Juvenile convict in Staines’ murder free, but survival a struggle

May 26th, 2008 - 10:56 am ICT by admin  

By Jatindra Dash
Keonjhar (Orissa), May 26 (IANS) Just 13 when arrested for involvement in the murder of Christian missionary Graham Staines in 1999, Chenchu has walked free - only to find his poor parents more greyed and no means of earning a livelihood. Fate has been unkind to Chenchu, alias Sudarshan Hansdah. He was sentenced to 14 years in a reform institution by a juvenile court for a crime he says he didn’t commit. He was released from a reformatory hostel last week after he appealed against his sentence in court, which on April 30 reduced the term to three years. But by then he had spent nine years in the home.

Though the court ordered his immediate release, he continued to be in the reform home on the charge of abetting the escape of some prisoners from the hostel. He was acquitted by the court Tuesday.

When Chenchu reached his home in Kendudiha, a village surrounded by forests in the district of Keonjhar, his parents and other residents came to welcome him.

But Chenchu finds that he has on hand another battle - for survival.

“My father and mother are over 70 years old and I am their only son. They are leading a miserable life,” Chenchu told IANS. “They make leaf plates and sell them, which is their only source of livelihood.”

“I now need to do something for our survival. However I don’t see any way,” Chenchu, now a young man, said. “We have a small piece of land but I cannot grow crops because I don’t have money.”

“I may now have to work as a daily wage earner. I know how to sew clothes because I was taught that in prison. But to take up sewing, I need money,” a depressed Chenchu said, sitting in his parents’ dilapidated one room hut.

The hut was badly damaged in the recent storm and the family cannot afford to repair it before the rainy season.

Recalling the dark events when he was whisked away by police, Chenchu said: “I was a student and reading in Class 8 in a high school at Panasadia nearby. I used to walk to school every day. I was hoping to take up a government job after studies. But my dreams were shattered.”

Australian missionary Graham Stuart Staines, 58, and his two minor sons Philip, 10, and Timothy, 6, were torched to death on Jan 22, 1999, by a group of Hindu fanatics led by Dara Singh at Manoharpur, some 400 km from state capital Bhubaneswar.

Manoharpur is only 100 metres away from the village where Chenchu lives.

After Staines’ murder, police raided the houses of all the villagers and picked up people found at home for interrogation.

“I was afraid and went to my uncle’s home in a nearby village, but police suspected my involvement and arrested me in April then,” he said, adding that police ignored his pleas of innocence.

That was the beginning of Chenchu’s plight. The same year a juvenile court convicted him to 14 years’ confinement .

On Sep 22, 2003, a court handed down the death sentence to main accused Dara Singh and life imprisonment to 12 of his associates. In May 2005, the Orissa High Court commuted the death penalty on Dara Singh to life imprisonment and acquitted 11 others.

Checnhu’s lawyer appealed in court that a juvenile cannot be jailed for more than three years, after which his term was reduced to three years on April 30.

“I am happy that my son has returned home. He is young and will definitely do something for us,” said his father, Ramachandra Hansda.

“He has already lost his child hood,” his lawyer, Bana Bihari Mohanty, told IANS. “At least now he can try to live a normal life,” he said.

Birabara Naik, superintendent of the reformatory hostel at Angul town where Chenchu was lodged, told IANS: “He was sewing clothes for the prisoners in the jail. He makes good dresses. I hope it will help him earn a living.”

(Jatindra Dash can be contacted at Jatindra.d@ians.in)

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