Press Statements

Indian Civil Society condemns comments of Apex Court in Graham Staines murder case

We, the undersigned, take strong exception to the gratuitous observations in the Supreme Court judgment on Friday in the 1999 murder of the Australian Graham Staines and his two young sons by Bajarang Dal activist Dara Singh, which read, “In the case on hand, though Graham Staines and his two minor sons were burnt to death while they were sleeping inside a station wagon at Manhoharpur, the intention was to teach a lesson to Graham Staines about his religious activities, namely, converting poor tribals to Christianity.”

A bench of Justices P. Sathasivam and B. S. Chauhan went on to add: “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. It strikes at the very root of the orderly society, which the founding fathers of our Constitution dreamt of.”

This statement is patently unconstitutional as it goes against the guarantees of freedom of faith on the one hand and seems to acknowledge vigilante actions of criminals like Dara Singh who take upon themselves ‘to teach lessons’ to persons serving lepers and the poor. Did the SC ever take into consideration the report of the Wadhwa Commission which was set up to probe the murder of Graham Staines and which had observed, “There has been no extraordinary increase in the Christian population in Keonjhar district between 1991 and 1998. The population had increased by 595 during this period and could have been caused by natural growth.” The SC ruling may in fact send the wrong signals to courts trying cases of religious violence in Kandhamal, for instance, and in other places. It also tends to preempt possible challenges to the black laws enacted by many states in the guise of Freedom of Religion Bills.

The secular India looks at SC and other judicial forums as its last hope to preserve Constitutional guarantees given to religious minorities and other marginalized groups. It is, therefore, understandly disturbed when judgments such as this one and the Allahabad-Lucknow Bench ruling on Ayodhya are made and interpreted as supporting the bigoted point of view of right wing fundamentalists such as the Sangh Parivar.

The state cannot abrogate its responsibilities to ensure the secular fabric of the country. We expect the government to ask the SC to expunge the unnecessary, uncalled for and unconstitutional remarks.

Anand Patwardhan
Fr. Dominic Emanuel, New Delhi
Harsh Mander, Member, National Integration Council
John Dayal, Member, National Integration Council
Navaid Hamid, Member, National Integration Council
HL Hardenia, Editor, Secular Democracy
Praful Bidwai, Columnist
Ram Puniyani, Mumbai
Shabnam Hashmi, ANHAD
Shahid Siddiqui, ex-M.P.
Seema Mustafa, Journalist
Dr Zafarul-Islam Khan, Editor, The Milli Gazette   Related Stories:
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