Dara Singh, convicted for burning alive Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two minor sons in January 1999, today escaped death penalty with the Supreme Court ruling that the crime was not "rarest of rare" and upheld the life sentence awarded to him.
"In the case on hand, though Graham Staines and his two minor sons were
burnt to death while they were 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," the court said.
Dismissing CBI's plea for death penalty to Singh, a bench of justices P
Sathasivam and B S Chauhan endorsed the Orissa High Court's finding that
his crime did not fall under the rarest of rare category.
In its 76-page judgement, the court came out strongly against the practice of conversion.
"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," it said.
On May 19, 2005, the Orissa High Court had commuted to life imprisonment
the death penalty imposed by the sessions court on Singh for the murder
of Staines and his sons -- Philip, 10, and Timothy, 6. Along with Dara,
his accomplice Mahendra Hembram was convicted in the case.
The Staines family was burnt alive in Keonjhar district in Orissa.
Staines had worked with leprosy patients in Orissa for 30 years. He was
sleeping with his sons on a cold January night when a mob in Manoharpur
village poured petrol over his car parked in front of the village church
and torched it.
They tried to escape but the mob of about 50 people allegedly prevented them.
Singh had filed an appeal challenging his conviction and the life
sentence awarded to him. The appeals were admitted by the apex court in
"In a country like ours where discrimination on the ground of caste or
religion is a taboo, taking lives of persons belonging to another caste
or religion is bound to have a dangerous and reactive effect on the
society at large," the court said.
"It strikes at the very root of the orderly society which the founding
fathers of our Constitution dreamt of," the bench added, while upholding
the conviction and entailing life term also to Hembram, a native 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 with their
individual right of religion, faith and worship," the bench said.
"We also conclude with the hope that Mahatma Gandhi's vision of religion
playing a positive role in bringing India's numerous religion and
communities into an integrated prosperous nation be realised by way of
equal respect for all religions," the bench said.
It recalled former President K R Narayanan's remark which attributed
India's unity to "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 CBI had sent up for trial a total of 14 accused, including a minor,
who was tried separately by a juvenile court for the gruesome killings
on January 22-23, 1999.
The rest 13 were tried by an additional session judge at Khurda in
Keonjhar district of Orissa, which had awarded death penalty to Singh
and life term to others in September 2003. Singh had links with Hindu
right-wing outfit Bajrang Dal.
The Orissa High Court, however, on May 19, 2005, had commuted the death
penalty awarded to Singh to life imprisonment, while upholding life term
The high court had also acquitted 11 others who had been awarded life terms by the trial court in the case.
CBI approached the apex court also challenging acquittal of others.
The apex court bench had on December 15 last year reserved its judgement
after hearing at length the arguments of CBI's counsel and Additional
Solicitor General Vivek Tankha and counsel for the convicts.
Appearing for CBI, Tankha had told the bench that Singh deserves death
sentence as the murders were committed in a most "diabolic and dastardly
manner" which warranted exemplary punishment.
Staines Case: SC Denies Death Penalty to Dara Singh
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