The Indian Church remembers the missionary Graham Staines, burned alive by Hindu radicals
The Australian pastor was working for leprosy patients in Orissa. He was killed in 1999 along with his two small children. The Supreme Court "did not understand the murderous ideology of Hindutva". The political responsibilities of his murder covered up. Prime Minister Modi had spoken of "international conspiracy."
Balasore (AsiaNews) - Today 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 communities ". "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 government ". 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. "