India's Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling commuting the death sentence awarded to the murderer of Australian missionary Graham Staines to life in prison on Friday, raising the unpleasant specter of religious bias in India's judiciary.
The death penalty is morally dubious, generally, and particularly suspect in India, given its pervasive corruption and the poor standards of police investigations. But as long as it stands, the court must rule according to the law of the land -- which states that the death penalty should be applied in those "rarest of the rare" cases of heinous, merciless felons. How then, does the case of Mohammad Afzal (Afzal Guru), convicted and sentenced to death for planning the 2001 terrorist attack on India's parliament, differ from Dara Singh's? The Court had the same chance to commute Afzal's sentence to life in prison but upheld it because his crime "shocked the society at large" -- a phrase that takes on ominous meaning in the context of the two cases, since it implies that the number of people who are surprised and offended by your crime, and not how horrible it is, should dictate your punishment. And thus, if you're a Muslim and you attack the state, you deserve a harsher punishment than a Hindu who burns alive a foreigner engaged in trying to convert the locals to an "alien" religion.