New Delhi (AsiaNews) The Indian government has given the Padma Shri Award, the country's fourth most important prize, to Gladys Staines, widow of Graham Staines, the Australian Protestant missionary who was killed by Hindu fundamentalists in 1999, for her "social work".
Ms Staines said she was grateful and overwhelmed to be honoured and thanked the government and the people of India for the award. "I would like to come to India to personally receive this award, some time later," she said. In the meantime, "I am absolutely overwhelmed and stunned by the news [And] feeling very humbled at the same time. It's a rare honour and a humbling experience".
As soon as the news was made public, members of Bajrang Dal, a right-wing Hindu group, protested and burnt Gladys Staines in effigy in Anandpur town in Orissa's Keonjhar district, demanding that the central government withdraw the Padma Shri from Gladys Staines. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad branch in Tamil Nadu protested the decision to confer the award to the Australian woman, calling it "an insult to Hinduism".
Currently, Ms Gladys, who is a social worker, is in Queensland (Australia) to rest after 20 years in India as well as look after her ailing father but is still involved in the Mayurbhanj Leprosy Home at Baripada, Orissa, started by her husband. A week ago she inaugurated a new leprosy centre named after her late husband.
Graham Staines was burnt to death on the night of January 22, 1999, along with his two minor sons as they were sleeping in a jeep at Manoharpur village in Orissa.
Hindu fundamentalist Dara Singh was sentenced to death for the Graham Staines' murder; 12 other people were given life sentences.
Mr Singh is a self-proclaimed 'saviour of Hinduism' who attacked Christian clergymen and missionaries for allegedly paying people to convert.
He is also accused along with 20 associates for the death of Arul Doss, a Catholic priest, who was killed in church fire in Jamubani, also in Orissa state.
That trial is scheduled to open on March 14in Jai Kumar Das. (LF)