New minister Pratap Chandra Sarangi involved in the death of Pastor Staines
by Nirmala Carvalho

In his second term, Narendra Modi assigned two ministerships of state to the Bharatiya Janata Party member who led locally the Bajrang Dal, a Hindu youth group involved in the death of the clergyman and his two sons.

Mumbai (AsiaNews) – One of the members in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cabinet has a chequered past. Pratap Chandra Sarangi was appointed Minister of State for Animal Husbandry, Dairying and Fisheries as well as Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises.

A largely unknown figure, Sarangi is a member of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) from Odisha (Orissa). In the past, the “new Union minister was the coordinator of the Bajrang Dal when Graham Staines and his two kids were burnt alive” in 1999, said Sajan K George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC). The Bajrang Dal is a right-wing Hindu fundamentalist group.

On the night of 22-23 January 1999, Hindu extremists set fire to the station wagon in which the Australian missionary and his two sons, Philip and Timothy (9 and 7 respectively), were sleeping, in Manoharpur, a village in Keonjhar district (Odisha).

In 2006, Gladys Staines, the missionary’s widow, returned to live in the Indian state, together with her surviving daughter, Esther, to pursue her husband's work with lepers. The brutal assassination was the prelude to pogroms against Christians in Odisha in 2008.

Dara Singh, the main culprit, was given life in prison for the murders, which the Supreme Court of India upheld. Another 11 accomplices were however released.

Sajan K George notes that the "police investigation established that Dara Singh was a member of the Bajrang Dal.” But the “role of the group in the dastardly murders was never conclusively established, even though the Supreme Court upheld the life sentence imposed on Singh in 2011 by the Odisha High Court. As a fallout of the incident, the Bajrang Dal and other saffron groups have distanced themselves from Singh.”

At the time, Sarangi testified that the group, which he led, had nothing to do with the murders. Yet, for the president of the GCIC, his appointment, “for the vulnerable Christians of Odisha, does not bode well for their safety, security and religious freedom.”

More generally, the Christian leader remains critical of the legal system. "Many criminal cases against the perpetrators have been closed due to a lack of evidence”. Meanwhile, “survivors wait for justice, and Christians live in fear."

For his part, “Minister Sarangi has long opposed the proselytizing work allegedly carried out by Christian missionaries in Odisha. What is the future of our people?”