First Person | Majority Rule

The Dara Singh verdict shows that even judiciary is not impervious to propaganda

Ghazala WahabGhazala Wahab

After dragging on for nearly a decade, the Graham Staines’ and his two pre-pubescent sons’ killing case finally reached closure in the third week of January. The Supreme Court upheld the sentence of the Orissa high court, which had given life term to Dara Singh and his accomplice who led a mob of nearly 50 people to burn the threesome in their van which they used as their night-rest in the wilderness of Orissa’s Keonjhar district.

Pronouncing the verdict, the two-judge bench comprising Justice P. Sathasivam and B.S. Chauhan not only said that Dara Singh’s offence did not fall in the category of ‘rarest of the rare’ cases, they qualified their judgement by observing that, “We hope Mahatma Gandhi’s vision of religion playing a positive development integrating into a prosperous nation will be realised. There is no justification for interfering in someone’s belief through force, conversion or false premise that one religion is better than the other.”

It is of course Supreme Court’s prerogative to decide which case is rarest of rare. Perhaps, burning of an unarmed man and his two children while asleep happens all the time in India and the honourable judges may have come across several such instances in their long career, so one cannot argue with that. My argument is with the comment which qualified the judgement. By referring to religious conversion, the honourable judges effectively hinged their judgement on the theory of ‘cause and effect’. The Staines brought their fate upon themselves by converting the tribal people, either through temptation or coercion. Is this not the justification of the killing, which actually falls in the realms of terrorism? Even if Graham Staines was trying to convert the tribal people in the garb of charity (though his wife Gladys Staines repeatedly denied it and subsequently even forgave Dara Singh and his henchmen), were his two sons, aged seven and nine, also busy harvesting the souls of hapless tribal for their salvation? Or were they, collateral damage?

Following a near outrage, the SC subsequently expunged these remarks from the judgement saying that it decided against the death sentence because the case is very old. It is not my case that Messrs Dara Singh should be hanged to death. I oppose capital punishment. And I equally oppose the gratuitous manner in which the victim is made responsible for his own victimhood.

This judgement reflects how the judiciary has succumbed to the old RSS bogey of Hindus being reduced to a minority in their country by the twin assaults of excessive procreation by the Muslims and conversions by the Christians. Judiciary is the third pillar of our democracy and if this pillar is held up by people who are swayed by false propaganda then we need to be worried. Judiciary is an institution which is held to be infallible, incorruptible and completely unbiased. Insidious ideological subversion of institutions like these is a matter of alarm.

There is no denying the fact that India is one of the best countries to live for the minorities. Forget about the Constitutional rights and polity, the nature of the society itself is such that one does not face widespread discrimination anywhere, stray incidents notwithstanding. Sure, India has a history of communal violence, but fortunately it has never had overt State support or sanction, though there may have been tacit support from some in the local administration.

With the exception of Gujarat, after most communal riots, the incumbent state governments have usually fallen out of favour of the public. Following the Bombay riots of the 1992-93, the Shiv Sena-BJP combine government lost the election. Though BJP’s winning of the first assembly elections of Delhi in 1993 could be attributed to the rising fortunes of the party, but part of the reason was also the lingering memories of the anti-Sikh riots of 1984. The ghost of those riots continues to haunt the Congress party. This reinforces my belief that religious prejudice does not run deep amongst Indians; and they abhor the violent manifestation of this prejudice. The communal prejudice may figure in private conversations, but seldom in public discourses, discounting, of course, some electoral speeches made by sundry BJP leaders.

Yet, as much as above is a truism, there is an insidious reality that has been creeping in, almost unnoticed: the spread of majoritarianism in the public sphere or Hinduisation, if one can be direct, of the society, whereby religious rituals are increasingly being imposed as cultural practices. As a result, it is no longer the fringe element which believes in the Hindutva bogeys perpetuated by the RSS. Forget about the lunatic bunch that pours vitriol on various blogs on the Internet, secure in their anonymity, qualified and well-placed people, who one thinks would have had better exposure to multiculturalism and multi-ethnicity, are increasingly succumbing to various insecurities like the fear of marginalisation in their own country and are becoming intolerant of the other.

Probably, this educated intolerance may not turn violent in the streets, but it takes away from the cohesive security of a multi-cultural society whose tolerance makes it a mosaic instead of a melting pot where minority quirks are sought to be purged.


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