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Updated: January 22, 2011 00:17 IST

Life term for Dara Singh upheld

J. Venkatesan
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Dara Singh, prime accused in the killing of Australian missionary Graham Staines, at a sessions court in Bhubaneswar. File photo
The Hindu Dara Singh, prime accused in the killing of Australian missionary Graham Staines, at a sessions court in Bhubaneswar. File photo

The Supreme Court on Friday upheld an Orissa High Court judgment that commuted the death sentence a trial court awarded to Dara Singh to life term. He burnt to death Australian Christian missionary Graham Stuart Staines and his minor sons Philip Staines and Timothy Staines on the night of January 22, 1999 at Manoharpur.

Dismissing the Central Bureau of Investigation's plea to enhance the life sentence, a Bench of Justices P. Sathasivam and B.S. Chauhan held that this was not one of the rarest of rare cases in which the death sentence should be awarded to the accused.

The Bench dismissed Dara Singh's appeal also against the life sentence, and confirmed the High Court judgment awarding life term to co-accused Mahendra Hembram and acquitting 11 others for want of evidence.

Writing the judgment, Justice Sathasivam said: “It is clear from various earlier decisions that on conviction under Section 302 of the IPC, the normal rule is to award the punishment of life imprisonment, and the punishment of death should be resorted to only in the rarest of rare cases. In the case on hand, though Graham Staines and his two minor sons were burnt to death while sleeping inside a station wagon at Manoharpur, the intention was to teach a lesson to Graham Staines about his religious activities, namely, converting poor tribals to Christianity. All these aspects have been correctly appreciated by the High Court, which modified the sentence of death to life imprisonment, with which we concur.”

Expressing anguish at intolerance of other religions, the Bench said: “In a country like ours, where discrimination on the grounds of caste or religion is taboo, taking the lives of persons belonging to another caste or religion is bound to have a dangerous and reactive effect on society at large. It strikes at the very root of the orderly society which the founding fathers of our Constitution dreamt of. Our concept of secularism is that the state will have no religion. The state shall treat all religions and religious groups equally and with equal respect, without, in any manner, interfering on their individual right of religion, faith and worship.”

The Bench noted: “The then President of India, Shri K.R. Narayanan, once said in his address that ‘Indian unity was based on a tradition of tolerance, which is at once a pragmatic concept for living together and a philosophical concept of finding truth and goodness in every religion'.”

The Bench hoped that Mahatma Gandhi's vision of religion playing a positive role in bringing the numerous religions and communities into an integrated prosperous nation could be realised by way of equal respect for all religions.

At the same time, it said: “It is undisputed that there is no justification for interfering in someone's belief by way of ‘use of force,' provocation, conversion, incitement or upon a flawed premise that one religion is better than the other.”

“The analysis of the entire materials clearly shows that the High Court is right in arriving at its conclusion. In the case on hand, there is no material to prove the conspiracy charge against any of the accused,” it said.

Noting the weaknesses and infirmities of the prosecution case insofar as the acquitted accused — all poor tribals — were concerned, the Bench said: “In the absence of a definite assertion from the prosecution side of their specific role and involvement, as rightly observed by the High Court, it is not safe to convict them.”

Let us forget about religion and other factors in this issue. I want to know why a crime is being categorised as 'rarest of rare' or 'regular' in India. A crime is a crime, no matter who may have committed it. Every criminal is eligible to undergo a certain punishment and there doesnt have to be any special reason for it. In this particular case, the incident involves defenceless minors too. Only a coward would set fire to people who are asleep. So, naturally this is a crime of revengeful nature. Above all, why does it take more than ten years for a court to spell out its verdict? At this rate, people will lose trust in the judicial system too. Already the political system consists of many buffoons who are fooling the 'aam aadmi' everyday.

from:  Ramamoorthy
Posted on: Feb 1, 2011 at 19:56 IST

The retreat of the Supreme Court is somewhere posed as a sign of magnanimity and appreciated. Unfortunately, this is a well-thought out observation and not a street talk. The snail has retracted to its shell. The custodians of civil society and of the constitution have stooped low and the arrogance exposes the degraded minds. What mask their brother judges will have to wear when commenting on hate speeches justifying the 'Godhras' 'Best Bakeries' and or the 'Fake Encounters of the voiceless'? If education, age, experience and position cannot refine deliverers of justice even in their reasoned and considered judgements, what else can one expect of poor, uneducated politicians or their followers? The court's original observation were the real reason piloting the decision; but the next one is only a search for a reason to justify the decision. Post decision search for reasons never find a favour/ approval in balanced judicial decisions. This is a cover-up; instead the judges could have profusely apologised.

from:  Geprge Augustin T.
Posted on: Jan 28, 2011 at 22:55 IST

An individual sticks to his faith because he believes in it, it does not confer a right on him to claim that what others believe, however different that may be from his own, is inferior. There starts intolerance and conflict. The ages long conflict in the group of semitic religions is due to this inherent complex that has led to so much of bloodshed in the name of God. Hope, Mr. Jacob Samuel would understand the spirit behind the verdict.

from:  Ashok Sahu
Posted on: Jan 24, 2011 at 23:18 IST

At the same time, it said: “It is undisputed that there is no justification for interfering in someone's belief by way of ‘use of force,' provocation, conversion, incitement or upon a flawed premise that one religion is better than the other.”
What does the honorable Judges mean by "a flawed premise that one religion is better than the other"? Who decides if a particular premise is flawed or not? Each religion emerges because it has something different to offer from other religions.The significance of that difference is that it is in some way 'better' than others. Otherwise there would not have been many religions.Sri Buddha founded a new religion because he had some thing better to offer. Because he believed it is better, he and his disciples propagated it.
An individual follows a particular religion, philosophy or political view because he believes it is better than others.

from:  Jacob Samuel
Posted on: Jan 24, 2011 at 07:16 IST

It's not about punishing the convicts with a death sentence or not, but it's sad to see how the court of India by its decision gives a free hand to anyone and everyone to kill a person if they think they are indulging in converting people to Christians. I am a Christian and I know a number of cases of Christians being burnt or hacked to death which are not even reported in any media . The article 25-28 of our constitution gives us a freedom of preaching our faith and also Graham Staines not only cared for the tribals but also rendered their missionary work to the leprosy community of Orissa . What harm can a man and his two minor sons preaching about Jesus do ? Did he revolt against anyone? Is the court by this judgment trying to profess the message that killing a CHRISTIAN in the name of the so called ' CONVERSION OF FAITH' is right?

from:  Jesse
Posted on: Jan 22, 2011 at 23:02 IST

The moral of the whole story is that if a religious person is preaching/spreading his views publicly, he can be burnt to death. This is called the true 'Freedom of speech and freedom of religion'. This is called the 'tolerance' .

from:  Simon Dannie, India
Posted on: Jan 22, 2011 at 18:55 IST

Burning up a man along with his two minor kids while they slept is according to me a rarest of the rare cases. Its also a specially sensitive issue because its an Australian we are talking about. Not to say that Indian lives are less valuable but the thing is that there is a difference between internal affairs and external affairs. If we as Indians expect severe punishment to the Australian's held for racism against Indian students then in return we too must take Highly severe actions against such a gruesome crime against an Australian national and his two minor kids.

from:  Sanket
Posted on: Jan 22, 2011 at 15:08 IST

The Supreme court is right for not considering burning of Graham and his minor children as rarest of rare cases. After all in India, burning minorities is not rare at all. It enjoys both state and political patronage. It is sad that both Orissa high court and supreme court saw only the intentions but not the implications of such heinous act. The court could see the intentions of the accused but not the material to prove conspiracy which amounts to self contradiction.

from:  Kishor
Posted on: Jan 22, 2011 at 11:32 IST

Until and unless such people are given with capital punishment others will not understand.

from:  Harinadham
Posted on: Jan 22, 2011 at 00:29 IST
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