The Indian Church remembers the murder of the Australian missionary Graham Staines, killed by Hindu radicals in 1999 along with his two youngest children.
John Dayal, a Catholic activist and journalist, says: "We commemorate
the death of the missionary who worked for leprosy patients in Orissa.
That was the time when Western countries discovered for the first time
the suffering inflicted on Christians in India by extremist groups that
support the Hindutva, gathered under the Sangh Parivar [the umbrella
organization that gathers many Hindu paramilitary associations ed] ".
On the night between 22 and 23 January 1999, Hindu extremists burned the
pastor Staines and his sons Philip and Timothy (9 and 7 years of age)
alive, while they were asleep in their station wagon in Manoharpur
village (district of Keonjhar, Orissa). In 2006 his widow Gladys returned to live in the Indian state, along with their surviving daughter Esther, to continue her husband's commitment to those suffering from leprosy.
The brutal murder of the Australian missionary was the prelude of the violence against Christians in Orissa triggered in 2008
by Hindu fundamentalists. John Dayal says that in that period "the
Sangh targeted Christians once again, especially in Kandhamal district".
The violence lasted for four months and the toll was dramatic: nearly 100 dead, killed for refusing to recant and for whom the process of canonization has been opened;
6,500 homes destroyed; about 395 churches and places of worship damaged
or demolished; more than 56 thousand people forced to flee.
The Catholic activist laments "the courts have not fully understood the
murderous ideology of the Sangh. The Supreme Court of India, which
eventually sentenced Dara Singh [the main culprit, while other 11
accomplices released, ed], to life imprisonment. He said that he had
wanted to ‘teach a lesson' to the missionary. Following the strong
protests of Christians the Supreme Court was forced to review the ruling
and to erase those deeply offensive words ".
It's a tragedy, he says, that "the Sangh continues to intimidate, and in
fact to terrorize the Christian community, the clergy and missionaries
working in the forest and tribal areas, including Dalits and
marginalized communities outside of urban centers ". "The police instead
– he denounces - still fails to act and often participates as an
accomplice in this state of lawlessness."
According to Jugal Kishore Ranjit, another activist, "the State is
responsible for the murder of Rev. Staines, because it did not protect
his life. His death and that of his two innocent children is a heinous
act of barbarism perpetrated by Hindu fundamentalists who do not believe
in human life and in the Indian Constitution. Guided by the teachings
of Jesus, Graham Staines dedicated his whole life to oppressed tribal
"Christianity – he adds - is misrepresented by these
fundamentalist forces, who do not believe in equality and freedom. They
only say that it is religious proselytism ".
Father Ajaya Kumar Singh, Director Odisha Forum for Social Action,
reports that the highest state leaders of that era, George Fernandes, MM
Joshi and the current chief minister of Orissa, "have described the
murder as an international conspiracy , carried out by groups that
support the Hindutva ideology, affiliated to the current central Union
The activist priest also recalled that Narendra Modi,
Prime Minister of India, "talked about an international plot, instead of
condemning the elements associated with his own party. At this point
the work of the committee of inquiry to discover the truth has become an
exercise in futility. "