Behind death row judgment, prisoners in limbo between life and death

Found guilty for terrible crimes, convicts spent years waiting for determination on mercy petitions

Updated - December 04, 2021 11:26 pm IST

Published - January 22, 2014 03:10 am IST - NEW DELHI/BHOPAL:

Early one evening in June 2010, >Maganlal Barela shouted out to his daughters to come from the fields into their one-room home. He closed the door behind them, court records show, then sliced through their necks with an axe, their blood splashing over his clothes. The oldest, Phool Kanwar, was six; Savita was five, Aarta four, Leela three, Jamuna just one.

Barela’s three sons, he allowed to live. The police said he acted because his two wives had stopped him from selling land, saying it was needed to secure the girls’ future.

The stories of the men, and one woman, the Supreme Court granted life to on Tuesday received little media attention — except those of bandit Koose Muniswamy Veerappan’s aides, convicted of killing 22 police officers. Each involved terrible crimes — but also years of delays over mercy petitions.

In those years, lives have moved on. Radheyshyam Meena, a witness in Barela’s case, told The Hindu that he was not even certain “who killed the children. No one saw him kill them.”

>‘Terah qatliya,’ Nazir Singh’s home in Pipariya Majra village of Uttar Pradesh is called; ‘the house of 13 murders. In August 1986, Gurmeet Singh, helped by his friend Lakha Singh, attacked members of his own family. With swords, they killed 13 people, including eight children. Elders in the family had, it would be established during the trial, alleged Lakha Singh had a sexual relationship with Gurmeet Singh’s newly wed wife Biri. Their taunting provoked Gurmeet.

In 2012, Paramjit Singh, then 13, and one of just three survivors, told The Hindu : “We were told many, many years ago that the court had pronounced him guilty and ordered him to be hanged.” “The government should have hastened the process.”

That didn’t happen. Gurmeet Singh’s death penalty was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2005, with judges saying he did not deserve “a grain of mercy.” His mercy petition was submitted to the President in February 2007 — 21 years after his crime. He spent six years on death row before it was finally rejected, in March 2013, a length of time the Supreme Court held was unconscionable.

Long delays Long delays also characterised the other cases the Supreme Court addressed. Sonia Choudhary and her husband, Sanjiv Choudhary, murdered her entire family on their farmhouse in Litani Mor, Hisar, in August 2001 — the consequence of a long-running feud over land. Ms. Choudhary’s victims included her father, former Haryana legislator Relu Ram Punia, mother Krishna, sister Priyanka, step-brother Sunil, his wife Shakuntala and their children Lokesh, 4, Shivani, 2, and Preeti, 45 days old.

In 2005, the Punjab and Haryana High Court recommended commuting the sentence, saying she was repentant. In 2007, the Supreme Court upheld the death penalty — describing the crime as “grotesque and revolting.” But it took from October of that year to June last year for her mercy petition to be finally addressed.

Ms. Choudhary’s son, now living with his grandparents, meanwhile visited his mother often in prison. Prison warders told The Hindu that they developed a loving relationship in the years that passed. She has, however, written letters, asking for her sentence to be executed without delay.

Jafar Ali of Etawah, Uttar Pradesh, his wife and five daughters and was sentenced to death in 2002. The Allahabad High Court confirmed the sentence on January 27, 2004. It was upheld by the Supreme Court in April that year. Mr. Ali’s mercy petition, though, had remained pending from 2006.

Not all the death-row prisoners the Supreme Court heard from had committed crimes of this scale. Shivu and Jadeswamy, residents of Badrenahalli, Karnataka, who the Supreme Court earlier described as “sexually obsessed young people,” raped and murdered a teenage woman in 2001. Their mercy petition was submitted in August 2007. It was only disposed of in July,2013.

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