02/16/2007, 00.00
INDIA
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Murderer of Christian missionary Graham Staines asks for early release

by Nirmala Carvalho
The original death sentence handed down to Dara Singh was commuted to life imprisonment. He killed the Australian missionary and his two little sons. Now he says he is innocent and asks to be released from jail to look after his elderly mother.

Delhi (AsiaNews) – Dara Singh, the murderer of a Christian missionary, Graham Staines, yesterday asked the Indian Supreme Court to release him on bail because at the time of his arrest, he was “the only source of income for his family” and he has an “elderly mother to look after”.

Singh, whose real name is Rabindra Kumal Pal, was condemned to death on 22 September 2003 by the provincial Court of Orissa. The man was convicted for leading an attack in Keonjhar district that caused the death of Australian missionary as he slept in a car with his seven-and nine-year-old children on January 23, 1999. All three were burnt alive. The court also sentenced 12 men deemed his accomplices.

The eastern state's high court commuted Singh’s sentence on May 19, 2005, to life in prison and freed 11 of the other accused. On 19 October 2005, the State's Supreme Court accepted to hear Singh's appeal for a reduced sentence.

In his appeal before the Supreme Court, the murderer – who belongs to a nationalist Hindu movement – claimed that he was “totally innocent” and described his sentence as “unjust because it was based on circumstantial evidence and hearsay.”

Babu K. Varghese, a Christian, has written a book entitled ‘Burnt Alive’, a tribute to the life and work of the slain missionary. Interviewed by AsiaNews, he commented on the requested release: “The death sentence should be passed not on him but on the culture of hate that permeates our society. Certainly Singh is asking for pity but he forgets the evil he committed and the pity he did not have.”

The murderer “says he wants to look after his elderly mother and this is admirable but he did not think about the mother whose two small sons he killed when he set the car on fire. In any case, I consider him to be a man consumed by the ideology of hatred propagated by the Hindutva mentality.”

What is needed is “transformation of Dara Singh, who should take his victim as an example [he served Indian lepers for 34 years] and become an instrument of love and tolerance. Gladys and Esther Staines, the missionary’s wife and daughter, told me they continue to pray for this.”

Interviewed some months ago by AsiaNews, the wife said she “forgave Dara Singh, because in forgiveness, there is no bitterness, only hope.” Christ alone, she said, gave her the "strength to continue living”.

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