In the cases of Madhya Pradesh’s Maganlal Barela, 40, and Uttarakhand’s Sundar Singh, mental illness was more a ground for commutation than the delay in the disposal of their mercy pleas was.
Barela would have been hanged in August but the Supreme Court stayed the execution the night before the schedule. During the day, jail authorities had asked his brothers to reach Jabalpur to collect the body.
In the remoteness of his forest home near Kaneria village, 85 km from Bhopal, Barela had hacked to death his five daughters, aged six to one, in a fit of frenzy on June 11, 2010. While the chargesheet said he was drunk, villagers came up with theories such as a sacrifice for a prosperous life or the result of a fight with his two wives.
His brother is rejoicing but it could take some time before his wives get to know of the commutation because they live inside the forest. The wives, who have four sons to look after, the youngest born after the arrest, have reconciled to their fate and chosen to pardon Barela. “He will be good again if he comes back,’’ Basanti, his younger wife, had told this paper in August
Two months ago, activists arranged for a meeting between Barela and his wives in Jabalpur. Activist Prashant Dubey said Barela then claimed he had not committed the murders. He had claimed innocence during the trial too. His mercy petition, sent in February 2012, was rejected last July.
“… It cannot be claimed that the delay is excessive though there is a delay of one year in disposal of mercy petition by the President. However… the petitioner was suffering from mental illness. This is clear from the note made by the prison superintendent who opined for alteration of the sentence from death to life,” the Supreme Court rules, going on to say that the ends of justice would be met by commuting the sentence.
In Meharghetti village of what is now Uttarakhand, Sundar Singh killed five relatives — cousin Pratap Singh and his family — in 1989. It was over a small plot of land that each cousin wanted as his share. Pratap’s family was sitting for dinner when Sundar set the house on fire, killing Pratap, his wife Naruli and two others — Prem Singh and Kamla. Pratap’s son Balwant escaped the flames but Sunder chased and killed him.
For a decade, Sunder eluded the police. He reportedly spent those years in various villages of Garhwal. He was arrested in 2000. Relatives are said to have tipped the police off. While in jail, he was checked several times by psychiatrists. His 2010 mercy plea, which was rejected last year, cited insanity.
“Even if we agree that there is no undue delay in disposal of the mercy petition by the President, we are satisfied that Sundar Singh is suffering from mental illness, i.e., schizophrenia as noted by… three psychiatrists attached to the State Mental Health Institute, Dehradun,” says Tuesday’s order. “We are satisfied that in view of the mental illness, he cannot be executed…. If the condition of Sundar Singh requires further treatment, we direct the jail authorities to provide all such medical facilities to him.”