Wednesday, Sep 24, 2003
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By Prafulla Das
"In the present case, Staines and his two sons were burnt to death while they were sleeping inside a station wagon at Manoharpur out of religious bigotry. A criminal has no religion. What sin the two small boys had committed?" the judge asked in his 143-page order awarding the death penalty to Dara Singh and life imprisonment to 12 others for killing Staines and his two sons Phillip and Timothy on the night of January 22, 1999, at Manoharpur village in Orissa's Keonjhar district.
Quoting Jonathan Swift who said: "We have just enough religion to make us hate each other, and not enough religion to make us love each other," the judge observed: "The Manoharpur massacre speaks loudly that humanity is not yet fully civilised."
"Convict Dara Singh is the prima donna of the offence. Like a knight errant of crime, he formed a militant group of local tribals to physically liquidate Staines in the belief that with Staines the spread of Christianity will be buried in the area. The rest of the convicts who are gullible tribals, blindly followed him," he said.
"By burning two innocent small boys along with their father while they were asleep, convict Dara Singh has added a new chapter to the rhyme book of children which may read like this: `I met murder on the way. It had a mask like Dara Singh,''' the judge said.
"The factual scenario shows how gruesome and macabre the crime was. Even after drawing a balance sheet of aggravating and mitigating circumstances, the case falls within the rarest of rare cases. Dara Singh as the ambassador of death deserves death whereas the rest of the convicts being gullible Adivasis deserve justice tempered with mercy.''
Observing that "secularism is now well settled to be part of the basic structure of the Constitution" and "India is known for its religious tolerance," the judge said that the Orissa Freedom of Religion Act, 1967, prohibited conversion from one religion to another by use of force or inducement or by fraudulent means. "If these provisions of law are strictly followed, no one can have any grievance that the gullible and innocent tribals are being converted."
The CBI had submitted before the court that the missionary activities of Staines had led to the conversion of tribals belonging to the Ho and the Santhal tribes to Christianity in Manoharpur and nearby villages.
Dara Singh held Staines responsible for the spread of Christianity and hatched a conspiracy with the other accused to physically liquidate Staines to arrest conversion, the CBI had said.
Noting that there was direct evidence of hatching a conspiracy over a period of time before the occurrence of the crime and also in the night of the occurrence, and the object of the conspiracy as spelt out by the witnesses and some of the accused was to assault the Christian missionaries and burn their vehicles, the judge, however, observed that there was no direct evidence of conspiracy to burn Staines and his two sons.
But taking into account the statements of the some witnesses that Staines and his two sons slept in the vehicle on the night of January 21 and also on the night of January 22, and statements of some of the accused that three of them, including Dara Singh, had prevented Staines from coming out of the vehicle, the judge said: "These circumstances lead to the irresistible conclusion that there was an agreement amongst the accused persons to commit murder of Staines and his two sons."
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