Yes, the Supreme Court could have refrained from saying, “to teach Graham Satines a lesson”

Bajrang Dal activist Dara Singh, along with his henchmen, had burned to death the Australian Christian missionary Graham Staines along with his two small sons. It was perhaps one of the most gruesome crimes committed in independent India against helpless people and the entire country reeled under outrage, anger and frustration. Dara Singh back then, deservedly, was one of the most hated persons in the country, whether you agreed with his “cause” or not.

When these murderers had come to kill the father and the sons (one son was 10 and the other, 6) Graham Staines pleaded with them to let the children go and do with him whatever they wanted to do, but they didn’t allow that. They burned the station wagon along with the 3 occupants and they used long sticks to push the children and the father inside the burning station wagon when they tried to jump out. It’s a heartbreaking story. That it happened on Indian soil should make every Indian hang his or her head in shame.

Dara Singh got life sentence for his barbaric act. Personally I believe it was in the category of rarest of the rare crimes and hence he deserved capital punishment, but that’s a different topic.

While upholding the life sentence recently, the Bench of Justices P. Sathasivan and B. S. Chauhan said, “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 Manoharpur, the intention was to teach a lesson to Graham Staines about his religious activities, namely, converting poor tribals to Christianity.”

The judges further said, “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.”

A group of editors, media groups and civil society members have raised an objection to the expression of “the intention was to teach a lesson to Graham Staines…” used by the Supreme Court Bench. They have termed the statement as “gratuitous”, “unconstitutional” and have said that it goes against the “freedom of faith” guaranteed by the Constitution.

Now, personally I don’t hold the people who have raised the objection in high esteem because I’m 100% sure that had such remarks been made against the Hindu community, they wouldn’t have had an objection and in fact, they would have open heartedly endorsed the observation. So, personally, I don’t believe that these “luminaries” have the good of the society in their hearts while raising objection to such remarks by the Supreme Court judges.

You can immediately see the double standards of these people having objections with the following statement: “Judgements such as this one, and the Ayodhya verdict delivered by the Allahabad High Court were disturbing because they could be interpreted as supporting the bigoted point of view of right wing fundamentalists such as the Sangh Parivar.” What they mean is, any judgement that seems to be in favour of the Hindu community caters to the fundamentalists among them. This is as stupid and as misguided as it gets.

So just as the intentions of Dara Singh were not true, the intentions of these editors, society members and heads of media groups are also not true.

These remarks should be expunged, but they shouldn’t be expunged because these the so-called guardians of secularism and pluralism demand, they should be expunged because they are not right.

As a civil society, we should refrain from remarks such as “they were trying to teach them a lesson” especially when such remarks are coming from a Supreme Court judgement. This is not the language of the judges, this is the language of the roadside goons. The murder was barbaric no matter what the motivation. It was a cold-blooded murder committed by heinous criminals. It had nothing to do with the protection of one’s religion against another’s. The criminals deserve severest of punishments.

Instead the judges should have made some observations on the rampant conversion that takes place and the sense of resentment it breeds among local communities. This is something that should be seriously dealt with and laws must be defined. Had the Hindu society made a timely intervention, such a gruesome act wouldn’t have happened. Had there been stricter laws against conversions, the Staines wouldn’t have lost their lives.

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