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Tuesday, August 11, 2009
He’s waiting for the hangman since 1996
Held In ’91, Convict’s Plea Gathers Dust With Prez
Chandigarh: Piara Singh (80) can neither walk nor see. His dementia, too, is getting worse by the day. And the world has forgotten about him.
In what must rank as one of India’s most callous instances of treating prisoners, Piara, a murder convict with capital punishment hanging over his head, has been languishing in Amritsar jail since 1991, mostly in solitary confinement, with neither death nor mercy rescuing him. Although his mercy petition is pending with the President since 1997, nothing by way of either relief or upholding of the sentence has come from Rashtrapati Bhavan.
To his lawyer Navkiran Singh, who meets the condemned man once in a while, Piara whispers that he can’t take it anymore. ‘‘I should have been hanged the day they said I should be killed,’’ he mumbles. It was nearly two decades ago that Piara Singh, then about 60, stepped inside Amritsar jail after being arrested in a murder case, a crime his three sons were also subsequently charged with. The death sentence was handed to him five years later in 1996, triggering his removal to solitary confinement in a 12X6 cell. He has been there since.
Residents of Amritsar’s Baserke village, Piara and his sons were found guilty of firing at a gathering to celebrate a marriage in November, 1991. It was an old enmity and by the time the violence ebbed, 17 people died. ‘‘I was moved by his plight when I accidentally stumbled upon him at Amritsar jail where I went to collect data on death row inmates in 2006,’’ said Navkiran Singh. ‘‘I decided I would fight for him. But now Piara just prays for death. It is horrifying.’’
While his initial mercy petition is gathering dust in Delhi, closer home, a PIL was filed in the Punjab and Haryana HC in August 2006, pleading that it is inhuman to keep convicts in solitary confinement. It also pleaded that Piara’s death sentence be commuted to a life term.
Gearing up for August 19, the PIL’s next date of hearing, Navkiran said, ‘‘Life term, in the eyes of the law, is interpreted to be of 20 years and in a normal murder case, after adding remission, it comes down to nine. Piara has suffered a lot. At least he should spend the last days of his life in his house.’’
But with neither the hangman nor the courts reavhing out, disease is slowly consuming the frail man. A medical report in January says, ‘‘Piara has osteoarthritis in both knee joints and acid peptic disease. As a result of prolonged incarceration, he has symptoms of mild psychotic disorder which at times results in him hallucinating.’’
No End In Sight?
November 1991: Piara arrested for murder, sent to Amritsar jail
January 1996: Gets death sentence along with son Sarabjit
Feb 2001: Piara’s other sons, Gurdev and Satnam, too get death verdict
March 1997: Files mercy petition with President of India
August 2006: PIL in Punjab & Haryana HC requesting conversion of death sentence to life imprisonment
1950-1980: Between 3,000 to 4,000 executions took place in the country
1980-1997: Two to three convicts were hanged per year
1997-2004: De facto moratorium on executions
August 2004: One execution for rape and murder
After 2004: No execution, but capital punishment is being handed down
(Source: Times of India 12 August 2009
Supriya Bhardwaj | TNN)