New Delhi, Sep 29 (IANS) Nearly four decades after an unlawful assembly of about 400 people attacked the members of a minority community, killing 14 people and leaving many injured as well as a number of houses burnt in 1974, the case attained finality with the Supreme Court upholding life imprisonment awarded to three accused.
Upholding the life imprisonment, a bench of Justice Ranjana Prakash Desai and Justice N.V.Ramana rejected the convicts’ contention that they were mere passive onlookers who joined the mob out of curiosity, had no common intention and did not share the common object of the unlawful assembly – to attack the members of the minority community who were largely from Bangladesh.
The court was not persuaded there was an old enmity between the two groups and they (convicts) were sought to be implicated by the victims in the case.
Rejecting their contention, Justice Ramana, speaking for the bench, said: “We have no hesitation to come to a conclusion that the appellants (accused) were part of the unlawful assembly sharing the common object of killing, rioting and looting the villagers.”
“Each one of the accused played an active role in furtherance of the common object of the assembly and the courts below were perfectly right in convicting the accused/appellants under Section 149, IPC (Indian Penal Code),” said the court in the judgment delivered recently.
“Hence in our considered opinion, the prosecution has proved its case beyond reasonable doubt.”
“In view of the settled principles of law, once it is established that the unlawful assembly had a common object, it is not necessary that all the persons forming the unlawful assembly must be shown to have committed some overt act, rather they can be convicted under Section 149 of the IPC,” the court said.
On Sep 25, 1974, Surang Lal Yadav of Santhala community, riding a horse and carrying a sword in his hand, led a mob of about 300 to 400 people armed with weapons such as bows, arrows, spears, axes, staffs as well as burning torches into Singhimari village where they went on a looting spree while setting houses on fire and injuring and killing innocent residents indiscriminately.
The attack was rooted in a dispute over a piece of government land which was in unauthorized occupation of Santhalas but was encroached upon by victims – the Badhyas.
The charge sheet was filed against many people but most of them were shown as absconders. A total of 27 people were committed to trial but charges were framed against only 18 as the others jumped bail.
Seven accused were convicted and awarded life imprisonment. The Patna High Court acquited two but upheld the sentences of five, of whom three moved the apex court in appeal.