Indian judge withdraws 'offensive' comments about Christians

Outcry persuades judge to remove remarks that missionaries indulge in conversion and Christian schools are unsafe
Indian judge withdraws 'offensive' comments about Christians

A judge at Madras High Court has removed comments about Christians from his judgment. (Wikimedia Commons photo) reporter, New Delhi
August 22, 2019
An Indian judge has withdrawn his controversial comments that missionaries indulge in religious conversion and that Christian schools have become unsafe for students.

After widespread criticism of his remarks, Justice S. Vaidyanathan of Madras High Court on Aug. 20 withdrew the observations he made on Aug. 16 while hearing a sexual harassment case against Professor Samuel Tennyson of Madras Christian College.

The judge’s comments came as he refused to quash the finding of the college’s internal complaints committee, which found Tennyson guilty of sexually harassing some 30 female students from his zoology department.

As part of his order, Justice Vaidyanathan had felt it “appropriate to point out that Christian missionaries are always the source of attack in one way or the other and, in the present era, there are several accusations against them for indulging in compulsory conversion of people of other religions into Christianity.”

He also said that “there is a general feeling amongst the parents of students, especially female students, that co-educational study in Christian institutions is highly unsafe for the future of their children and, though they impart good education, the preaching of morality will be a million-dollar question.”

John Jackria, the counsel for the college, made a request on Aug. 20 for the judge to withdraw the observations, which Christians and rights groups said were unwarranted and offensive.

The judge accepted the request and said he was removing the paragraphs of the judgment that included the controversial comments.

Church leaders have welcomed the judge withdrawing his comments.

“It is a welcome move from an honorable judge,” said Father L. Sahayaraj, deputy secretary of Tamil Nadu Bishops’ Council.

A statement from the Tamil Nadu bishops issued by its president, Archbishop Antony Pappusamy of Madurai, said “the case is not in any way connected with the question of religious conversion. Therefore, the observation on religious conversion was unwarranted.”

The statement said from “a cursory reading of the factual matrix in that particular case, we do not find any institutional material warranting such an observation.”

The National Commission for Minorities criticized the judge’s statement when its vice-chairman George Kurian issued a statement saying the court’s observations had “caused dismay and pain” among Christians.

The All India Democratic Women’s Association in a statement said in a country where “the words from a judge could become a law, the baseless accusations of the judge could have a serious impact on the welfare of minorities in the current sociopolitical climate.”

All Indians including judges are free to entertain a particular view on a subject to adhere to a specific political ideology, said the statement signed by president S. Valentina. “But when the judge is delivering justice, the judge should be impartial and wear the glasses of the Indian constitution,” the statement said.

The judge’s comments came against a backdrop of increasing anti-Christian moves from hard-line Hindu groups that support the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

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Hindu groups who want Christians to end all missionary activities are supported by politicians, bureaucrats and police officers, Christians claim.

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