Exactly 12 years after Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two sons were burnt to death by a mob of Hindu fanatics in Orissa, the Supreme Court Friday upheld life terms for Dara Singh, alias Ravinder Kumar Pal, who was leading the crowd and his accomplice Mahender Hambram.While confirming the life sentences, the apex court bench of Justices P. Sathasivam and B.S. Chauhan said it was not a “rarest of the rare case” warranting death sentence.
Concurring with the Orissa High Court finding, the Supreme Court said that Dara Singh and his accomplice wanted to teach Staines a lesson for his religious activities, including conversions to Christianity.
The CBI, in November last year, had told the court that the killings were “worse than a carnage”, while seeking restoration of death sentence to Dara Singh.
Staines and his two sons, Philip (10) and Timothy (6), were burnt to death by a mob of Hindu activists Jan 22, 1999 while they were sleeping in their station wagon at Manoharpur village in Orissa’s Keonjhar district.
Dara Singh was awarded death sentence by a special CBI court in September 2003 while 12 of his accomplices were awarded life imprisonment. In May 2005, the Orissa High Court commuted Dara Singh’s death sentence to life imprisonment. Hambram was also sentenced to life while 11 others were acquitted.
Cuttack-Bhubaneswar Archbishop Raphael Cheenath said the Christian community accepted the apex court decision but added that the community had already forgiven the convict.
“As far as the Christian community is concerned, we have already forgiven him (Dara Singh),” Cheenath said.
“What the Supreme Court has given…the life imprisonment…we accept it,” the archbishop told .
Said Sajan K. George, president of Bangalore-based Global Council of Indian Christians: “We really appreciate the Supreme Court judgment.”
“We appeal to the court that he should be kept at the full length of life in prison to prevent such occurrences of brutal murders,” George said.
Hindu leaders in Orissa also welcomed the apex court judgement.
“People have faith in judiciary. We welcome the apex court’s judgment,” said Subhash Chouhan, national convener of the Bajrang Dal.