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SC takes back conversion remark in Staines case

Severe criticism of its remarks over conversion has forced the Supreme Court to expunge its controversial observations on the subject in the judgment holding Dara Singh and Mahendra Hebram guilty of burning Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two sons to death in 1999.

delhi Updated: Jan 25, 2011 23:36 IST
Bhadra Sinha

Severe criticism of its remarks over conversion has forced the Supreme Court to expunge its controversial observations on the subject in the judgment holding Dara Singh and Mahendra Hebram guilty of burning Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two sons to death in 1999.

The bench headed by Justice P Sathasivam clarified its earlier judgment on Tuesday and said it was recasting it with new lines.

The bench had on January 21 concurred with the Orissa HC verdict while declining to send Dara Singh to gallows.

It had held the case did not fall into the rarest of the rare category and imposed life imprisonment to Singh and Hebram while acquitting 12 others.

The bench had observed: "In the case on hand, though Graham Staines and his two minor sons were burnt to death... at Manoharpur, the intention was to teach a lesson to Graham Staines about his religious activities, namely, converting poor tribals to Christianity."

The bench has now replaced these lines with: "However, more than 12 years have elapsed since the act was committed, we are of the opinion that the life sentence awarded by the HC need not be enhanced in view of the factual position discussed in the earlier paras."

Similarly the bench has re-phrased another paragraph criticising conversion.

"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 flawed premise that one religion is better than the other."

The court has now changed it to: "There is no justification for interfering in someone's religious belief by any means."

Though it is rare for SC to expunge its remarks, it can do so under its inherent powers. Senior counsel Rajeev Dhawan said: "It is always open to a judge to suo-motu alter the judgment if a mistake has been made or an inconsistent overstatement of fact or law is made."