The Supreme Court put Gurmeet Singh, who killed 13 family members, on death row in 2005, saying he deserved no leniency
Ever since his son came home bearing death to what was then a large and prosperous joint family, Nazir Singh's household has acquired an address everyone knows.
“Terah qatliya,” the home in Uttar Pradesh's Pipariya Majra village is called the house of 13 murders.
In August 1986, Gurmeet Singh, helped by his friend Lakha Singh, attacked members of his own family. They killed 13 people, including eight children, with swords. Elders in the family had — it would be established during trial — alleged Lakha had a sexual relationship with Gurmeet's newly-wed wife Biri. Their tauntings provoked Gurmeet, resulting in the carnage.
The Supreme Court put Gurmeet on death row in 2005, saying he deserved no leniency as he had not shown even a “grain of mercy” himself. Lakha died during trial. Gurmeet filed a mercy petition in 2007, which the Ministry of Home Affairs recommended the President reject. On December 9, 2009, the Ministry once again rejected a mercy petition.
The survivors of his crime have tried, meanwhile, to get on with their lives as best as they can, bearing the wounds of the massacre.
Two of the three eyewitnesses whose testimony led to Gurmeet's conviction still live nearby.
Paramjeet Singh — then 13 years of age — makes a living working as a tractor driver in a neighbouring farm. His young cousin Kumari Veero is married and lives in an adjoining village. She lost her fingers in the attack.
Life has been hard for Paramjeet. “I met with major accidents, in one of which I lost my left hand,” he told The Hindu. “I had to sell all the land I inherited for treatment and am now working as a driver.”
Paramjeet's memories of the murders still seem fresh. He recalls seeing his uncle and his friend attacking the family. “I thought the two were fighting,” he says, “and I ran to seek my grandfather's [Nazir Singh's] intervention, only to see him lying dead in a pool of blood outside the house. I hid myself in the bushes to escape the attack and was taken out by the villagers in the morning.”
Like the other two survivors, Paramjeet was guarded by policemen for several months until the accused were arrested and put behind bars. “The Darogah [the police inspector] would carry me in his lap, as did the village Pradhan [head] out of sympathy,” he recalls. “Whenever we went to the court to give evidence, we were given some money also.”
The money and the sympathy didn't help Paramjeet rebuild his life. He was in Class II when the attack took place. He never went back to school.
“Now I'm not in a position to send my children to school. Both have dropped out because I can't afford the fee. Everything I had was sold and what I earn is just enough to feed my family,” he says.
Having seen his parents and two brothers being mercilessly killed, Paramjeet wonders why his uncle is still alive, though his mercy petitions have been rejected twice.
“We told many, many years ago that the court had pronounced him guilty and ordered him to be hanged,” he says. “The government should have hastened the process.”
Daljeet Kaur, whose husband Balwinder Singh also survived the attack and testified at the trial, lives nearby. She was at her parent's house on that day and came back several months after the incident.
“I myself was just about 15 years,” she says, “and don't remember much except that when I came back, I didn't like to be alone in the house, which once used to be full of people. But now, I am fine. I got used to it.”
From her home, she points to the adjacent farm where the ancestral house in which the incident took place was situated. The house no more exists, and the fields were divided equally among all those entitled to a share.
“Even Biri [Gurmeet's wife] took her share. She sold the fields here and we are told she bought some land near her parent's house, which is also in the Terai region. But we have no links with her anymore,” Ms. Kaur said.
She added, with bitterness, that she had heard that Biri “bribed” someone in the government to file Gurmeet's second mercy petition.
The allegation is meaningless — but suggests that at least some people in the family believe Biri may still have some feeling for her husband on death row, who acted in anger at a slur against her honour.
“The man wiped out the entire family, he should have been hanged by now,” Ms. Kaur feels. Her hearing and speech-impaired son, Sukhwinder Singh, one of the three born after the killings, makes a hand gesture to indicate his support of her position.
Twenty-five years have done little, it would seem, to heal the wounds Gurmeet's sword opened up. Executing the “Terah qatliya” will give, at best, an illusion of closure.