High Court deletes contentious paragraph from verdict

The Madras High Court deleted a contentious paragraph from one of its judgments following an uproar over sweeping remarks made in it regarding accusations Christian missionaries faced of indulging in forcible religious conversions and supposed “general feeling” among parents, especially of girl children, that co-educational Christian institutions were “highly unsafe for the future of their children.”

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Justice S. Vaidyanathan readily agreed to remove the contentious paragraph from his verdict after John Zachariah, counsel for Madras Christian College (MCC), made a special mention and said the observations were detrimental to the interest of all Christian institutions, which were rendering yeoman service to society. He also said the observations were in no way connected to the case decided by the court on merits.

The advocate further told the court that one or two stray incidents need not become a reason to form such a general opinion. When the judge wanted to know how he could delete a portion of his judgment in the absence of a review petition and also when he becomes functus officio after signing the verdict, the advocate replied that a review petition was not necessary since he had to remove only observations unconnected to the case.

Concurring with the submissions, Mr. Justice Vaidyanathan, in his fresh order, said: “In view of the above submissions and considering the fact that the general observation in paragraph number 32 has been made by this court after the result portion, which will not at any cost affect the findings/substance/contents of the order, the said paragraph number 32 of the order dated August 13, 2019 is hereby deleted.”

He directed the High Court Registry to issue a fresh copy of the order after removing the contentious paragraph .

The judge had made the remarks while dismissing a writ petition filed by an MCC faculty member, who had challenged a showcause notice issued to him by the college for alleged sexual harassment of women students during a study tour to Karnataka in January.

After deciding the case on merits and holding that the petitioner must face the consequences, the judge had said: “Before parting with the judgment, this court feels it appropriate to point out that Christian missionaries are always on 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.

“Now, 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 preach of morality will be a million dollar question. As long as a religion is practised in streets in lieu of its worship places, like temple, mosque, church etc., such devastation, as in the present case, does (sic) occur and will be mushrooming.”

The controversial lines led to an uproar with the Tamil Nadu Bishops’ Council, Tamil Nadu Latin Bishops’ Council, All India Democratic Women’s Association, Indian Christian Association of Tamil Nadu and a section of advocates insisting that the observations be withdrawn. In the same verdict, the judge also commented that several several women-centric enactments were being misused to teach a lesson to men in strained relationships.

“This is the right time to think of suitable amendments in those laws in order to safeguard the interest of the innocent masculinity (sic) too,” the judge had said and directed the High Court Registry to mark a copy of his judgment to the Union Ministry of Law and Justice. These observations continue to remain a part of the order.

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