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Indian court sentences militant Hindu to death for killing missionary, family

BANGALORE, India, (BP)–The severest punishment under Indian law, the death penalty, was awarded to Dara Singh by a designated Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court September 22, for his role in the murders of the Australian missionary Graham Stuart Staines and his two sons.

Pronouncing the verdict before a packed courtroom, the district and sessions judge, Mahendra Nath Patnaik, handed out the death sentence to Dara Singh under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), and sentenced his 12 accomplices to life imprisonment.

Christians fear that the death sentence will make Singh a martyr for the militant Hindu cause. As he left the courtroom, Singh said, “Injustice has been done to me. I am not going to appeal in the higher court. I would prefer to be a martyr fighting against conversion.”

Criticizing the judge, Singh claimed that “utter injustice” had been done to him. “I had earlier appealed to shift my case to a different court, but that was not done,” Singh said.

The death sentence awarded to Singh has to be confirmed by the high court under Section 366 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. In Indian law, the death sentence is exceptional. The country’s Supreme Court has laid down five criteria for capital punishment to be pronounced only in the “rarest of rare cases.” It is significant that Singh’s murder of the Staines family fits all of the five criteria.

Graham Staines and his sons, Philip (11) and Timothy (7), were burned to death while they slept in the family station wagon parked outside a church at Manoharpur village in Keonjhar district shortly after midnight on January 22, 1999. They were attending a jungle camp, an annual gathering of Christians for fellowship and teaching.

Meanwhile, speaking from Baripada in Bhubaneshwar, Gladys Staines, widow of Graham Staines, send out a biblical message of forgiveness.

“I have forgiven the killers and have no bitterness, because forgiveness brings healing and our land needs healing from hatred and violence,” she said. “Forgiveness and the consequences of the crime should not be mixed.”

Before Singh was sentenced, K. Sudhakar, CBI counsel for prosecution, urged the court to award stringent punishment to the 13 defendants, saying they killed Staines and his two sons without provocation. Citing several Supreme Court judgments, Sudhakar said that it was a fit case for awarding the extreme penalty.

The defense counsel, Bana Mohanty and Gyana Acharya, asked for leniency for the 13 accused on the grounds that most of them were tribals and the sole breadwinners of their families. However, they said that they would not appeal on behalf of Dara Singh since he had told the defense not to challenge the order in the high court.

On the day Singh and the other 12 defendants were convicted, BJP (Indian Peoples Party) workers burned hundreds of Bibles and evangelistic tracts in Uttaranchal in response to the sentence, while police stood by watching silently. BJP activists attacked several schools in Doiwala and Ranipokhari villages in Dehra Dun district and raised slogans against Christian missionaries for distributing “offensive” literature designed to convert people.

“The tendencies of some religions to pollute our culture cannot be tolerated in Uttaranchal,” BJP state President Manohar Kant Dhyani said.
Copyright 2003 Compass Direct
Compass Direct Flash News is distributed as available to raise awareness of Christians worldwide who are persecuted for their faith. Articles may be reprinted by active subscribers only.

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  • Abhijeet Prabhu