The Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two sons are burned alive by radical Hindus while sleeping in their car in Eastern India.
Graham Stuart Staines 1941 – 23 January 1999 was an Australian Christian missionary who, along with his two sons Philip aged 10 and Timothy aged 6, was burnt to death by a gang of Hindu Bajrang Dal fundamentalists while sleeping in his station wagon at Manoharpur village in Kendujhar district in Odisha, India on 23 January 1999. In 2003, a Bajrang Dal activist, Dara Singh, was convicted of leading the gang that murdered Graham Staines and his sons, and was sentenced to life in prison.
He had been working in Odisha among the tribal poor and lepers since 1965. Some Hindu groups alleged that Staines had forcibly converted or lured many Hindus into Christianity; Staines’ widow Gladys denied these allegations. She continued to live in India caring for leprosy patients until she returned to Australia in 2004. In 2005 she was awarded the fourth highest civilian honor in India, Padma Shree, in recognition for her work with leprosy patients in Odisha. In 2016, she received the Mother Teresa Memorial International Award for Social Justice.
In 2019 the film The Least of These: The Graham Staines Story based on his life is set to be released.
On the night of 22 January 1999, he attended a jungle camp in Manoharpur, an annual gathering of Christians of the area for religious and social discourse. The village is situated on the border of the tribal-dominated Mayurbhanj and Keonjhar districts of Odisha. He was on his way to Kendujhar with his sons, who had come back on holiday from their school at Ooty. They broke the journey for the camp and decided to spend the night in Manoharpur. After that, they slept in the vehicle because of the severe cold. His wife and daughter had remained in Baripada.
According to reports, a mob of about 50 people, armed with axes and other implements, attacked the vehicle while Staines and the children were fast asleep and his station wagon where he was sleeping was set alight by the mob. Graham, Philip and Timothy Staines were burnt alive. Staines and his sons apparently tried to escape, but were prevented by the mob.
The murders were widely condemned by religious and civic leaders, politicians, and journalists. The US-based Human Rights Watch accused the then Indian Government of failing to prevent violence against Christians, and of exploiting sectarian tensions for political ends. Then-Prime Minister of India, Atal Behari Vajpayee, a leader of BJP, condemned the “ghastly attack” and called for swift action to catch the killers. Published reports stated that church leaders alleged the attacks were carried out at the behest of hardline Hindu organisations. Hindu hardliners accused Christian Missionary of forcibly converting poor and low-caste Hindus and tribals. The convicted killer Dara Singh was treated as a hero by hardline Hindus and reportedly protected by some villagers. In an interview with the Hindustan Times, one of the accused killers, Mahendra Hembram, stated that the killers “were provoked by the “corruption of tribal culture” by the missionaries, who they claimed fed villagers beef and gave women brassieres and sanitary towels.”
In her affidavit before the Commission on the death of her husband and two sons, Gladys Staines stated:
“The Lord God is always with me to guide me and help me to try to accomplish the work of Graham, but I sometimes wonder why Graham was killed and also what made his assassins behave in such a brutal manner on the night of 22nd/23rd January 1999. It is far from my mind to punish the persons who were responsible for the death of my husband Graham and my two children. But it is my desire and hope that they would repent and would be reformed.”
A movie titled “The Least of These” based on his killing will be released in January 2019.