Justice must be tempered with mercy, says Supreme Court

Apex court sets free eleven tribal murder convicts

Justice must be tempered with mercy, says Supreme Court

Arguing that justice must be tempered with mercy, the Supreme Court let a group of 11 tribals walk free for a killing committed 25 years ago over a measly act of stealing a hen.

A bench of Justices Ranjana Prakash Desai and Madan B Lokur held them guilty only of culpable homicide not amounting to murder and reduced their jail term to the period already undergone by them. Ironically, they have served 14 years in jail so far.

 For these 11 Santhals, the apex court has come as a saviour. They were serving life term after being convicted of murder by a trial court for beating a man, who stole a hen, to death. Their punishment was upheld by the Calcutta High Court.

The apex court, however, took into account multiple factors including that the convicts had remained unscathed by urbanisation so a hen was very important for them.

 Significantly, the court, dealing with the merit of the case, said, among others, no witness ascribed an individual role to any accused and the medical report did not state which injury proved to be fatal to the deceased. “It is an unusual case where a trivial incident led to a murder. The appellants as well as the material witnesses belong to Santhal community. They are tribals. They come from a very poor strata of the society and appear to be untouched by the effect of urbanisation. They live in their own world.  They are economically so weak that possession of a hen is very important to them,” the court observed.  

In the case, the deceased Jhore Soren stole a hen and made a feast out of it in March, 1989 at village Mubarakpur in Burdwan district in West Bengal. This angered the community and the village panchayat announced a penalty for Soren. He was ordered to give a hen to Bhagbat and, in addition, he had to give two handies of liquor.  

Soren complied with the panchayat’s dictat. But this punishment seemed not enough for Baghbat and others. Soren was asked to appear in a community meeting at the courtyard of one Saheb Hasda, where he was tied against a bamboo pole. The appellants assaulted Soren and beat him to death.

“Though, there can be no justification for the appellants’ actions, their anger and reaction to the theft of hen must be viewed against the background of their economic and social status,” the bench said.

“In our view, is a case where justice must be tempered with mercy. In the peculiar circumstances of the case, in our opinion, convicting the appellants for culpable homicide not amounting to murder and sentencing them for the period already undergone by them by resorting to Section 304 Part II of the IPC will meet the ends of justice,” the court said.

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