Sunday, February 5, 2023

Supreme Court adjourns plea seeking directions to stop attacks against Christians, their institutions to August 25

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The Supreme Court on Tuesday adjourned to August 25, a petition seeking directions to stop violence and mob attacks against the members of Christian community in various states across the country and the implementation of SC’s guidelines to curb hate crimes.

The order was passed by a bench comprising Justice D.Y. Chandrachud and Justice A.S. Bopanna, after Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Central government, apprised the Court that the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has filed an affidavit in the case.

The affidavit said that as per the inputs it has received, the majority of incidents cited by the petitioner as attack on Christians were wrongfully projected in news reports.

It said the information gathered by the petitioner was based on media reports, ‘independent’ online databases and findings of various non-profit organisations. Enquiries revealed that majority of the incidents alleged as Christian persecution in these reports were either false or wrongfully projected, noted the Ministry.

Ii said in some cases, incidents of purely criminal nature and arising out of personal issues, were categorised as violence targeting Christians, while several other incidents, which were either found to be true or exaggerated, were not necessarily related to incidents of violence targeting Christians.

After the SG apprised the Court about the affidavit filed by MHA, Senior Counsel Colin Gonsalves, representing petitioner Archbishop of Bangalore Diocese Dr. Peter Machado and others, sought time to file a rejoinder. The Court then adjourned the matter to August 25.

The Ministry contended that in some cases, incidents of purely criminal nature and arising out of personal issues were categorised as violence targeting Christians.

It further alleged that incidents, wherein mere complaints or accusations were made against Christians had also been cited as instances of persecution of a particular community in the report.

As per the affidavit, incidents of minor disputes with no religious or communal angle had also been published as instances of violence against Christians.

The Ministry mentioned an incidence, in which one Varsha and her family (Christian) were reported to have been “heckled by some people at their home in Shahgarh (district Sagar, Madhya Pradesh) for not celebrating Diwali (November 6, 2021)”. However, when the government checked the facts, it was found that there was a private dispute between the two parties, which had nothing to do with religious background of the two parties. The affidavit alleged that a local dispute between two parties was given a religious colour.

The affidavit also accused the petitioners of assuming a communal reason in any alleged crime, wherein the victim practiced a particular religion, same ascertaining even the basic facts.

The affidavit alleged that about 162 incidents were not truthfully recorded and the remaining 139 were either false or deliberately projected wrongfully as instances of targeted violence against Christians.

The Ministry said that Police had taken prompt action in most of the cases and conducted necessary investigation as per rules.

Earlier this month also, the Apex Court had adjourned hearing in the matter.

Appearing for the petitioner, Senior Advocate Colin Gonsalves had said earlier this month, “It is an unfortunate situation, more than 500 attacks have occurred on Christian institutions. We are seeking a relief similar to the one in lynching cases.”

The Bench, headed by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, replied, “There is already a judgement in Tehseen Poonawala. We have to see if that framework is being followed. We cannot enquire into individual cases.”

The petitioner’s Counsel then said that some tweaking of Tehseen Poonawala verdict might be required in the case.

The plea sought directions to set up Special Investigation Teams with officers from outside the states where the incidents had happened, register FIRs, conduct criminal investigations and prosecute the criminal offenders in accordance with law.

The petition also sought direction to the SITs to file closure reports in cases where false counter FIRs have been filed by the assailants against the victims.

It sought implementation of the guidelines issued in the Tehseen Poonawala judgement, in which nodal officers were to be appointed to take note of hate crimes and register FIRs across the nation.

In 2018, the Apex Court had issued guidelines for both the Central and State governments to control and prevent the increasing number of hate crimes, including mob violence and lynching.

The SC guidelines mentioned conduct of trials in fast-tracked courts, victim compensation, deterrent punishment and disciplinary action against lax law-enforcing officials.

The Supreme Court, while issuing the guidelines, had said that offences, including hate crimes, cow vigilantism and lynching, should be nipped in the bud.

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