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Tuesday, 25 January 2011 00:00
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The Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the Orissa high court’s judgment to overturn the death sentence to Dara Singh for killing Graham Staines and his 10- and 6-year-old sons in 1999, has caused an uproar, and justifiably. The Court judgment is in response to a CBI plea against the high court judgment, asking that the original death sentence given by the sessions court be reinstated. While lawyers for the accused argued the holes in the case, including the use of coercion in getting confessions, the Supreme Court took note of this and, after examining other aspects of the case, concluded that the basic case stood the test of judicial scrutiny. Which is why it upheld the case against Dara Singh and Mahendra Hembram. It concurred with the high court in dismissing the case against the others who were supposed to have been in cahoots with Singh and Hembram, and described them as ‘poor tribals’.

Why the fact that they were ‘poor tribals’ should matter, but what is more worrying is what the Court has said to justify not applying the death sentence to Dara Singh, why it is not the ‘rarest of the rare’. While examining the aggravating as well as mitigating circumstances, the Court has said, “Though Graham Staines and his two minor sons were burnt to death while they were sleeping inside a station wagon … 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.” Given that, later in the judgment, the Court says “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 judgment is certain to be seen as justifying such crimes even though this is clearly not the Court’s intention. Enough reason for the Court to want to review this part of the judgment, and perhaps strike it down.

 

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