Friday, January 21, 2011

Teaching a lesson you say? Oh well thats alright

Jan 22nd 1999, an Australian missionary Graham Staines along with his sons aged 10 and 6, were burnt alive , while they slept in their car in Orissa (one of India's poorest Provinces). The main culprit, Dara Singh was apprehended and sentenced to life in prison, a sentence that was recently upheld in the highest court of the land

I would be unfair to not give any background on this issue. Graham Staines had been involved in converting poor and uneducated tribals in some of the most impoverished parts of India. Such activities have been going on for long. Hindu organizations have long objected to such activities, and even in a country like India with its long history of tolerance to various religions, such activities are not exactly welcomed. There has been a build up of anger in the tribal belt helped along by political organizations that can be described as Hindu right wing.
In trying to explain the background of this , I am in no way trying to condone , the grave injustice that took place on the night of the 22nd Jan 1999.
Quite the opposite actually.. No matter what your views on conversion.. as a decent human being you have no option but to be outraged at the murder of a missionary and 2 kids both below 10 years.
Here is bits from the Supreme Court judgement that overturned the prosecutor's plea for the death penalty.

“Whether a case falls within the rarest of rare case or not, has to be examined with reference to the facts and circumstances of each case and the Court has to take note of the aggravating as well as mitigating circumstances and conclude whether there was something uncommon about the crime which renders the sentence of imprisonment for life inadequate and calls for death sentence,” said the bench.
“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. All these aspects have been correctly appreciated by the High Court and modified the sentence of death into life imprisonment with which we concur.”

Note that the judges thought the intention of teaching a lesson , somehow was enough to save the perpetrator from execution..

If this isn't a miscarriage of justice.. I am not sure what is. If this is not grounds for execution , I do not know what is..And if this does not meet the requirements for a rarest of rare case I am not sure which case would.    


Noam said...

Seriously? You can’t think of murders more depraved than this one? In the pantheon of human barbarity, this is such small potatoes.

The fact is, most of the civilized world considers the death penalty, in any circumstance, an evil, so your entire premise is questionable. After all, you are calling the failure to committed cold-blooded premeditated murder a miscarriage of justice! Somehow you are able to withhold human compassion from these victims, in a way similar to how these killers managed to put missionaries outside the scope of their moral consideration, denying their humanity, with all the emotional complexity and fallibility that goes along with it.

But putting aside these questions, this was a case of killing not out of cruelty or a lack of moral regard, but just the opposite. The killer was trying to do the right and noble thing. They were killing for a greater good. You may disagree with the cause, and rightly choose to punish the perpetrator so as to send a message to others thinking of doing the same thing. But you are doing the exact same thing this killer is doing. You share his methods, and his belief that such methods are justifiable. You only differ in your position on proselytizing. So maybe you can see why the killer’s motives are a mitigating factor, not an aggravating one.

Pradyot Dhulipala said...

Noam, I was not taking a stand on the death sentence. Though I have to add, I am for it.
My criticism is leveled at the decision, that somehow the motives served as mitigating factors, in not treating this case as the rarest of rare(which is the Indian classification for a crime that fits the bill for a death penalty).
Yes I am able to withold human compassion for those who were willing to burn children to death.
Frankly I find i apalling that you can call this heinous crime small potatoes.
You can rail against the Death sentence all you like. I have no issue with that. But equating a sentence on the law books , delivered by a court of law, and that delivered by a mob on the street is just sheer idiocy.
I also object to your statement "The killer was trying to do the right or noble thing".
If he was trying to do what he thought was right and noble, does that reduce the gravity of his crime? I think not..
After all the 911 hijackers also believed their mission to be noble.
Noam I agree we have a different way of looking at this..