Church Attacks 2.0: Why Supreme Court Should Ask Tough Questions And Impose High Costs On Malicious PILs

by R Jagannathan - Aug 17, 2022 11:19 AM +05:30 IST
Church Attacks 2.0: Why Supreme Court Should Ask Tough Questions And Impose High Costs On Malicious PILsThe Supreme Court of India. (Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
Snapshot
  • The Supreme Court has a golden opportunity to stamp out motivated PILs.

Barely days after the Chief Justice of India-designate, U U Lalit, talked about imposing mandatory costs on “frivolous” litigation in courts, his likely successor, Justice D Y Chandrachud, is hearing a petition by Christian groups claiming that attacks on them are increasing.

One need not call a case involving these alleged attacks as “frivolous” without examination, but it can be “malicious and motivated”, and should be dealt with even more sternly than just frivolous cases.

The Centre trashed the public interest litigation (PIL) as based on “falsehood, half-truths and exaggerated incidents”, pointing out factual incorrectness in the PIL, which relied on a partisan report titled “Hate and Targeted Violence Against Christians in India, 2021”, compiled by the Evangelical Fellowship of India — Religious Liberty Commission. A fact-check by the Association for the Protection of Civil Rights found that many, if not most, of allegations contained in this report were unfounded.

The court should take note of the Centre’s statement, made by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, that “there appears to be some hidden agenda in filing such deceptive petitions…perhaps for getting assistance from outside the country to meddle with (the) internal affairs of our nation”. Mehta pointed out that there was nothing in the petition that could not have been dealt with by the normal law and order machinery in any state.

There are several reasons why the Supreme Court should push back against such motivated PILs and impose high costs on the petitioners.

First, even assuming some of the 'attacks' are genuine, the Supreme Court is hardly the right forum to address them, when such incidents may be restricted to a few states or even a few districts.

Second, if even a handful of the incidents are, on closer scrutiny, found to be false or fabricated, the court would be right to impose high penalties on the petitioners. No petitioner should come to the court with false and unauthenticated claims. In our country, perjury is hardly punished, and even though this is a preliminary hearing, false statements must be harshly denounced by the bench and monetary penalties imposed.

Third, the Supreme Court should also be asking some tough questions of the petitioners and not merely wasting the time and resources of the Centre and judicial officers in other states when no significant prima facie case may be made out at all.

The questions to ask are: (1) Are there incidents validated by the district authorities in the relevant states? If not, go and fetch those confirmations before coming to the highest courts;

(2) Are similar incidents reported involving other communities, including the Hindu community? What is the relative proportion of incidents involving various communities? Is it the Constitution’s job only to protect minorities?

(3) Have you (the petitioners) tried to sort the issues out with the district police or state authorities? What was the result?

(4) Why did you not approach the High Courts in the matter in the relevant states concerned?

(5) Has the PIL been filed in Delhi just so that it can receive global coverage?

(6) Who compiled the data on attacks, and how, and what is their agenda? What are their vested interests?

(7) If Christians are seeking justice in India, will they commit not to approach any other political or judicial forum abroad for redressal?

Fourth, when a bench can off-hand hold Nupur Sharma single-handedly responsible all the murderous attacks on Hindus in various parts of the country that followed her alleged blasphemy (something still to be proven), surely the big question to ask is: what did you do to provoke such attacks on yourselves, assuming some of the incidents are true?

Does freedom of religion mean an endless right to proselytise using any means, including resources from outside India, which can destabilise inter-community relationships?

The Supreme Court bench should not be so naive as to presume that what is claimed by various minority communities is necessarily true, when both Christianity and Islam have a history of claiming victimhood and persecution.

At a time when mobs are actually running around town threatening Hindus with “sar tan se juda”, why does the Christian community alone think that it is under attack?

The judges would do well to read Candida Moss’s book titled The Myth of Persecution, which exposes the Christian claims to martyrdom because of state persecution.

In the entire history of the pagan world, there was formal persecution of Christians only for around 10 years, she notes. But talk of Christian martyrdom rises to a cacophony in all countries where proselytising groups operate.

In India, we have seen how minor incidents involving churches suddenly morph into attacks against the community in general (“Delhi church attacks”), or the Jhabua nun rape, both of which turned out to be hoaxes.

The Supreme Court has a golden opportunity to stamp out motivated PILs.

Jagannathan is Editorial Director, Swarajya. He tweets at @TheJaggi.
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