make good on its electoral promises of broad social reforms.

Two former presidents backed the expulsion. But Lula’s predecessor Fernando Henrique Cardoso did not, saying there were misinformed articles all the time but “I never thought of taking reprisals against a journalist.”


Foreign Minister Celso Amorim said the issue was not about press freedom. The article “was intended to diminish the figure and dimension of the president.”

The U.S.-based Human Rights Watch said that the expulsion could “do irreparable damage to freedom of expression in the country.” And U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the decision was “not in keeping with Brazil’s strong commitment to freedom of the press.”

New York Times spokeswoman Catherine Mathis said there was no basis for Rohter’s expulsion and the paper “would take appropriate action to defend his rights.”

The government’s move gives Rohter, a veteran Latin American correspondent, eight days to leave Brazil once police inform him he has lost his visa. He is now travelling outside Brazil.

The reaction prompted some to question if Lula overreacted.

“What was wrong with the story was that it said Lula’s drinking was a national worry, which is wrong, but the government’s response has become a national question,” said analyst Carlos Lopes.

Lula, who took office in January 2003, is known to enjoy a drink or two and Brazil has a generally relaxed attitude toward alcohol.

Lula’s personal doctor of ten years told Reuters the president did not have a drinking problem.

“I never noticed alcohol abuse,” cardiologist Roberto Kalil said in a phone interview. “He’s a normal, healthy person.”

Beheading and the race war

The media will be full of stories of the beheading of Nick Berg. The implication is clear: we do horrific things to them, and they do horrific things to us, so it’s all fine and even-handed and okay.

Joe Lieberman apparently said in the media, responding to the lack of an apology: “I have to point out that no one apologized to us for 9/11. No one apologized to us for the killing of US servicemen and women in Iraq.” I was sent this by email along with a translation: “I would just like to point out that some unrelated brown people did some bad things.”

And that is about all the logic you need. The Red Cross report on the torture at Abu Ghraib apparently says that 90% of the prisoners were innocent. But does ‘guilt’ and ‘innocence’ have any meaning in a culture so deeply racist? If North Americans are incapable of understanding that the invasion of Iraq was international aggression, and the ultimate crime, the one that has made all the torture, massacres, abuses, and war crimes possible, then why would they be capable of understanding that some set of Iraqis was ‘innocent’? Innocent of what, in any case — would resistance activities, legitimate under international law, make them ‘guilty’?

In Stan Goff’s books, he refers to Vietnam as a ‘race war’. Whatever the US went there to do, whether it was establish ‘credibility’, or defeat ‘the threat of a good example’, on the ground it played out as a bloody race war. But that’s what all these wars are. Just bloody race wars, of escalating atrocities, justifications in terms of other atrocities, and dehumanization.

The murder of Berg is going to be used to try to take attention away from the tortures at Abu Ghraib (and all the other torture that’s still going on and hasn’t been discussed, like at Guantanamo and elsewhere). It’s also going to be used to justify future atrocities and a longer presence in Iraq. If this weren’t a race war, if there were some sanity in this situation, Berg’s murder would be further reason why the US should not be in Iraq. But that would be too much to ask.

US troops courageously handcuff 5-year old Haitian girl, and more…

I am including below a report from Marguerite Laurent of the Haitian Lawyers Leadership Network. It is a rush translation and I can’t verify its accuracy. But it falls well within the realm of the entirely plausible, so I include it for readers to decide for themselves.

“So Ann”, a Haitian activist with Lavalas and grandmother, was ‘arrested’ last night. The manner of her arrest seems to follow standard US military doctrine. I will include this excerpt from the report. It includes handcuffing a 5-year old baby girl and blowing the gates off of a house for no good reason. I suppose we should be marveling at the restraint shown by the US soldiers. They could, after all, have simply carpet-bombed the house or handed the child a cluster bomb that looked like a food packet. Anyway here’s the excerpt:

Last night, May 10, 2004, on or about 12:30 am, a strong contingent of U.S. soldiers, from the Multinational Interim Force in Haiti apparently decided to forego Haitian and international law and practice warfare games on this elderly grandmother’s unarmed household.

Instead of knocking at the door, providing proof of charges and making a legal arrest, at a reasonable and Constitutionally approved hour for arrests, the U.S. soldiers, armed with the world’s most sophisticated war instruments, threw a grenade and blew up this elderly Haitian woman gates and forcibly entered her home.

All the people in her house, some 11 people, including her 5-year old grand daughter, Shashou, where forced to the ground and were handcuffed by U.S., soldiers armed in heavy artillery.

The full report:

On or about 12:30 on May 10, 2004, the U.S. military, acting as the Multinational Interim Force in Haiti violently gained entrance to the home of Annette Auguste, aka as “So Anne.”

No Haitian police were present at the time of the forcible entry, at the time of interrogations or during the arrests. The Us. soldiers are said to have blown up the gate where So Anne was living and accused her of making threats against the MIF.

Freedom of speech is no longer a civil rights for Haitians, especially Lavalas progressives.

At a press briefing today, MIF CJTF Pub. Affairs officer Col. David Lapan reportedly said, in sum, when asked why such force was used to make this arrest, that in operations of this type it is necessary to use violence in order to show the individuals who are the objects of the operation that the MIF means business. (See French report below.) Haitian who had any doubt as to the current status of Haitian sovereignty need no longer ask. The U.S. military, through Colonel David Lapan, have clearly implied, that Haiti is under occupation, and war rules known only to U.S. officers. Although the curfew have been lifted, by this action last night, it is reasonable to say, Haiti is under U.S. martial law while Ambassador Foley puts every word that comes out of U.S. puppet head, Mr. Latorture.

Annette Auguste (aka, “So Anne) is an elderly Haitian woman, whose life has been dedicated to the Lavalas Movement for democracy and development in Haiti. As a well-respected elder and community leader, her house is a meeting ground, as is the normal Haitian custom, for people to come and eat, gather, share news and solidarity. The Haitian Constitution guarantees Haitian citizens the right, not to be arrested or terrorized without due cause, especially it outlines no arrest warrants may be excised between 6pm and 6 am at night.

Yet, last night, May 10, 2004, on or about 12:30 am, a strong contingent of U.S. soldiers, from the Multinational Interim Force in Haiti apparently decided to forego Haitian and international law and practice warfare games on this elderly grandmother’s unarmed household.

Instead of knocking at the door, providing proof of charges and making a legal arrest, at a reasonable and Constitutionally approved hour for arrests, the U.S. soldiers, armed with the world’s most sophisticated war instruments, threw a grenade and blew up this elderly Haitian woman gates and forcibly entered her home.

All the people in her house, some 11 people, including her 5-year old grand daughter, Shashou, where forced to the ground and were handcuffed by U.S., soldiers armed in heavy artillery.

Let’s reiterate, a 5-year old Haitian baby girl, handcuffed by the world’s most powerful soldiers at midnight in her grandmother’s home!

This is the sort of “law and order” and democracy Haitians are subjected to after their Constitutionally elected President was, himself, forced out of Haiti by U.S. and French soldiers at gunpoint.

This is the sort of “law” “order” and “democracy” the Bush Administration is bringing to the world, while Secretary of State, Colin Powell, ushers the illegitimate U.S. replacement, Mr. Latorture, to shrimp and lobster dinners at the Harvard Club in New York today.

After, the U.S. soldiers, with grenades, blew up the gates at So Anne’s house, they then shot, with powerful automatic weapons, the hapless defenseless yard dogs and children pets who were barking in the yard at the rude entry in the dead of night.

Photos taken of So Anne’s house show that a lot of damage was done. Also from news reports, it the U.S. admitted, through Col. Lapan press conference, that there was no evidence of any weapons at So Anne’s house. Thus, the use of such excessive force and the hour of the operation is rendered even more illegal and clearly a violation of the Haitian Constitutional, Haitian sovereignty and international treaties, not to mention the OAS and UN charter.

Moreover, in the context of the U.S. citizenry current concerns over treatment of individuals in US custody in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay, this May 10, 2004, excessive force and handcuffing, terrorizing at past midnight of Haitian civilians, who where then not accused of any crime is especially egregious.

All 11 people at So Anne’s house where transported to the U.S. barracks at the Medical University the U.S. shut down upon arriving in Haiti, a country without doctors, and interrogated. None where charged. No apologies given. They were release, except that Lavalas militant, So Anne, was then delivered, after U.S. interrogation, to the Haitian National Penitentiary. No official charges have been cited. Presumably, the Interim Multinational Force has the authority, by virtual of what law? to use military force against a Haitian citizen, without even the presence of Haitian authorities or any Haitians whatsoever?

Haitian children, even 5-year old baby girls in Haiti, needed to be handcuffed by grown U.S. soldiers in the dead of night.

Thus, it is clear, our malnourished and defenseless Haitian children no longer have to get on overloaded Haitian boats, face shark infested open seas and reach Miami to be terrorized by U.S. guards. Now in Haiti itself they don’t have sanctuary. Even at their very own grandmother’s houses.

This situation is more than illegal, It’s barbaric. Haitians are flesh and blood human beings with heart beats, pains, dreams, desires for beauty and peace.

Why are they so persecuted by the most powerful of peoples? And dare we quote President Bush in reference to a statement made about the U.S. soldier’s torture of Iraqi prisoners in U.S. custody, and say, the handcuffing and arrest of a 5-year old baby-girl at midnight on May 10, 2004; even the killing of defenseless pets in the yard of a grandmother in Haiti awaken by U.S. grenades, not too mention the arrest of So Ann and her entire household, one of Haiti’s most tireless pro-democracy activists, is simply too naked and revolting a lawlessness; and, for those who still believe in the untainted goodness of the U.S. government: it’s simply “un-American” to borrow that recent phrase used by President George W. Bush.

It is reported this U.S. orchestrated show of force is to further pressure, intimidate and otherwise stop other such Lavalas activists requesting the return of democracy to Haiti from holding a demonstration intended for May 18, 2004, Haiti’s flag day.


More than 3,000 Haitians, mostly young Haitian men associated or rumored to be associated with the Lavalas party have been killed in Haiti since the U.S. deposed President Aristide itself on February 29, 2004. In a bare two months, this bloodbath and killing of 3,000 Haitians represents more than half the number of Haitians that were killed during the entire three years of the first Coup D’etat. More than 3,000 defenseless Haitians have been killed since U.S. soldiers landed in Haiti for this 2nd Coup d’etat against Haitian development and democracy. Yet, the reason given by Colin Powell for the MIF and forcing out of President Aristide was “to avoid a bloodbath.”

According to current reports, as of April 26, 2004 – less than two months after U.S. and French soldiers forced Haiti’s Constitutionally elected President unto a U.S. aircraft – this Bush Administration’s illegal interdiction policy towards Haitian asylum seekers has resulted in Washington returning 1,948 Haitians to Haiti in 2004, already an increase, according to the U.S. Coast Guard, over the 1,490 intercepted at sea for the entire 2003 year. And yet, the State Department’s propaganda to destabilize the Constitutional government, had promised the Haitian people a better human rights record than that of the previous two Lavalas voted-in governments?

There is now a strong dossier of the 14-year destabilization campaign against Haitian democracy and development by the powerful Western Nations, led by the U.S. The violent arrest of So Ann, her 5-year old granddaughter and 10 other people at her house at midnight on May 10, 2004 and similar brutal conduct by the U.S. military against Lavalas — the party whom State Department propaganda insisted, before the Coup D’etat, no longer supported President Aristide is too blatant to need deeper investigation.

The U.S. Marines did not leave So Anne’s house until around 2 or 2:30 a.m. on May 10, 2004. The house of this well-known Haitian woman and Lavalas activists was brutally ransacked and all the occupants, including, as we have noted above, small children as young as 5-year old, where taken in custody, in the dead of night and transported to the Medical University at Tabarre. Some of the detainees report they were interrogated about their role under the Constitutional government, including questioned regarding whether they knew “Danny Toussaint was a drug trafficker?” and what where they planning at the house so late at night, et.

It is reported, by these eyewitnesses and detainees, that excessive force was used in putting them into custody. They had no warning and some still are trembling from the encounter and that they were terrorized during the interrogations by U.S. soldiers. No one can say what this how this trauma will damage the children involved, not to mentioned the adults who were already managing the U.S./France metered out Coup D’etat’s post traumatic stress syndrome. Imagine waking up and all that you have worked for your entire life has been trashed and defiled while the duly elected President is kidnapped to parts unknown. The trauma is tremendous for the majority of Haitians who do not support dictatorship and wanted to move from elections to elections, not from Coup d’etat to dictatorship and the rule of the old status quo Duvalieriest and their FRAPH and Haitian army soldiers.

No charges where pressed against any of the twelve Haitian detainees taken from So Anne’s house, including the small children. Except that So Anne was arrested and transferred to the National Penitentiary after having been interrogated all night. Just as with the kidnapping of President Aristide and his wife, this operations was conducted without any Haitian present other than the foreign soldiers.

The MIF apparently transferred So Anne to the custody of the PNH without charging her with any crime. But, it has been reported, after the arrest, and before any formal charges have been brought that NCHR – a human rights organization with strong ties to USAID, the U.S. Embassy, the right wing Haiti Democracy Project and the opposition to President Aristide and the Lavalas party- has accused So Anne of “some connection” to the December 5th violent incidents at the University. However, these innuendoes are not supported by NCHR by any facts as of yet.

Moreover, other Haitian popular organizational leaders, currently in hiding for fear of similar U.S. reprisals, have opined that they suspect this arrest is a pretext to prevent So Anne from taking part in a demonstration demanding the return of the rule of law and President Aristide planned for May 18, 2004 – Haiti’s Flag Day.

Also, grassroots organizers and pro-democracy leaders in the U.S. who are against this U.S. sponsored dictatorship with Latorture and who also support the call for return of law and democracy to Haiti say this latest U.S. military operation against Haitian democracy is an effort to forestall a pro-Aristide demonstration intended for Flag Day, May 18, 2004.

So Ann is an elderly woman on medication and has yet to be charged or to see a judge in accordance with the 48 hour rule under the 1987 Haitian Constitution.

The dead on night timing, the brutal targeted reprisal against this well known Haitian woman, and pro-democracy activist – So Ann – by U.S. forces, the arbitrary nature, all, call for immediate investigation by international human rights organizations, the international media, U.S. congresspersons, Secretary Powell and the State Department.

Haitian children, even 5-year old baby girls in Haiti, need to be handcuffed by grown U.S. soldiers in the dead of night.

Our Haitian children no longer have to get on overloaded Haitian boats, face shark infested open seas and reach Miami to be terrorized by U.S. guards.

Now, in Haiti itself, they don’t have sanctuary.

Even more poignant, our Haitian children, don’t, in this 200 year of our ancestor’s greatest feat against enslavement and colonialism, have asylum, justice, sanctuary at their own grandmother’s houses on Haitian soil.

This situation is more than illegal, it’s barbaric, untenable. And dare we quote President Bush in reference to the U.S. soldier’s torture of Iraqi prisoners, and say, the handcuffing and arrest of a 5-year old baby-girl at midnight on May 10, 2004; even the killing of defenseless dogs in the yard of a grandmother in Haiti awaken by U.S. grenades, not too mention the arrest of So Ann and her entire household, one of Haiti’s most tireless pro-democracy activists, is simply too naked and revolting a lawlessness. It’s “un-American” to borrow that recent phrase used by President George W. Bush.

It is reported this U.S. orchestrated show of force is to pressure, intimidate and otherwise stop other such Lavalas activists requesting the return of democracy to Haiti from holding a demonstration intended for May 18, 2004, Haiti’s flag day.

This is an urgent call to action. Please contact the State Department, Defense Secretary Colin Powell, your local congressperson, the Congressional Black Caucus and media, to denounce the arrest of So Anne; the systematic terror campaign against Lavalas demonstrators, and the treatment of Haitians, like So Anne, and especially her 5-year old granddaughter, Shashou, by U.S. command with the Multinational Interim Force in Haiti.

Marguerite Laurent, JD, Haitian Lawyers Leadership Network (dedicated to protecting the civil, human and cultural rights of Haitians at home and abroad) May 10, 2004

Destroying Gaza

I’m sure readers will forgive the repetition. Or rather, if the repetition is upsetting to you, you ought to direct your anger at those who keep committing the same atrocities over and over.

So, in Gaza, the United Nations reports that in the past ten days Israel has flattened 100 homes in Gaza, rendering 1100 more people homeless, bringing the total of Palestinians made homeless in Gaza over 17,000 since 2000.

In the process of destroying houses, Israel felt the need to murder Nahed Abu Haddaf, 22 years old, who died of multiple gunshot wounds in Gaza. The Israeli Army also shot 19 year old Fadi Bahar in the head in Jerusalem.

In other news, the abuse of Palestinian children in Israeli prisons, well-documented in the book Stolen Youth by Defense of Children International, has made Ha’aretz.


Elections are going on in India right now (they take 5 weeks). The outcome is still uncertain, although the Hindu right-wing (fascist, if you want to be impolite) party is likely to form the government, though probably not with a majority.

In other India news, a complicated death penalty case is at a stage when it could be commuted. The bare bones of the case: four landless dalit (that’s the untouchable caste — the caste system works something like institutional racism in North America, and the dalits are the worst oppressed by it, historically and socially excluded from anything but misery. India instituted some forms of affirmative action, called ‘positive discrimination’, after independence, but it has not solved caste inequalities by any means) peasants have been sentenced to death after a violent incident in 1992 when 35 men belonging to upper caste families were killed. The accused did not get a fair trial, and in any case the death penalty is, as always, applied with a severe class and caste bias. I am including a Q & A on the case below, for those who want to pursue it further, courtesy of the All-India Committee Against the Death Penalty.

In still other news, Food First recently released a very interesting report debunking the ‘Indian Economic Miracle’. It reviews a lot of very interesting and useful material.

And last on India, there are a lot of reports coming out on the use and abuse of Indian workers in Iraq. This ought to be viewed in a wider context of the use and abuse of immigrant labor, in the Middle East, and in the West as well. The stories of these workers in Iraq are horrifying, but so are the stories of millions of migrant workers who are at the mercy of those who employ them and those who deny them legal status and precious papers.

Oppose Death Penalty To Landless & Poor Peasants
Dear Friends,
The Supreme Court on 15 April 2002 confirmed death penalty to Krishna Mochi, Bir Kuer Paswan, Dharmendra Singh and Nanhe Lal Mochi, all poor peasants from Gaya district of Bihar. The four were convicted for the killings at Bara village in Gaya district in 1992 in which 35 men belonging to upper caste families were killed. In another case the Supreme Court has confirmed death penalty on Shobhit Chamar, a dalit landless labourer from Bhabua district. He is also accused in the killing of upper caste landowner.

Who are these people condemned to death?
Nanhe Lal Mochi and Krishna Mochi were semi-bonded dalit agicultural labourers who cultivated the fields of the Bara landowners. They were well known to the Bara landowners as those active in the peasant organisation and therefore their adversaries. They have spent 7 and 13 years respectively in jail till date, of which the last two years were spent in condemned cells in Bhagalpur jail. Veer Kuer Paswan was a dalit resident of nearby Khutbar village who herded goats but due to serious indebtedness was forced to work as an attached labourer. He too was known as a participant in struggles for wages and land led by the local poor peasant organisation. Dharmendra Singh is Rajput by caste, educated till matric who tried to leave cultivation, but unable to obtain remunerative employment, came back to the village. The larger landowners of the village had meanwhile captured his land. He approached the court to regain control over his land, meeting expenses by taking loans. The court decided in his favour, but by then his financial state was miserable and Bara massacre had occurred. His opponent in the court case implicated him in the Bara case.
How were the charges framed against them?
Immediately after the Bara incident, police started rounding up people from dalit hamlets who were known to have participated in land and wage struggles. The terror created by the landowners and police forced dalits from neighbouring villages to flee. Bhatbigha dalit tola of Bara village was completely deserted. The FIR was filed on the basis of an eyewitness account naming 35 people and 400-500 others. 115 people were arrested of whom 13 were later charged. This eyewitness was however not part of the witnesses produced in court. No Test Identification Parade was conducted to identify the accused.
The charges were filed under TADA, a law that the Parliament allowed to lapse in 1995, in the face of its rampant misuse due to the arbitrary powers it gives to police officers, and since it violates all norms acceptable evidence and of a fair trial and. The numerous instances of killings of dalits by upper caste landlords never invited the provisions of TADA. No authorisation was taken for the application of TADA. Still the trial for the Bara killing was conducted under TADA after the lapsing of the law.
Two weeks after the Bara killings, police arrested Bihari Manjhi and two others from Bodh Gaya under another case. The Superintendent of Police was said to have recorded his confession that named many others as involved in the Bara killings. Such confessions are valid evidence under TADA. But in this case the SP did not record it but stated in court that he had assigned this job to an Inspector in his presence. The SP was unable to identify Bihari Manjhi in court. The Inspector turned out to be an accused in the murder of the nephew of Wakil Yadav, another accused in the Bara killings whose inclusion was based on the confession of Bihari Manjhi!
Still this confession became the clinching evidence and the basis for conviction of 9 people by the TADA court – four to death, four to life imprisonment and one to 10 year imprisonment.
How this happened is again related to the way TADA operates wherein the accused were denied their right to bail and to a fair trial, but all the procedures in TADA meant as a check on the prosecution were conveniently flouted. An inspector was made the investigation officer (I.O.) when TADA requires that investigation be conducted by an officer of rank not lower than a DSP. The I.O. was changed midway. The second IO stated in court that most of the investigation was conducted by the first I.O., yet neither the first I.O. nor his case diary was presented before the court. TADA however ensured that the accused remained continuously in jail and were even denied appeal to the High Court, which is normally the court that can confirm a death sentence. In this way the accused were denied one level of appeal.
The case was heard by the Supreme Court against eight of the accused. One had already completed his 10 years and did not appeal. Four facing life imprisonment were acquitted. The court was divided in its opinion on the other four. Two judges awarded death penalty to the four while the third judge acquitted one and converted the sentence to life imprisonment for the other three. Bihari Manjhi, whose confession to the police became the basis for the conviction in the TADA court, was acquitted.
This time the reason for the conviction was identification of the accused by witnesses. But the witness accounts show serious discrepancies. Each witness was either unable to identify the accused s/he had named, or denied they had ever named them, or named them for the first time in court, or wrongly identified the accused. In this game of matching names and faces, the faces that were randomly matched correctly got sentenced to death. So serious were the errors that one of the judges stated in the judgment that: “It is apparent that the investigation in the case is totally defective”; and again “it can be said without any doubt that almost all witnesses have exaggerated to a large extent.
But the conviction and sentencing failed to address the crucial facts that (i) the witnesses never said that these accused were involved in any specific violent act; (ii) that they held any weapon; and (iii) the police never recovered any weapon from them.
Why did the Bara killings occur?
The structure of landholdings in rural Bihar that emerged after the land reforms, initiated by the government since the 1950s, left the lives of the poorest sections comprising dalits, landless and small peasants largely unaffected. They remained at the mercy of landlords for access to land, work, food and credit. Raising of any demands by this section led to swift and brutal attacks. Things began to change from the mid and late 1970s when organisations of this poorest section of the people started forming in the plains of central Bihar. By the mid eighties, different parties of the CPI (ML) emerged as the major organisers of the poor in rural Bihar. Successful struggles were waged for distribution of ceiling surplus lands, access to common lands and other resources, better wages; against feudal practices of forced labour, indebtedness and to stop sexual exploitation of women workers. The state at best remained a mute spectator, and in perceiving these struggles of the rural poor as a law and order problem, failed to even address the issues raised by the struggles.
By mid 1980s landowners started forming caste-based armies to reverse the gains achieved by the struggles of poor peasants. Bhoomi Sena, Kisan Sangh, Sunlight Sena, Sawaran Liberation Front, Ranbir Sena are some of the more notorious ones. Their modus operandi was to create terror through organised masscares. They attacked dalit hamlets, setting them on fire, killing men, women and children, and destroying houses and goods. Police was either found conniving with these armies or at best was a spectator. Even the IG of Bihar police admitted in a policy document that the police was responsible for promoting the formation of these armies. But police repression on even peaceful rallies by the poor was growing. In 1986 at a mass rally at Jehanabad demanding distribution of a fourth of an acre of land for nine landless families police opened fire killing 23 people.
The Sawaran Liberation Front was the most brutal one till that time operating in Gaya, Jehanabad, Patna and Aurangabad. Targetting its leaders, Ramadhar Singh ‘Diamond’, and Haridwar Singh became a necessity for the peasant movement. Bara village was a known hideout of these leaders. News of their presence in Bara village led to the Maoist Communist Centre organising an attack with hundreds of people on the upper caste village.
Why should the death penalty be opposed?
The details of the present case make it amply clear that awarding of death penalty is unfair. When one judge acquits an accused and two judges award death penalty, the only conclusion one can draw is that the judgment of the court shows a high degree of subjectivity. In addition the flouting of procedures by the investigation, exaggerated and faulty witness accounts makes the conviction itself seriously suspect. One judge of the Supreme Court has even hinted at ‘free fabrication of evidence’. Death sentence cannot be permitted in such a situation and the imposing of the irrevocable penalty can lead to serious miscarriage of justice.
The killings such as at Bara form the few exceptions in a long string of killings by upper caste landlord armies. But the killings by landlords have neither invited harsh punishments, let alone the death penalty. Most have not even resulted in conviction. The state has never found them to be a fit case for the imposition of TADA. All this simply shows that “terrorism” is defined merely as a violent activity which challenges the existing power structure. And death penalty cannot be awarded when dalits are killed by landlords simply because such instances are the norm. Death penalty, like TADA and POTA, leads to arbitrariness in law and punishment and should be opposed.
Death penalty in our country is awarded only in the rarest of rare cases. This statement is as subjective as it can get. The fact is that only the poor and dalits or else those whose crimes are seen as threats to the state get this punishment. This is natural because such accused are normally unable to get access to competent lawyers. The subjective factors such as judicial authorities’ lack of empathy with the lives of such accused makes the awarding of the extreme penalty more likely. Death penalty is therefore both subjective and biased.
The only argument presented in favour of death penalty, is that it deters people from crime. But evidence of this is singularly lacking. In the present case, no such claim can be made. Since the Bara massacre landlord armies have killed several hundred more persons and peasant organisations have retaliated in some cases. Crimes, both by the landlord armies and by the organisations of the poor are a reflection of the conditions of existence of the people and the role played by the state. Doing four people to death makes no difference to this living reality.
Crimes have a social, economic and in such cases, a political basis, which means that crime can only be reduced by addressing its root causes. Officially murdering 4 people disregarding this larger responsibility of society and state is brutal, and amounts simply to an act of vengeance by the state. Vengeance cannot be the basis of modern law, or a legitimate motivation of the state.
More apparently in this case, but in virtually every case of heinous crime, the responsibility for the crime also rests upon society. The penalty of death tries to shift the entire blame on to the criminal and society in turn forgets the lessons that need to be learnt. The myth that purging society of some aberrant individuals is the solution to crime needs to be shattered. Abolition of the death penalty is a first step in that direction.
We appeal to everybody to oppose this death sentence in every sphere of life to prevent the gross miscarriage of justice. Join rallies and write letters to the President of India and to the Governor of Bihar to commute the death penalty against the five landless peasants.

All India Committee Against Death Penalty
For more details: Gautam Navlakha, sagrik@vsnl.com or 9811153254
New Delhi
23 April 2004