Center tells Supreme Court of opposing plea by Catholic bishop and evangelical group

The central government opposed a PIL filed seeking instructions to stop alleged attacks on Christians in the country saying the petitioners resorted to ‘lie and some selfish selective documents‘ and mere guesswork.

The preliminary objection was filed by the Central Government through the Deputy Secretary of the Ministry of Home Affairs in response to the PIL filed by the Archbishop of the Diocese of Bangalore, Dr. Peter Machado, with the National Solidarity Forum, the Evangelical Community of India.

Solicitor General of India Tushar Mehta today informed a bench consisting of Justices DY Chandrachud and AS Bopanna that the Center has filed a Preliminary Notice of Objections. Lead Counsel, Dr. Colin Gonsalves, representing the petitioners, has requested time to respond to the Centre’s memo. As a result, the case was adjourned to August 25.

The Centre’s response says the petitioners had relied on information gathered from news articles, “independent” online databases and findings from various non-profit organisations. The Center said “investigations reveal that the majority of incidents alleged as Christian persecution in these reports were either false or misrepresented.”

“The petitioners claimed to have based the petition on information gathered through sources such as news articles (The Wire, The Scroll, Hindustan Times, Dainik Bhaskar, etc.), ‘independent’ online databases and findings from various non-profit organizations. It is alleged that investigations reveal that the majority of incidents alleged as Christian persecution in these reports were either false or misrepresented,” the Center’s memo states.

He further claims that criminal cases stemming from personal issues were given a community color. The Center’s response suggests that any complaint filed against Christians has been cited as a case of community persecution. He argues that the legal actions taken by the local administration against the illegal constructions are also projected as targeting a particular religion.

An illustration provided by the central government to support its claim reads as follows –

“…it was mentioned that a Varsha and her (Christian) family were heckled by some people at their home in Shahgarh (Sagar district, Madhya Pradesh) for not celebrating Diwali (November 6, 2021). However , it seems that there was a private dispute between the two parties, which had nothing to do with the religious backgrounds of both parties.In the said case, both parties had filed complaints and counter-complaints the against each other with the local police.

He points out that the reports on which the petitioners are relying are misleading and self-serving. The allegation that the police were negligent and biased was also countered as baseless.

On the contrary, the Centre’s response states that the police took prompt action and carried out the necessary investigations in accordance with the law. It points to the Evangelical Fellowship of India-Religious Liberty Commission (EFI-RLC) report titled “Hate and Targeted Violence against Christians in India, 2021”, in which, according to the Center, 162 incidents went unrecorded faithfully and the remaining 139 were either false or deliberately projected as violence against members of the Christian community. The report prepared by the Association for the Protection of Civil Rights (APCR), the UCF and United Against Hate (UAH) is also attacked on the grounds that, according to preliminary investigations, the facts and figures provided therein do not are unfounded; unsubstantiated. The Center’s response lists the reports the petitioners have relied on that it says contain distorted facts. He notes –

“It is a recent trend that some organizations start planting articles and preparing selfish reports themselves or through their associates, which eventually become the basis for a written petition/PIL. a dangerous trend and defeats the very purpose of why PIL jurisdiction was created by this honorable court.”

It is argued that there appears to be an indirect motive behind the petitions; it is alleged that the agenda could be to create unrest throughout the country and possibly to get help from foreign countries to meddle in India’s internal affairs. The response reflects that the Center believes it is appropriate for affected parties to direct their grievances to state law enforcement agencies or the respective high courts.

At the last hearing date, a Panel composed of Judges DY Chandrachud and JB Pardiwala clarified that he will not go into the investigation of individual cases. She noted that stopping Tehseen Poonawalla v. Indian Union, in which the Supreme Court had issued a series of instructions regarding mob violence and lynching, already in place, in the present proceedings, the Court must simply see whether the framework is followed by the state government. In this regard, the Centre’s response indicates that another chamber of the Supreme Court which is already seized of the question of the implementation of the guidelines in Tehseen Poonawalla had asked state governments to report compliance with said guidelines.

[Case Title: Most Rev Dr. Peter Machado v UOI & Ors.] WRITTEN APPLICATION (CRIMINAL) NO. 137 OF 2022

Barry F. Howard