Justice To Graham Staines: A Life for a Life?

Posted on February 5, 2011 in Society

Graham Staines

By Radhika Ghose:

The question of death sentence is often debated and rarely used as means of punishing culprits in India. The question is – where do we draw the line?

In India, citizens are given the Freedom of Religion by the Constitution. It is a Fundamental Right which states that all religions are equal before the State and no religion shall be given preference over the other. Citizens are free to preach, practice and propagate any religion of their choice. This right was enforced to sustain the secular nature of India. But it is that very nature that is under threat today.

Ironically, it is the very body that is meant to uphold and protect the Constitution and the Fundamental Rights of all citizens, the Supreme Court, that today has allowed a man guilty of violating the terms of this very right to live. Is that how our Supreme Court upholds the Fundamental Rights of its citizens?

This is the case of Graham Staines, a missionary of Australian origin, who was burnt alive with his two sons, ten and seven, in their sleep. He was working with leprosy patients among the tribals of Orissa since 1965 till that fateful night in 1999. He was killed by a Hindu activist Dara Singh who worked with the Hindu political group Bajarang Dal and claimed he was against the conversion of Hindus to Christianity.

Dara Singh, the main accused in the case

The question that one needs to look at is even if these allegations were true; Dara Singh or any other member of a political outfit has no right to take law into their own hands. The Constitution of India states that preaching and propagation of any religion is allowed, but the Supreme Court is unable to arrest those like Dara Singh who are responsible for several repeated attacks against Christians in India, especially in the State of Orissa. (read about Kandhamal riots)

Another point to focus on in this particular case is that the lower court as well as the High Court subjected the culprit to a death sentence but it was the Supreme Court that decided to change the sentence in favour of the “murderer”. Does this highlight the political clout and power of political parties over the Supreme Court and the judiciary?

The story of the tribals is indeed another tragic case in Indian history. And while some measures have been put into place to “help” integrate them with society, I believe those people who do work with the tribals, especially with those who are stricken with disease and ill health, should be recognized for their work and, in fact, be given protection from acts of terror and violence against them. Or in cases like this, proper justice.

The Supreme Court stated that it did not give the death sentence to Dara Singh as this case was not the “rarest of rare” cases. I do not understand how they use that as a justification. If that is truly how they feel then it makes the situation even worse that these incidents are not condemned but recognized as “norm” by the Supreme Court.

The only way to change this situation, I believe, is to make an example of a person and show the others who show the tendency to resort to this behaviour that it is not acceptable and that they will pay with their own lives if they feel that they have the right to take the life of another.

I am aware, of the clichéd saying “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind” but I think drastic times calls for drastic measures especially when they are for the greater good.