SC reconverts Staines verdict

January 30, 2011
Pioneer News Service | New Delhi |

The Supreme Court on Tuesday came out with a revised version of its own judgement in the Graham Staines murder case, omitting certain comments relating to conversion and describing Dara Singh’s action as "intended to teach Staines a lesson for indulging in conversion".

Staines, an Australian missionary, was burnt alive along with his two sons 12 years ago in a tribal village in Odisha.

Dropping the two objectionable portions about conversion from the original text, the Bench of Justices P Sathasivan and BS Chauhan limited its observation to state, "There is no justification for interfering in someone’s religious belief by any means."

On the other portion relating to the "intention" of Dara Singh, the Bench dumped the reference completely and instead preferred to state, "However, more than 12 years has elapsed since the act was committed, we are of the opinion that the life sentence awarded by the High Court need not be enhanced in view of the factual position discussed in the earlier paragraphs."

While discussing whether Dara Singh merited death for such a heinous offence, the Bench on Thursday had 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 Bench had added, "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."

Taking serious objection to the above two portions in the judgement text, Christian groups questioned the need for the court to express its views on conversion and use it as a means to justify the act of Dara Singh. Perhaps this acted as the trigger for the Supreme Court to sense the tense religious sentiments and offer to suo moto revise its decision.

Before pronouncing the revised order, the Bench did not make any mention about the circumstances that led it to change the order. The matter was listed in the usual business of the court with prior intimation given to the lawyers appearing on both sides in the matter.