SC rejects CBIs plea for death to Dara Singh

New Delhi: Dara Singh, convicted for burning alive Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two minor sons in January 1999, on Friday 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 October 2005.

"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 Keonjhar.

"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.

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