The Centre has brought on record data from eight states before the Supreme Court to claim that plea alleging increasing attacks on Christians across the country is an “attempt by the petitioners to paint a false picture”, and petitions like these are “projected outside the country to say “look Christians are in danger”, which is a concern for the government.
In a compliance affidavit, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said: “It is submitted that perusal of the verification reports furnished reveals that state governments have stated that majority of the incidents (263 out of 495) from the list furnished by the counsel for the petitioner(s) have not been reported to them”.
The affidavit said out of 232 incidents, which have been reported to the concerned state Governments, the matter(s) were resolved in 73 incidents amicably with mutual agreement between both the parties. “These 73 incidents were related to land disputes, family disputes, superstitious practices, violation of Covid-19 guidelines and other trivial issues. FIR/non-FIR complaints were registered in the remaining 155 cases,” it added.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Centre, and advocate Sumeer Sodhi, representing the Chhattisgarh government, opposed arguments made by senior advocate Colin Gonsalves, representing the petitioners, before a bench headed by Chief Justice D.Y. Chandrachud.
Mehta said, “They want to keep the pot boiling that is very apparent…in fact there are 64 arrests in Chhattisgarh…state governments are saying that most of the incidents never happened…and this would be projected outside the country…look Christians are in danger…that is our concern.” Gonsalves said it is not a question of arrests, “you attack and then you put us behind…once see the data lordships”.
According to the Centre, in Bihar the petitioners claimed 38 incidents (attack on Christians), however state government reported 15 incidents, out of which five matters were resolved amicably between both the parties, 12 accused were arrested and charge sheets have been filed in two cases.
In Chhattisgarh, 119 incidents were claimed by the petitioners, however the state government reported 36 incidents and in 12 incidents matters were related to family disputes, which was resolved amicably, and 64 accused were arrested and charge sheets have been filed in 13 cases.
In Uttar Pradesh, 150 incidents were claimed by the petitioners, but 70 incidents were reported by the state government. It further added that 44 FIRs were registered and 72 accused were arrested and 33 were served notice under section 41-A of CrPC, and charge sheets have been filed in 30 cases.
During the hearing, Mehta, stressing petitioners’ data on number of attacks on Christians is incorrect, submitted that in Bihar, petitioners claimed 38 incidents, but these were fights between neighbours where one happens to be a Christian, and fights were resolved and whenever there is a grave offence, arrests have happened.
Mehta also questioned the data from the helpline referred by the petitioners, on which whoever reported an incident was counted.
After hearing submissions, the bench also comprising Justices P.S. Narasimha and J.B. Pardiwala, noted that the counsel for petitioners says MHA’s affidavit was received last night and time should be granted to the petitioners to file a response if needed, and listed the matter for further hearing after three weeks. The petition has been filed by Most Rev. Dr. Peter Machado and others.
The MHA’s affidavit said that it is evident from the information furnished by the concerned state governments that the counsel for the petitioners has exaggerated the number of incidents and many incidents alleged as Christian persecution in the report of the counsel for the petitioners may have been either false or wrongly projected.
“It is submitted that many trivial disputes between two parties are likely to have been given religious colour. For example – in relation to an incident in the district Jaunpur, Uttar Pradesh, the Counsel for the petitioner(s) in their report, has claimed that the police barged in and disrupted the prayer of pastor Prem Singh and warned the pastor to discontinue with their services as well as detained the pastor. However, the verification report of the government of Uttar Pradesh reveals that there is a land dispute between pastor Prem Singh and a local resident, named Vijay Kumar. Police action in the matter was projected as persecution of Christians. The matter was deliberately given religious colour,” said the affidavit.
The affidavit further added that in reference to ‘Christians Under Attack in India’ — a fact finding report prepared by the Association for Protection of Civil Right (APCR), the UCF, and United Against Hate (UAH), the verification reports received from concerned state governments thereof reveals that many allegations and observations made in the report were found to be unfounded and the majority of the incidents quoted either were false or deliberately exaggerated, and uncorroborated.
“The incidents, quoted here, from the UCF, PR (Persecution Relief) and EFI/ RLC’s (Evangelical Fellowship of India- Religious Liberty Commissions) reports were based on the alleged calls on their helpline and social media sites and the said organisation have no mechanism to corroborate the incidents reported to them over the helpline or their websites,” it added.
The MHA said India is a vibrant pluralistic society founded on strong democratic principles and practices and the Indian Constitution guarantees fundamental rights to all citizens, including the Right to Freedom of Religion under Article 25 to 28 of the Constitution, and all persons have equal right to practice, profess and propagate their religion peacefully.
The affidavit said the attempt of the petitioners is to paint a particularly false picture for aims unknown and it is submitted that the country is governed by the rule of law and the attempt of the petitioners is to create a false narrative through the present Article 32 petition must be deprecated.
“It is submitted that the present petition is an attempt to short-circuit the process of law followed by the entire country that ought to be stalled. Therefore, in view of the aforementioned, it is denied that there is any violation of fundamental rights as enshrined under the Constitution of India, as alleged. It is, therefore, humbly prayed that the petition may be dismissed,” said the affidavit.