IF the crime was brutal, retribution was equally swift and harsh. Just a year and nine months into the killing of Australian missionary Graham Staines and his minor sons at Manoharpur, a juvenile court has handed a life-sentence to a 13-year-old in the case.
The court order against Sudarshan Hansda, alias Chenchu, of Keonjhar is the first of its kind in recent times. No juvenile had ever been sentenced to 14 years' detention for any crime since the Juvenile Justice Act came into force in 1986. More generally, if the order is any indication, the CBI has a watertight case and Dara Singh's lawyers have a tough task ahead. In all, 18 persons have been chargesheeted, of whom four are still absconding.
According to lawyers in Bhubaneshwar, the signals are clear-this is one case where the courts are going to be tough. But the issue is not so simple. The sentence has unleashed a debate, which is likely to have much wider implications, not only for 13 of the accused whose trial comes up in December, but also the penalty which can be imposed on a juvenile under existing law.