Orissa: missionary murder case
Justice overwhelm politics
From Sanjaya Jena
Killing of Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two minor sons Philip and Timothy six years back in the remote Manoharpur village of Keonjhar district had put the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in the firing line of Hindutva-baiters. ?Bajrang Dal activist, Dara Singh, and his associates killed Staines and his two minor sons?, hence the activists and their organisation are to be blamed for the gruesome killing, the pseudo-seculars continue to say. The Congress, communists and their so-called secular brigade have found the right opportunity to settle their political scores with the Bharatiya Janata Party and the RSS school of thought.
It'sa different story that the Justice D.P.Wadhwa Commission that probed the killing of Staines did not find any involvement of the Bajrang Dal or any organisation in the killing of the Australian missionary.
Justice Wadhwa, however, found fault with the then administration and said the FIR lodged in the aftermath of the gruesome killing was a ?doctored document?. The FIR was a well-thought out ploy to put the RSS school of thought in trouble as it said that while killing Staines, the mob raised a slogan like ?Bajrang dal ki jai?.
First the Justice Wadhwa Commission, then the judgment of Sessions Judge Khurda and judgement of Orissa High Court prove it beyond doubt that ?Bajrang bali ki jai? was the slogan raised while Staines were killed and it was not Bajrang dal ki jai as alleged. The then Chief Minister, Janaki Ballabh Patnaik was then dumped by Congress president, Sonia Gandhi, perhaps for the killing of Staines and a few other violent incidents involving the Christian Community.
High Court had repeatedly observed in its judgment that the evidences, both made by the eye-witnesses and the evidences adduced by the CBI, to prove the conspiracy angle were weak and speculative, which cannot be relied upon.
The recent High Court judgment has set aside the death penalty awarded to Dara Singh and has acquitted 11 other tribals sentenced to life imprisonment by the district and Sessions Judge Khurda in September 2003. However, the Court has upheld the life imprisonment sentence given to Dara and Mahendra Hembram. The latter had confessed that he had killed Staines and his two minor sons.
The recent judgment by a division bench of the Orissa High Court comprising Chief Justice Sujit Burmen Roy and Justice Laxmikant Mohapatra, that set aside the earlier death sentence awarded to Dara, said ?There is absolutely no evidence on record that due to an individual act of the appellate Dara Singh alone the three deceased persons or any of them died. No particular fatal injury on any of the deceased has been attributed to Dara Singh. Therefore, for the murder of the three deceased persons, the appellant Dara Singh cannot be held individually liable though he can be held liable vicariously along with others by invoking Section 149, IPC.?
On charges with regard to appellate persons like Umakant Bhoi, Dayanidhi Patra, Kartik Lohar, Rabi Soren, Mahadev Mahanta, Turam Ho, Renta Hembram, Suresh Hansda, Suratha Naik, Harish Chandra Mahanta and Dipu alias Rajat Kumar Das the High Court judgment said it ?has not been proved beyond reasonable doubt insofar as their identification is concerned. Therefore, their convictions and sentences on aforesaid charges cannot be sustained.?
While upholding the life imprisonment sentence on Mahendram Hembram, the High Court cited Hembram'shand-written letters dated February 1 and 2, 2002, addressed to the Sessions Judge confessing his guilt. In his letter Hembrum had held himself solely responsible for the Staines killing. ?We, therefore, hold that in fact the involvement of appellant Mahendra Hembram as regards his participation in the crime which resulted in rioting, arson and murder of three persons have been proved beyond reasonable doubt,? the Division Bench observed in its 106-page bulky judgment.
While setting aside death sentence on Dara Singh and acquitting 11 others, the Division Bench of Orissa High Court severely indicted the premier investigating agency of the country, CBI, over the tainted evidences of criminal conspiracy it had produced against all the accused persons. The High Court has also expressed surprise that how the lower court which convicted as many as 13 persons including the prime accused Dara Singh, relied upon the weak and speculative evidences the prosecution (CBI) made before the trial court.
The High Court had repeatedly observed in its judgment that the evidences, both made by the eye-witnesses and the evidences adduced by the CBI, to prove the conspiracy angle were weak and speculative, which cannot be relied upon.
The judgement said: ?We are constrained to observe that it was absolutely unfair and unethical on the part of the over-zealous CBI investigating officers to adopt such unheard-of methods to procure tainted evidence to somehow procure conviction of the appellants (accused).? The High Court further observed that ?the trial court was also astonishingly over-credulous to act upon such evidence.?
Says the Viswa Hindu Parishad (VHP) state organising secretary, Sudhansu Mohan Patnaik, ?Conversion in tribal heartland of Orissa has to stop for the Vanvasi people to live in peace. If converted Christians disrespect their age-old cultural moorings, there has to be tension. The converted Vanvasi people too must have to abide by the culture and tradition of their forefathers.? Shri Patnaik added that it was Church mandarins who were instigating the converted tribal people to go against their old tradition. ?If the Church is hell-bent to create hostility amongst them, the tribal-Christian discord could only go up,? pointed out the VHP leader.