The Supreme Court should have issued notice to all parties involved in the Graham Staines case before excising portions from its verdict dealing with conversion.
The Supreme Court shocked the Hindu community when on January 25 it succumbed to pressure from Christian activists and modified its January 21 judgement in the Graham Staines murder case, without the filing of a curative petition by any party to the case; without notice to the lawyers of convicted Rabindra Kumar Pal (alias Dara Singh) and Mahendra Hembram; and without reference to representatives of the Hindu community which is the target and victim of Christian conversions in India.
The burning to death of missionary Graham Staines and his two minor sons while they were asleep in their vehicle at Manoharpur village in Odisha?s Keonjhar district on January 22, 1999, was a grim response to missionary provocation in the State. It was a unique crime in modern India, matched only by the burning alive of Malegaon additional district collector Yashwant Sonawane by the oil mafia on January 25.
The Justice DP Wadhwa Commission of Inquiry, which submitted its report on June 21, 1999, found evidence of the sustained missionary activity of Graham Staines in the form of his despatches to the Australian missionary magazine, Tidings, reports of his colleagues, evidence of his wife, and others.
The police arrested anti-cow slaughter activist Dara Singh from Mayurbhanj forest in January 2000 for instigating and planning the crime; he and Mahendra Hembram were found guilty during the trial. Dara Singh?s death penalty was commuted to life imprisonment by the Orissa High Court in May 2005, because he was convicted on circumstantial evidence as none of the eye-witness accounts established his involvement in the crime.
The court noted, ?There is absolutely no evidence on record that due to individual act of Dara Singh alone the three deceased persons or any of them died.? It added: ?The eye-witnesses never attributed any particular fatal injury, for which Dara Singh can be individually held responsible for the death of the three deceased persons or for the death of any of them.? The High Court upheld life imprisonment for Hembram and acquitted 11 others for lack of evidence. This verdict was upheld by the Supreme Court.
In its original verdict, the Supreme Court had observed, ?The intention was to teach a lesson to Graham Staines about his religious activities, namely, converting poor tribals to Christianity. All these aspects have been correctly appreciated by the High Court, which modified the sentence of death into life imprisonment with which we concur.? This was modified as, ?More than 12 years have elapsed since the act was committed, we are of the opinion that the life sentence awarded by the High Court need not be enhanced in view of the factual position discussed in the earlier paras.?
Second, the sentence, ?It is undisputed that there is no justification for interfering in someone?s belief by way of use of force, provocation, conversion, incitement or upon a flawed premise that one religion is better than the other? (the meaning of the constitutional principle of equality of faiths and non-discrimination in matters of religion) was replaced by: ?There is no justification for interfering in someone?s religious belief by any means.?
The Supreme Court?s original assertions came as a balm to the Hindu community that has long been battered by jihad and crusade simultaneously; but were bitterly attacked by Christian activists. In a flurry of denunciations in the secular media, Fr Dominic Emmanuel, chief spokesman of the New Delhi Roman Catholic Archdiocese, said the bench?s statement that ?the intention was to teach a lesson to Graham Staines about his religious activities, namely, converting poor tribals to Christianity?? and ??flawed premise that one religion is better than the other? came as ?a shock to all those who believe in India?s secular spirit and Constitution?
Former journalist BG Verghese said attenuation of the punishment because of Graham Staines? converting poor tribals to Christianity was an ?appalling statement and should be expunged or reversed by a larger bench?. He condemned anti-conversion laws in some States.
Cardinal Oswald Gracias, president of Bishops Conference of India, Mumbai, said the judgement ?seems to justify inter-religious and anti-Christian violence.? The All-India Christian Council, Global Council of Indian Christians and ?civil society? activists joined the fray. The latter said, ?The Supreme Court ruling may in fact send the wrong signals to courts trying cases of religious violence in Kandhamal, for instance ? It also tends to pre-empt possible challenges to the black laws enacted by many States in the guise of Freedom of Religion Bills ? We expect the Government to ask the Supreme Court to expunge the unnecessary, uncalled for and un-constitutional remarks.?
Perhaps the Union Government did ?lean on? the Supreme Court and ensured prompt redressal of Christian ?grievances?, even at the cost of compromising basic principles of the Constitution and the Fundamental Rights of India?s beleaguered native community, particularly weaker sections like tribals who are continuously preyed upon by the gargantuan international soul-harvesting industry.
Since the plea to enhance Dara Singh?s life sentence to death penalty was made by the Central Bureau of Investigation, it would have been appropriate for the Supreme Court to have issued notices to all parties before amending its own judgement and invited a larger national debate on its ruling that, ?Our concept of secularism is that the state will have no religion. The state shall treat all religions and religious groups equally and with equal respect, without, in any manner, interfering in their individual right of religion, faith and worship.?
Today, the Supreme Court has given weightage to a trans-national imperial religion with a history of genocide and forced conversions, leaving no trace of original faith and culture in lands it now dominates. Its inhuman crimes against adherent-victims, manifesting as clergy-related sex abuse scandals in dioceses across the West, leave no fig leaf that its mission is social service, no matter on what pretext it enters vulnerable societies with its soul-gathering agenda.
Conversions always produce social strife and disharmony. Graham Staines? writings home reflect his awareness of the deep unhappiness he had stirred in the region. The brutal murder of Swami Laxmanananda at Kandhamal in 2008 shows how unsafe Hindu leaders are when fighting conversions; the verdict in this case now worries the Church. Sadly, the Supreme Court has compromised its courage at a very critical hour.