Andhra High Court strikes down all sentences in Dalit massacre case
In a dramatic judgment, the Andhra Pradesh High Court Tuesday set aside an order of a special court that sentenced 21 people to life imprisonment and 35 others to one year's jail for the 1991 massacre of Dalits in Guntur district.
The high court struck down the sentence for lack of evidence in the sensational case, which had attracted national attention.
A division bench headed by Justice L. Narasimha Reddy observed that the prosecution failed to produce sufficient evidence before the court, and noted that the accused have already spent a long time in jail.
The high court pronounced its judgment on a petition by the convicts who challenged the special court's order in what is known as Tsundur massacre case.
The court directed Guntur district superintendent of police to make adequate security measures and ensure that no procession or celebration is organised after the convicts are released.
In 2007, a special court sentenced 21 to life imprisonment and 35 others to one year's rigorous imprisonment and imposed a fine of Rs.2,000 each, convicting them for the massacre.
The court set up under the SC/STs Prevention of Atrocities Act, 1989, held 56 people guilty but acquitted 123 others for lack of evidence.
Eight Dalits were killed and many others injured in attacks allegedly by upper caste people on Aug 6, 1991 at Tsundur village of Guntur district, about 350 km from Hyderabad.
The houses of Dalits were looted and set afire and many families were forced to flee from Tsundur and adjoining villages.
The police filed a charge sheet against 219 people, of whom 33 died during the course of the trial and seven were let off as police did not find any evidence against them.
The case was heard over nearly 16 years in the country's first-ever special court set up at the scene of an atrocity.
Guntur superintendent of police Satyanarayana said the high court order would be challenged in the Supreme Court.
Several Dalit organisations have also reacted strongly to the high court order. They plan to challenge the high court order in the apex court.
(Posted on 22-04-2014)