01/24/2011, 00.00
INDIA

Christian leaders denounce dangerous Supreme Court comments on the murder of Graham Staines

Nirmala Carvalho
While confirming the life sentence for the main culprit of the heinous crime, the court added a few remarks on non-existent forced conversions that seem to justify sectarian and anti-Christian violence. Cardinal Gracias, "I'm worried about the interpretations that may be given to this view, and especially for the implications that this ruling could have in the future."

Mumbai (AsiaNews) - The Supreme Court upheld a life sentence for Dara Singh (pictured), responsible for the murder of Pastor Graham Staines and his two children in 1999. (01/21/2011 Life in prison for Dara Singh, assassin of Pastor Graham Staines). But some side comments on the judgment appear ambiguous and dangerous because they seem to justify inter-religious and anti-Christian violence. Cardinal Oswald Gracias, President of the Bishops' Conference of India, has expressed deep concern at the Supreme Court comments for the murder of Graham Staines and his two children, stating that "the intention was to give a Graham Staines a lesson for his religious activities, especially converting the poor tribals to Christianity. "

Speaking to AsiaNews, the cardinal states: " While I am happy with the decision of the Judges not to give the death penalty, because I am against a death sentence, I am worried about the implications and interpretations of the remarks. From a legal point of view, the word “intent” is worrisome and could be dangerous. I am concerned about f the interpretations that could be given to this judgments and importantly the implications that this judgments could have  in the future.  There is a possibility that could be interpreted as something that gives license to others and the other possible interpretations is one s does not respect the constitutional guarantees and freedoms given to each and every citizen of our country including our Dalit and Tribal brothers and sisters".

The President of the Indian Bishops' Conference continues:: “The fact is the Commission found that there was no significant increase in the number of Christians and importantly Graham Staines was doing a service for the Leprosy patients and there is absolutely no evidence of any ‘forced’ conversions- and the Church is completely against forced conversion.- so I am deeply concerned about the implications of this judgments. From the point of view of Freedom of Faith- everyone is free ‘Constitutionally” to practice preach and propagate his own beliefs and faith.  Religious Freedom is Human Right, and importantly it is a Human Right for a person to present his own beliefs to the others and it is importantly a  Human Right for every human person to freely accept a religious practice and beliefs”.

Even Christian groups for human rights - - All India Christian Council, the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) and Civil Society – are concerned about the judges' comments on cases of inter-religious violence linked to conversion. Civil Society in particular, criticises this observation of the Supreme Court: " It is undisputed - it states - 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".  Thus, the court raises the ghostly spectre of supposedly forced conversions.

According to Civil Society, "The Supreme Court 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 Supreme Court and other judicial forums as its last hope to preserve constitutional gurantees given to religious minorities and other marginalized groups. The state can not abrogate its responsibilities to ensure the secular fabric of the country. We expect the government to ask the Supreme Court to expunge the unnecessary, uncalled for and unconstitutional remarks".
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