In a rare instance of the Supreme Court acting suo motu to amend its own judgment, a two-judge Bench on Tuesday expunged the remarks it made last week in the Australian missionary Graham Staines case verdict that the intention of Dara Singh to commit the triple murder “was to teach a lesson to Graham Staines about his religious activities, namely converting poor tribals to Christianity.”
The decision comes against the backdrop of civil society taking exception to the court's observations, which, according to it, were unwarranted given the facts and circumstances of the case.
The relevant paragraph in the January 21 judgment by Justices P. Sathasivam and B.S. Chauhan read: “Though Graham Staines and his two minor sons were burnt to death while they were asleep 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. All these aspects have been correctly appreciated by the [Orissa] High Court and [it] modified the sentence of death into life imprisonment with which we concur.”
In Tuesday's modification order, the Bench deleted this passage and replaced it with the following sentence: “However, 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 [to the death penalty] in view of the factual position discussed in the earlier paras.”
In another portion of the January 21 judgment, the court 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.”
On Tuesday, the Bench said: “This portion is now replaced with the following sentence: There is no justification for interfering in someone's religious belief by any means.” The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) welcomed the judges' decision to suo motu expunge these two sentences as they were seen to be liable to misinterpretation and liable to be misused by bigots with ulterior motives.
The GCIC expressed its appreciation of civil society and the media for the wholehearted support extended to peace-loving Christians after the Staines case verdict. The GCIC placed on record its deep appreciation of Chief Justice of India S.H. Kapadia, and his companion judges for setting the record in the right perspective.