Thou shalt not preach (nor convert): Apex Court

New Delhi: By giving Dara Singh, the killer of Graham Staines and his two sons, the benefit of not falling among the “rarest of rare cases”, the Supreme Court has sown the seeds of a national anti-conversion bill. “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,” clearly establishes the point that if one, inspite of these sane observations, continues to preach or convert, one should be ready to be taught “a lesson” and his killers will not be governed by the “rarest of rare” principle, even if he burns to death three souls including two young boys.

The verdict on Dara Singh’s life imprisonment would not have been controversial but for the justification of granting him leniency on the pretext of teaching Graham Staines “a lesson” – of course, a fatal lesson which the court does not deem worthy of capital punishment. The verdict did raise quite a few eyebrows and within a couple of days, the court took a suo motto cognisance of comments from various quarters and revised its own version.

Rajinder Puri of the Statesman dated 24 January thanked the court for correcting his perceptions about Hitler. “I had often wondered what would have happened had Hitler survived the war. Now I think I know. Hitler, it may be recalled, was very critical of the Jews because they dabbled in international trade, became affluent, dominated the German economy, and in Hitler’s eyes diminished German national interest.... so to teach the Jews a lesson Hitler gassed six millions to death,” he wrote.

One wonders wherefrom did the learned bench find evidence of “conversion” in Staines’ case. There was neither force nor inducement nor was a claim of superiority of the Christian faith over tribal belief. A nominal increase of 595 could have been due to natural growth argues Statesman in its editorial dated 26 January. If “one religion is better than the other” is a flawed premise; how would you justify “gharvapsi” (re-conversion of Christians) to the Hindu fold? However, Pioneer is sore over the amendment. Arguing “that the Supreme court, in its original judgement had sought to minimise the horrific crime…. The ghastly incident happened…. where tribals had begun to resent missionaries converting fellow tribals to Christianity, thus upsetting the social equilibrium and morphing their cultural identity. The Supreme Court’s judgement is a stern reiteration of the fact that the guilty men acted in an unconscionable manner and deserved the punishment meted out to them: life imprisonment. But to the credit of the Bench, it also provided a context to the crime…. Such elaboration is perfectly acceptable and, in this newspaper’s opinion, added balance to the verdict…. The SC should have stood up to those questioning its integrity. Tragically, it chose to capitulate, setting a dangerous precedent.” (Editorial, January 27).

The judgement, of course, overlooked the findings of the Wadhwa Commission which probed the murders and observed that the extent of conversion activities had been exaggerated. Even if Staines was “guilty” of conversion were his six - and ten-year-old sons also “guilty” to deserve such “lesson”?