Upholding the life sentence awarded to Rabindra Kumar Pal alias Dara Singh, the Supreme Court today said although his victims, Australian Missionary Graham Stuart Staines and his two sons, aged 10 and 6, were burnt to death while they were sleeping, the “intention was to teach a lesson” to the father about his religious activities. Twelve years after the “triple murder”, the apex court dismissed CBI’s appeal to enhance the Orissa High Court verdict of life imprisonment to death penalty for Singh. Staines and his sons, Philip and Timothy, aged 10 and 6, were burnt to death along with their father on the midnight of January 22-23 of 1999. “The deceased, Graham Staines, was engaged in propagating and preaching Christianity in the tribal area of interior Orissa,” the bench of Justices P Sathasivam and B S Chauhan recorded the prosecution case in its judgment today.
“Whether a case falls within the rarest of rare case or not, has to be examined with reference to the facts and circumstances of each case and the Court has to take note of the aggravating as well as mitigating circumstances and conclude whether there was something uncommon about the crime which renders the sentence of imprisonment for life inadequate and calls for death sentence,” said the bench. “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. All these aspects have been correctly appreciated by the High Court and modified the sentence of death into life imprisonment with which we concur.”
Introducing Staines as a person who worked with tribal people, especially lepers in Orissa, Justice Sathasivam, who penned the judgment, 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”. Referring to the messages of Mahatma Gandhi and former president of India K R Narayanan for religious unity to carve a “integrated prosperous nation”, the court said “taking lives of persons belonging to another caste or religion is bound to have a dangerous and reactive effect on the society at large”. “It strikes at the very root of the orderly society which the founding fathers of our Constitution dreamt of,” the judgment said. “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 anay manner interfering with their individual right of religion, faith and worship.”
- SC ruling on Dara ‘lenient’: Cong (Jan 21, 2011, Hindustan Times)
- An enigma called Rabindra Pal Singh alias Dara (Jan 22, 2011, Times of India)
- Everyone should be given another chance to live: Staines widow (Jan 21, 2011, Indian Express)
- Graham Staines killing: A timeline (Jan 21, 2011, Hindustan Times)