The top court of India has upheld the life sentence imposed upon a politician from the northeastern state of Bihar in connection with the 1994 murder of another lawmaker.
Former MP Anand Mohan and his wife were initially convicted of instigating the murder of a district magistrate named G. Krishnaiyah by encouraging a crowd to shoot, stone and stab the victim to death.
Mohan initially received the death penalty, although that ruling was commuted to life. His wife was dealt a life sentence, but subsequently acquitted.
The incident surrounding Mohan and the unfortunate Mr. Krishnaiyah is just one of many violent dramas that play out daily in Bihar, perhaps the most corrupt, backward and lawless state in India.
Widespread poverty, an under-educated populace, underpaid police, extensive criminal gangs, vigilante justice, lynchings and corrupt politicians all conspire to make rural Bihar a dangerous place.
Nestled between Nepal to the north and West Bengal to the south, Bihar ironically gave birth to the peaceful religion of Buddhism -- Siddh?rtha Gautama (the Buddha) is closely linked to the region that now encompasses Bihar and attained “enlightenment” there.
Over the centuries, however, a poisonous criminality and violence seeped into Bihar that is so deep that no one flinches when a local judge or politician is accused of committing murder or rape or other serious infractions of the law. Somewhat as in rural Sicily, criminal gangs and politicians work hand in hand in Bihar and are frequently one and the same.
If the endemic corruption was not enough of a burden, Bihar is also wracked by communal violence between Hindus and Muslims, deep caste divisions and a decades-long insurgency by Maoist guerillas. Murders and kidnappings are commonplace; infrastructure is crumbling or nonexistent, and public services are dismal.
Bihar is essentially a medieval feudal society that has somehow survived into the 21st century, in defiance of the economic prosperity found in other parts of India. A handful of powerful and wealthy land barons and businessmen control much of the land (including farms and coal/iron ore mines), often with the help of compromised police and mafia-like private armies, while the overwhelmingly majority of the people work in agriculture and barely make a living (again, not unlike old Sicily).
A report from the World Bank said that almost 40 percent of Bihar’s 90 million people live below the poverty line.
The wealthy landlords have declared an all-out war against the Communist rebels as well as lower-caste peoples – a group called Ranvir Sena, an extremist right-wing Hindu paramilitary organization, has carried out uncounted massacres over the decades on behalf of the business elite and landowners.
Just last month, Brahmeswar Singh, chief of the Ranvir Sena, was found murdered by persons unknown.
However, some Bihari officials chafe at the negative image of their state and insist things are changing for the better.
Shyam Rajak, the state’s Food and Civil Supplies Minister, told the Press Trust of India earlier this year: “[Bihar’s economy] is growing at 14.8 percent and is at the vanguard of development. It's previous image of a lawless state is undergoing a sea change. The [Government of chief minister Nitish Kumar] has put a leash on crime.”
Since taking over in 2005, the socialist-minded Kumar has undertaken a series of reforms in Bihar, including the construction of bridges and roads and hiring 100,000 schoolteachers.
Kumar also vowed a tough program to fight crime – as a result, courts in the state have accelerated the prosecution and punishment of lawbreakers. Thousands of criminals are now languishing in prison for life, while hundreds are on death row, including some former MPs.
In May, Bihar police officials stated that 70,000 criminals have been convicted since January 2006.
This is a success story of the state government led by Nitish Kumar, who is serious about containing crime and improving law and order in Bihar since he came to power in November 2005, said a senior police official.
Another local official bragged: We have succeeded in controlling crime through speedy trials in the last six years. In the past, the rate of conviction was very low -- only about 3,000 to 8,000 in a decade. But the speedy trials conducted in almost all pending criminal cases by different courts, including fast track courts and special courts, made a huge difference.”
Still, it will take an inordinately long time to erase centuries of corruption, injustice and rot in Bihar.