Dara Singh (né Ravinder Kumar Pal; born 2 October 1962) is a Bajrang Dal member who was convicted for leading the religious mob that murdered Australian Christian missionary Graham Staines and his two sons, Philip (aged 10) and Timothy (aged 6) on 22 January 1999. The Staines were sleeping in their station wagon at Manoharpur village in the Kendujhar district of the Indian state of Orissa, about 400 kilometres (250 mi) from Bhubaneswar, when the mob attacked and set the vehicle on fire, prevented even the children from escaping and murdered all three.
Singh was earlier involved in the cow protection movement of the Bajrang Dal and had earlier targeted Muslim cattle traders. The Wadhwa Commission stated that the Bajrang Dal was not involved in the murder of Staines, justifying its non-examination of the role of the Bajrang Dal on the grounds that the Dal was a peaceful and legal organisation.
Singh was also charged in the killing of Muslim trader Shaikh Rehman at Padibeda village in Karanjia sub-division of Mayurbhanj district. and in the murder of a Christian cleric, Arul Das, in Jamboni village in the same district. Das was killed by an arrow as he was escaping after his church was set on fire. Singh is widely perceived by Hindutva activists to be the Sangh Parivar's most lethal and violent figures.
Dara Singh was born as Ravinder Kumar Pal, the son of Mihilal Pal of Kakor, Auraiya district, Uttar Pradesh and stayed for a brief period in Delhi, before coming to Baliposhi, Orissa in 1989. Over time he became associated with the Bajrang Dal and launched a campaign against cow slaughter and religious conversions. Singh's base of operations was the relatively affluent Padiabeda village in Mayurbhanj district, a Hindu nationalist stronghold. He was charged in several cases where trucks carrying cows to slaughter had been hijacked and looted. By redistributing these cows among the locals, he had achieved a degree of popularity among the tribals, and was also becoming a political figure. He had a small loyal band that was increasingly involved in violent opposition to what they perceived as anti-Hindu forces.
In September 1998, a cattle truck was looted and torched, and the trucker's assistant, Shaikh Imam was battered to death in Godabhanga Ghati in the Mayurbhanj district. Singh was charged in this case and eventually exonerated by the Baripada District and Session's Court in Mayurbhanj district in October 2006, due to lack of sufficient evidence and hostile witnesses.
On 26 November 1999, Shaikh Rahman, a Muslim garment merchant was tortured and had his hands severed, before being burned to death at Padiabeda village. The body was then set aflame and incinerated, to prevent his family members from recovering it. The incident occurred near the Thakurmunda police station in the district. Singh and his associate, Buluram Mohanty was indicted in connection with this killing. In October 2007, the Baripada District and Sessions Court in Mayurbhanj district, convicted Singh of Rahman's murder and sentenced him to life imprisonment, while acquitting 23 others on grounds of insufficient evidence.
In September 1999, Catholic priest Arul Das was murdered in Jamabani village in Mayurbhanj district. Singh was charged in this case as well, convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment in September 2007, along with associates Chena Hao, Rajkishore Mohanta, and Jadunath Mohanta.
On 22 January 1999, a mob led by Singh attacked the station wagon inhabited by Graham Staines and his two sons, Philip (aged 10) and Timothy (aged 6) at Manoharpur village in Keonjhar district. Chanting Jai Bajarang Bali, the mob set fire to the station wagon and the Staines' were burned to death. Dara Singh does not appear to have used any legal remedy against being troubled by any of Staines activities that would have provoked him into killing the missionary and his minor sons. Other perpetrators in the killing of Graham Staines included Bhimasen Mahanta, Rajat Das, Mahendra Hembram and Chenchu Hansda (a minor). The CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) had chargesheeted a total of 18 persons in the case in June 1999, saying there was a prima facie case against the accused for commission of the offence under various sections of the Indian Penal Code. Of those formally sentenced to life imprisonment, only Hembram was acquitted. In September 2003, the Khordha Sessions Court sentenced Singh to death for his role in the murders.
Subsequent to his arrest, his supporters formed several organisations, including Dara Singh Parijan Suraksha Samiti (Council for Aiding the Family of Dara Singh), Dharmarakhyak Sri Dara Singh Bachao Samiti (Committee to defend Dara Singh, the Protector of our Religion), Dharmarakshak Dara Singh Sahayta Samiti (Committee to assist Dara Singh, the Protector of our Religion) and Dara Sena (Dara's Army), claiming to espouse his cause. These groups describe him as the saviour of Hinduism. There was also a "Free Dara Singh" website. Several small booklets with titles like Mono Ku Chhui Gola (He Has Touched Our Hearts), or Mu Dara Singh Kahuchi (This is Dara Singh Speaking), eulogising Dara and criticising the activities of Staines and other Christian missionaries, are circulating in the region.
Supreme Court Verdict
In May 2005, the Orissa High Court set aside the death sentence, stating that it could not be demonstrated that any specific action by Singh himself had caused the deaths. On 19 March 2007, the Supreme Court issued notice to the CBI on a petition filed by Mahendra Hembram challenging the Orissa High Court verdict, saying that his confessional statement before the trial court, in which he had said that he killed Graham Staines, should be considered in total.
In August 2005, Singh filed a special leave petition with the apex court, seeking acquittal. He asserted that his case was based on hearsay and circumstantial evidence, claiming that he had not led the killings. The Supreme Court of India admitted his appeal in October 2005. In February 2007, Singh petitioned the Supreme Court to release him on bail, stating that he was the primary livelihood earner in his family, including his dependent 75-year-old mother. In October 2007, his petition was denied by the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court upheld the verdict of life imprisonment for Dara Singh, the chief accused, on 21 January 2011. The Supreme Court dismissed the CBI's call for the death penalty, explaining that the death penalty could only be imposed in the "rarest of rare" cases
The Supreme Court bench of Justices P. Sathasivam and B. S. Chauhan stated "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 Staines about his religious activities, namely, converting poor tribals to Christianity". The Court stated "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." Yet, condemning religious conversions, the Court also said "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".
The verdict was considered puzzling. The essay appended to it caused dismay, became controversial and invited widespread criticism by Indian Media,Civil Society and Christian Human Rights Groups. The pre-meditated burning alive of the two innocent children and prevention of their escape during the ordeal by the mob led by Singh alone, merited the harshest penalty in the law. The court seemed to accept that as collateral damage in Singh’s larger grievance against Staines. The definition of the “rarest of rare” doctrine was found to be vague. Gladys Staines had stated that she was satisfied with a life sentence for those who killed her husband and sons since the death penalty prevented reform and repentance. The essay accompanying the ruling appeared to condone 'anger over religious conversions' as an extenuating circumstance for murder. Concern was expressed over the future implications of the comments that seemed to justify communal violence. The decision had criticized conversion as based upon a “flawed premise that one religion is better than the other.” All preachers of religion sell their faith by claiming that their faith is better than others and attempts to convince them so.
On 25 January 2011,the Supreme Court did a rare expunging of its own remarks, which it called a clarification. The two controversial paragraphs of the judgement were replaced by two sentences. The new sentence, replacing one paragraph, said, "However, more than 12 years have elapsed since the act was committed, we are of the opinion that the life sentence awarded by the High Court need not be enhanced in view of the factual position discussed in the earlier paras." The justices who had given the original judgment removed the remarks implying that burning a person alive was a “lesson” gone awry. The other replaced para read, "There is no justification for interfering in someone's religious belief by any means." Language denouncing any form of religious violence was retained and the criticism of conversion softened.