Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Who Killed Australian Missionary Graham Staines?

Arun Shourie

The findings of the Justice Wadhwa Commission of Inquiry

On the face of it, the report of the Wadhwa Commission on the murder of the Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two sons should have been very welcome to our secular friends. Justice Wadhwa has concluded that the main person who organised the attack was Rabindra Kumar Pal alias Dara Singh, and that his motive in doing so was "misplaced fundamentalism", namely his conviction that conversions by missionaries were threatening Hinduism. He also records evidence to the effect that Dara Singh had been involved in an activity which, in the eyes of secularists, is as deplorable as an activity can get: protection of cows from slaughter.

But no, the secularists are all in rage. "A stained report," "A whitewash," "A politically tutored report" -- they have been shouting. Justice Wadhwa has failed the litmus test: if only he had included a sentence -- a single sentence! -- imputing -- howsoever obliquely -- that Dara Singh was in some way affiliated to some organization that can be linked to the RSS or the BJP, what applause would have greeted the Report!

But the Judge has stuck to evidence. Hence the fury! For our friends, a Commission of Inquiry is credible only if it is useful!

In fact, the Report is instructive on many counts. Not to heed them is to condemn the country to further problems.

The first to draw a lesson should be the press. In Chapter 10, Justice Wadhwa takes up "Other Proximate Incidents." The first of these is the alleged rape of Sister Jacqueline Mary on 3 February, 1999. "Orissa nun raped in moving car," the headlines declared, Justice Wadhwa records. "Orissa's second stain: nun raped," shouted the Indian Express, "Nun gangraped by men in sari in Orissa," hollered The Telegraph. The village "has become the rallying point of Christians of the area," the papers proclaimed. "The press, on the basis of some statement made by the pastor of the Church highlighted the role of some Hindu fundamentalist organizations," writes Justice Wadhwa. "....It was termed as a planned attack on the Church. It was said that there was a role of communal forces.... Electronic media was not far behind. It was highlighted as an anti-Christian attack." "Do not treat this as an isolated incident," the papers quoted teachers of a Christian convent school saying, "A communal conspiracy is suspected to be behind the rape."

There indeed was a conspiracy, and a communal one at that. The whole thing was a concoction -- by those whose agenda it is to paint Hindus as communalists on the rampage, and the RSS, BJP etc. as organizations which are orchestrating a "pogrom". "Investigations, however, revealed that what Sister Mary said in the FIR was not true," records Justice Wadhwa. "It was a made up story. Investigations found that there was in fact no rape of Sister Mary.... B. B. Panda, D(irector) G(eneral) (of) P(olice) stated that the 'rape of the nun' case was projected and highlighted all over the world and was also projected as an attack on Christians when in fact it was not true, and the case turned out to be false."

The second incident occurred on 7 February, 1999. Two children, aged 10 and 19, were found murdered, a third had sustained injuries. "This incident again attracted a great deal of publicity in the media, including electronic media," writes Justice Wadhwa. "Newspapers came up with the headings, 'Two Christians killed, one injured in Orissa,' '2 tribal Christians done to death in Kandhamal,' and 'Orissa hunts for Christians' killer'. Additional D. G. P. John Nayak reportedly said that the communal angle to the attempted rape and murder could not be ruled out...." "A certain political party even blamed the State and Central Governments," Justice Wadhwa recalls, "and stated that the inaction of the State Government in the Manoharpur missionary killing incident (the killing of Staines and his sons) and the alleged rape of the nun in Baripada encouraged miscreants to commit yet another crime in Kandhamal." "In short," he concludes, "as per various reports that appeared in the newspapers, the incident was taken as an attack on the Christians."

And what turned out to be the truth? "Ultimately investigation revealed that the crime was committed by a relative of the victims who was also a Christian," the Commission notes.

I'll come to the third incident in a moment, for it concerns an institution other than the press. The fourth incident occurred on 8 December, 1998. Tribals attacked the police station at Udaygiri, stormed the jail, dragged two undertrial prisoners out, and lynched them to death in front of the police station. After that, they burnt houses belonging to members of a particular caste, Pana. The incident too was projected as a Hindu-Christian encounter. It was nothing of the kind. The tribals were being harassed by criminals who happened to be from the Pana caste. The police had been doing nothing. One day the criminals robbed tribals of all their cash as they were proceeding to seek employment. That ignited the flash. But a Hindu-Christian clash it became!

That is one lesson, and Justice Wadhwa draws special attention to it: the press should not rush to conclusions before it has investigated the facts. The facts he has recorded urge that the caution be made specific: the press should be particularly wary of going by allegations of communalism-mongers.

The second institution which comes out most poorly is the Minorities Commission. For quite some time now, this Commission has been putting out patently partisan reports, reports so partisan as to appear to be designed to inflame. It is all too the good, therefore, that in the course of his inquiries into the incidents, Justice Wadhwa has given us a glimpse into the way it goes about its work. The incident I postponed mentioning is typical.

In it, in mid-March, 1999, Hindus -- a minority in the village -- were pictured as having sparked off Hindu-Christian clashes in village Ranalai. Christians painted a large Cross on a hillock. Some Hindus transfigured it into a Trishul. A peace committee consisting of representatives from both communities decided that there would be neither a Cross nor a Trishul. Next day, Hindus went and erased the sign. Christians alleged that while returning, Hindus shouted slogans proclaiming victory. Tension mounted. While trying to control the situation, a Circle Inspector of the police was manhandled by Christians. He registered an FIR against three of them. Houses of Christians were said to have been burned down. Cross-complaints were filed by Hindus and Christians -- each side accusing the other.

The Minorities Commission sent a team, and declared that the genesis of the trouble lay in BJP men inflaming feelings of the local Hindus and instructing them to convert the Cross into a Trishul. As for the incidents and tension, it came to the conclusion it always does: the Hindus had created the trouble.

Justice Wadhwa observes, "These findings are without examining any person on oath or receiving evidence on affidavits." The Minorities Commission had also stigmatized the State Government for inaction. Justice Wadhwa writes, "When the members of the Minorities Commission visited the village [within a fortnight of the supposed incidents], normalcy prevailed. Cases had already been registered against members of both the groups...." Justice Wadhwa shows that the Minorities Commission proceeded in a manner that is in manifest violation of its own statute.

And he quotes the account that The Economic Times correspondent filed after visiting the village. The 22 March, 1999 issue of the paper reported, Justice Wadhwa writes, "that roots of the Ranalai village incident in Gajapati district of Orissa in which houses of Christian families were burnt down by Hindu tribals of nearby villages lie in the economic disparities prevailing between the two communities. The report further said that tension had been building up since the night of February 9, when 23 houses of Hindu families were burnt down by criminals belonging to the Christian community of the nearby Jhami Gaon.... The report further stated that 'The unfortunate incident was largely unreported and totally ignored by national and international media'."

The constructions of the Minorities Commission on the Staines' murder turn out to be designed to colour that crime in the same hue. To take one example, Staines and his family were not involved in preaching of Christianity for the previous 10 years leading to conversion in Manoharpur, the Minorities Commission said in the report it sent to Justice Wadhwa. In fact, associates of Staines himself told the Wadhwa Commission that Staines used to conduct "Bible classes" at "Jungle camps." One of his oldest acquaintances told the Commission that Staines had been totally secretive about both the "Jungle camps" and the accounts etc. of the Leprosy House he ran. While some witnesses maintained that he never even attended baptisms, some reported that he did, that he provided vehicles for marriages and baptism functions. More telling is something of an order altogether different from the oral testimony of witnesses.

It turns out that Staines and his wife, Gladys, regularly filed despatches for a journal in Australia, Tidings. This journal is run by the missionary organization in Australia which financed Staines and his activities in Manoharpur. When the Commission learned about the despatches, it requested the concerned persons for copies of the journal. None were supplied! The Commission had to obtain these from other sources. Justice Wadhwa reproduces several extracts from the despatches.

"Graham and Gladys Staines, Mayurbhanj, 25 April, 1997: The first jungle camp in Ramchandrapur was a fruitful time and the Spirit of God worked among the people. About 100 attended and some were baptized at the camp. At present Misayel and some of the Church leaders are touring a number of places where people are asking for baptism. Five were baptized at Bigonbadi. Pray for the Etani Trust in which the Mission properties are vested. One man managed by underhand means to get parts of the property in his own name and a number of nominal Christians of the Baripada Church are also trying to get some of this valuable property for themselves. The Trust is having to take legal action to rectify this."

"Graham and Gladys Staines, Mayurbhanj, 23 July, 1997: Praise God for answered prayer in the recent Jagannath car festival at Baripada. A good team of preachers came from the village churches and four OM workers helped in the second part of the festival. There were record book sales, so a lot of literature has gone into the people's hand...." (Incidentally, "OM" is a carefully chosen acronym: the organization it signifies is actually one of the largest publishers and distributors of missionary literature!)

"Graham and Gladys Staines, Mayurbhanj, 19 September, 1997: Praise God we now have the Ho New Testament in Oriya script and many copies are now in the hands of the Ho people. Pray to God that it will be used of God to speak to many as they read his word in their own language...."

"Graham and Gladys Staines, Mayurbhanj, 11 February, 1998: Jungle camp means four days of Bible teaching, prayer and fellowship of Christians living together. It enables believers from other churches to meet with local Christians to discuss experiences and encourage one another.... The camp also can create hunger in the hearts of those who come just to observe. Each camp has a bookstall, which for many is the only chance to buy Christian literature.... It was also encouraging to see so many Ho people following the references in the Ho New Testament during the messages at Sarat Jungle camp. We sold all the New Testaments we took there...."

"Graham and Gladys Staines, Mayurbhanj, 20 March, 1998: "....Over the next two months there will be a programme of baptism in nearby villages for those asking for them. These are times for witness to non-Christians too...."

"Graham and Gladys Staines, Mayurbhanj, 19 May, 1998: There are many new believers in the Manoharpur Church and the work is growing. The devil is now finding opportunity to hinder the work of God. There is disagreement between the young people and the older men of the Church. A problem arose about the land on which the Church is built and the planned Vacation Bible School had to be canceled. Last year more than 100 children attended this programme. The translation of Daily Life into Oriya is complete...."

"Graham and Gladys Staines, Mayurbhanj, 19 June, 1998: In many churches here Sunday schools have ceased to function. I have been advocating these and at a recent Church leaders meeting I heard that some have re-started this work.... The Vacation Bible School that was to be held at Manoharpur was canceled because of problems in the Church there. Two hundred and eight children registered for the one at Raika.... It was an excellent time and some young people who teach in VBS are being trained and encouraged for children's work and Sunday school."

"Graham and Gladys Staines, Mayurbhanj, 21 August, 1998: ....There are still divisions in the Church at Manoharpur and the churches at Durakuntia and Burudi are very weak. It is wonderful to see the little girls being cared for in the Rairangpur hostel. They have a wonderful opportunity to learn to read and learn of the Lord...."

"Graham and Gladys Staines, Mayurbhanj, 18 September, 1998: Four men visited Manoharpur Church to discuss the problems there and much was sorted out. A man who wants to be the head of the Church wants to bring in or join with two other groups who do not teach and walk according to the scriptures...."

"Graham and Gladys Staines, Mayurbhanj, 19 December, 1998: It is encouraging to hear of some improvement in the Church at Manoharpur and that they are preparing for the jungle camp. Misayel, Paul and Nehemiah visited Patana in early December but, as many were away rice harvesting, they could meet only with a few. They were able to encourage a new believer who had been a priest of the Sana Dhoram, an animist sect. The village people pleaded with him not to become a Christian saying, 'How can we continue our worship if you leave us?' 'You can do as you like, but I am following Christ,' he said. Continue to pray. God is working."

The typical concerns of a typical missionary -- harvesting souls for the Church. The prejudices of a missionary -- Sanatana Dharma, an animist sect! While his wife and some others denied this, one of his close associates spoke of his "hatred" for other religions. This associate reported -- and even Gladys, Staines' wife, acknowledged -- that, if he happened to be at any non-Christian function, Graham Staines would never take prasad, as, Mrs. Staines claimed, doing so is prohibited in the Bible....

After reviewing the evidence, the Wadhwa Commission, therefore, concludes, "Besides his involvement with Leprosy House, Staines was also involved in missionary work. The missionary work of Staines has come to light from the various despatches sent by him to Australia, which are published in the newsletter, 'Tidings'. Staines also used to take part in baptism ceremonies although he may not have necessarily carried out the baptism himself. Paul Murmu says that Staines attended baptism ceremonies and marriage ceremonies of Christian families whenever he was available. However, it is the despatches sent by Staines to Australia in the newsletter 'Tidings' that make it clear that Staines was also involved in active propagation of his religion apart from his social work. It is also clear from the said despatches that conversions were taking place in jungle camps. The missionary work of Staines obviously included organizing and conducting jungle camps, translating the Bible in tribal languages, preaching of Bible to the tribals. It is obvious, therefore, that Staines was both a social worker engaged in the treatment and eradication of leprosy amongst the poorest of the poor and also a missionary driven by a deep commitment to his religion and the belief that he should spread its tenets amongst the people in the area. His missionary activities did lead to conversions of tribals to his faith."

But as far as the Minorities Commission is concerned, supresso veri, and pronounce! Even such misrepresentations by bodies such as the Minorities Commission are lessons in themselves. But, as we shall see, these are minor ones compared to other lessons which the Wadhwa Commission's Report holds out.

Having asserted that Graham Staines had not been involved in missionary work, the Minorities Commission asserted that cordial relations existed between Hindus and Christians, that there were no ill-feelings among them. The two assertions together set the stage for the main theme the Commission pressed: the murders were lightning out of the blue, they were the handiwork of Dara Singh, and Dara Singh in turn was affiliated to the Bajrang Dal.

While a number of Christian witnesses as well as some policemen told the Justice Wadhwa Commission that there was no communal tension in the area, others testified to the contrary. There had been tensions between the communities for seven years, they told the Commission. And for one reason.

The Australian missionary organization which was financing Staines had set up 20-25 churches in Mayurbhanj and Keonjhar districts, a linguist working with the Indian Evangelical Mission told the Commission. Jungle camps were used for baptizing persons, witnesses told the Commission. B. B. Panda, who was Director General of Police, Orissa from October, 1997 to March, 1999, stated in a report to the State Government that "Mr. Staines was attending Jungle Mela in Manoharpur for the last more than 20 years. Majority of the local Adivasi Christians had been converted to Christianity through his efforts." S. C. Bala, the Superintendent of Police of the Crime Branch, who investigated the case, was asked by the Wadhwa Commission about his assessment regarding the likely motive for the murders. He told the Commission that the motive "appeared to be that non-Christian people were aggrieved on the ground that Christian fathers/missionaries are converting the people to Christianity in a deceitful manner by giving allurements."

More telling are the despatches of Staines and his wife in Tidings, the newsletter of the Australian missionary organization. They themselves wrote about these tensions repeatedly.

"Graham and Gladys Staines, Mayurbhanj, 19 September, 1997: ....The Ho believers in Thakurmunda still face persecution. From time to time the village people have beaten them up, broken their bicycles and not allowed them to worship in their own Church building. Three people came to Baripada to meet district officials and petition for justice. Pray that action will be taken to allow freedom to worship."

"Graham and Gladys Staines, Mayurbhanj, 22 February, 1998: We have just arrived home from the Baliposi camp a day early. Some people from a Hindu militant group who are persecuting the Christians came to the camp but were not able to disturb the meetings. On the last day the police came and told us to stop the meeting and leave, as they would not be able to protect us...." -- election-related requirements left no men to spare.

"Graham and Gladys Staines, Mayurbhanj, 20 March, 1998: Six men came to Baripada to speak with officials in the intelligence department regarding the tension in the Thakurmunda area...."

"Graham and Gladys Staines, Mayurbhanj, 19 May, 1998: ....We have been told that a militant Hindu group plans to concentrate on Mayurbhanj and Keonjhar districts to turn Christians back to Hinduism...."

In a word: conversions were taking place; this had caused tensions; so much so that a Hindu group had decided to try and get them back into Hinduism. But for our Minorities Commission, all was peace and harmony!

The First Information Report on the Staines' murder was filed by the pastor of the Manoharpur Church. He turns out to be a good candidate for some of our secularist organizations. The assailants shouted "Jai Bajrang Dal," he said in the FIR. Witness after Christian witness testified that what the assailants shouted was "Jai Bajrang Bali." The assailants set fire to the Church, he said. The Church turned out to not have been harmed. On count after count -- what he saw, what he heard, the persons he named as having committed the crime -- the pastor's statements turned out to be contradictory. On count after count he disowned them himself. After narrating these somersaults, Justice Wadhwa remarks, "It is, thus, clear that the FIR was drawn up only after the Chief Minister had left Manoharpur. From all angles, it is a doctored FIR, a large part of which has been disowned by the informant himself and also has been shown to be false." But it is this FIR which became the basis for imaginative journalism.

B. B. Panda, who was then Director General of Police, Orissa, told the Commission that the New Indian Express -- that is, the southern editions of the Indian Express -- of 25 January, 1999, quoted him as saying, "over 50 people suspected to be activists of the Bajrang Dal and Vishwa Hindu Parishad were involved in the incident, and so far 47 persons have been arrested." He told the Commission that as he had not said this, he sent the paper a contradiction. The paper did not publish the contradiction.

By that figure of 47-50 arrests hangs another lesson also.

One result of the gruesome nature of the murders, of the fact that even the little sons had been done to death, of the fact that the State Government had to show to the Congress leadership in Delhi that it was acting energetically, and also of the glare the media had brought to bear on the case was that the police felt it just had to show something. The consequence? "The police went berserk," observes Justice Wadhwa. It picked up anyone who in its imagination could somehow or the other be linked with the Bajrang Dal. Fifty one persons were thrown into jail. The Crime Branch found that there was absolutely no case against them. All of them had to be released. Justice Wadhwa observes, "It would thus appear that 51 persons underwent the agony of going into judicial custody for two months or more. Though initially the State Government took a great deal of pride that police arrested as many as 51 accused showing the efficiency and promptness of the police, but ultimately subsequent events showed that in the State of Orissa, as far as these 51 persons are concerned, there was no rule of law. Prakash Mehra (DIG) in his supervision note had stated that there was no evidence in respect of all the five FIR named accused persons or the 51 persons arrested by the local police."

"The question then arises in view of the contradictions which make the FIR a false document, what was the motivating force behind it?," asks Justice Wadhwa. "And why as many as 51 innocent persons were arrested between 23rd to 28th January, 1999?" "Answers to these questions are not far to seek," he concludes. "The State Government was rattled by the gravity of the crime. To divert attention from its own failure to maintain law and order and to protect the innocent and then show 'speedy and decisive' action, a false picture is presented."

And as for the involvement of the Bajrang Dal etc., the Commission concludes, "The Commission has scrutinized the evidence before it and especially the evidence of the associates of Dara Singh who were involved in the carnage at Manoharpur. There is no evidence to suggest that any of the persons involved in the crime was in fact a member of either the Bajrang Dal or BJP or any organization. There is nothing to suggest in the evidence before the Commission, or in the investigation conducted by the Crime Branch and the CBI thus far that there is involvement of any organization, even that of Bajrang Dal, in the planning and the execution of the crime."

Several witnesses testified to Dara Singh's involvement in the crime -- in preparing for it, in executing it. Justice Wadhwa is in doubt that Dara Singh was the prime mover. To fly off in rage at Dara Singh, and feel that one has done one's duty is to miss the point.

There are several important pointers. Several witnesses testified that Dara Singh had been engaged in rescuing cows that were being transported for slaughter. He had been trying to get the State to enforce the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals laws. This activity was taken, even by the police, to be "anti-Muslim" activity. Dara Singh was accordingly implicated in cases filed by persons engaged in transporting and selling cows for slaughter. That is as far as the consequences for Dara Singh under the law are concerned. The effect on the people was the exact opposite. Witness-29, who testified that he had been asked by Dara Singh to accompany him to Manoharpur, told the Commission, "Dara Singh is a very popular figure in the village as he forcibly frees cows from the people who take them for selling. After freeing the cows, Dara Singh distributes the cows among the villagers...."

Cows are revered by Hindus. The man trying to save them becomes an outlaw in the eyes of the police, and a hero in the eyes of the people. Two lessons in that.

On the other hand, Staines and his associates are left free to go on converting Hindus to Christianity. There is no evidence that Staines himself resorted to fraud, force or allurement. Even so, tensions mount because of conversions. Staines' own despatches testify to this. But our institutions -- the Minorities Commission and the police being representative in this regard -- even in retrospect assert the fiction that there was no tension between Christians and non-Christians.

The second clue is provided by the evidence of a key witness, one whose testimony contributes most to nailing the involvement of Dara Singh. He is one Dipu Das. He was a close associate of Dara Singh. He revealed to the Commission that "youth from Gayalmunda and Bhalughera had approached Dara Singh sometime in August 1998 to stop the Christians from converting Hindus to Christianity...."

That is the key lesson: if the State is going to persist with double-standards in regard to the sentiments of Hindus and non-Hindus on the one hand, and with a deliberate shutting of eyes on the other, it is paving the way for such crimes.

That lesson is brought home most forcefully by Justice Wadhwa's findings in regard to the Orissa law that bears on conversions. As has been noted earlier, Orissa passed a law in 1967 to regulate conversions. It is known as the Orissa Freedom of Religion Act. Its constitutionality -- as well as that of the allied law in Madhya Pradesh -- has been upheld by a five judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court in Rev. Stainislaus v. State of Madhya Pradesh [AIR 1977 SC 908]. Among other things, the law provides, "No person shall convert or attempt to convert, either directly or otherwise, any person from one religious faith to another by use of force or by inducement or by any fraudulent means, nor shall any person abet such conversion." Anyone doing so, the Act provides, shall be punished by imprisonment of up to one year and/or a fine of Rs. 5,000. In case the offence relates to a minor, a woman or a person belonging to the Scheduled Castes or Tribes, the punishment shall be double.

To prevent misuse, the Act provides that the offence shall not be investigated by an officer below the rank of an Inspector of Police, and that no prosecution shall be instituted without the sanction of the Magistrate of the District or an equivalent authority.

The Act was passed in 1967. Rules under it were not framed till November, 1989, Justice Wadhwa notes. The Rules are salutary, and will repay a moment's attention:

"3(i) Each District Magistrate shall maintain a list of religious institutions or organizations propagating religious faith in his district and that of persons directly or indirectly engaged for propagation of religious faith in the district.

"(ii) The District Magistrate, if he thinks fit, may call for a list of persons with the religious faith, receiving benefits either in cash or in kind from the religious organizations or institutions or from any person connected therewith.

"4. Any person intending to convert his religion shall give a declaration before a Magistrate, 1st Class, having jurisdiction prior to such conversion that he intends to convert his religion on his own will.

"5(i) The concerned religious priest shall intimate the date, time and place of the ceremony in which conversion shall be made along with the names and addresses of the persons to be converted to the concerned District Magistrate before fifteen days of the said ceremony.

"(ii) The intimation shall be in Form A and shall be delivered either personally by the Priest to the concerned District Magistrate or sent to him by registered post with acknowledgment due.

"6. The District Magistrate on receiving the intimation from the priest shall sign thereon stating the date on which and the hour at which the intimation has been delivered to him or received by him, and shall forthwith acknowledge the receipt thereof in Form B.

"7. The District Magistrate shall maintain a register of conversion in Form C and shall cover therein particulars of the intimation received by him.

"8. Any person who contravenes the provisions of Rule 5 or 6 shall be liable to a fine of Rupees one thousand.

"9. The District Magistrate shall by the 10th of each month send to the State Government a report of intimations received by him during the preceding month in Form D."

That is the law. And what is the reality? Justice Wadhwa reports:

"No one was aware of the Freedom of Religion Act or the Rules framed thereunder in the State at least in the districts of Mayurbhanj and Keonjhar. These provisions of law were lying dormant and [had] never [been] put into operation for the last many years. Admittedly, there were conversions to Christianity in these two districts. No person intending to convert his religion ever gave a declaration before a Magistrate prior to such conversion of his intent to convert his religion on his own will which was the requirement of Rule 4. Similarly also the religious priest did not give intimation of such conversion as per Form A under the Rules. District Magistrate did not maintain a register of conversion as per Form prescribed. Since they did not make any record of conversions, they did not send any report of conversion to the State Government.

"Mr. Balakrishnan, District Magistrate, Mayurbhanj and Mr. Saurabh Garg, District Magistrate, Keonjhar were examined to know if any action [had been] taken under the Freedom of Religion Act and the Rules framed thereunder. They expressed ignorance of the provisions of the law relating to conversion and said they had become aware of these only after the incident at Manoharpur on the night of 22 / 23-1-1999. To me, it appears that even now they do not understand the full scope and intent of the provisions of the Orissa Freedom of Religion Act and the Rules. These are salutary provisions and prohibit conversion from one religion to another by the use of force, inducement or by any fraudulent means. Even any abetment to such conversion has been made an offence. If these provisions of law, in my view, are strictly followed no one can have any grievance to contend that gullible and innocent tribals are being converted."

The Commission asked the Advocate General for a report on prosecutions under the Act. From 1967 to 1990, the Advocate General informed the Commission, the Act was not enforced as its constitutional vires had been challenged. Since then -- that is, in nine years -- 10 cases had been registered. In one case the accused had been discharged. In one case he had been acquitted. In regard to two the Final Report had been submitted. And six were pending trial.

The lesson -- a cruel one -- shouts at us: as this is the attitude of the State machinery to law, the Dara Singhs will continue to become heroes with the local population.

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