[Death : 22 - 01 - 1999]

Dr. Graham Stuart Staines (1941 – 22 January 1999) was an Australian Christian missionary who along with his two sons Philip (aged 10) and Timothy (aged 6) were burnt to death by a gang while sleeping in his station wagon at Manoharpur village in Keonjhar district in Orissa, India on January 22, 1999. In 2003, the Bajrang Dal activist Dara Singh was convicted of leading the gang that murdered Staines and Singh is now serving life in prison. Staines is considered a martyr by many Christians.

He had been working in Orissa among the tribal poor and especially with leprosy patients since 1965. Hindu groups allege that he forcefully converted or lured many Hindus into Christianity, but Staines' widow Gladys Staines denied these allegations. She continued to live in India caring for leprosy patients until 2004 before going back to Australia. In 2005 she was awarded the fourth highest civilian honor in India, Padma Shree, in recognition for her work with leprosy patients in Orissa.

Life history

Dr. Graham Stuart Staines was born in 1941 at Palmwoods, Queensland, Australia. He visited India in 1965 for the first time and joined Evangelical Missionary Society of Mayurbhanj (EMSM), working in this remote tribal area, with a long history of missionary activity.

Staines took over the management of the Mission at Baripada in 1983. He also played a role in the establishment of the Mayurbhanj Leprosy Home as a registered society in 1982. He met Gladys June in 1981 while working for leprosy patients, and they married in 1983, and had worked together since then. They had three children, a daughter (Esther) and two sons (Philip and Timothy). Staines assisted in translating a part of the Bible into the Ho language of India, including proofreading the entire New Testament manuscript, though his focus was on a ministry to lepers.

He spoke fluent Oriya and was very popular among the patients whom he used to help after they were cured. He used to teach how to make mats out of rope and basket from Saboigrass and trees leaves.

Death and Reaction

On the night of 22 January 1999, Graham Staines had 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 Orissa. He was on his way to Keonjhar with his sons, who had come back on holiday from their school at Ooty. They broke the journey for the camp, and spend the night in Manoharpur, sleeping in the vehicle because of the severe cold. Gladys had stayed back in Baripada. According to reports, a mob of about 50 people, armed with axes and other implements, attacked the vehicle while Stains and the children were fast asleep and his station wagon where he was sleeping was set afire by the mob. Graham, Philip and Timothy Staines were burnt alive. Some villagers tried to rescue Staines and his sons, but were unsuccessful. They tried to escape, but the mob allegedly prevented their attempt to escape.

Graham Staines and family.

His murder was 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. The organisation said attacks against Christians increased "significantly" since the "Hindu Nationalist" BJP came to power. The then Prime Minister of India, Atal Behari Vajpayee, who was a leader of BJP, condemned the "ghastly attack" and called for swift action to catch the killers. Published reports state that church leaders alleged the attacks were carried out at the behest of hardline Hindu organisations while the Hindu hardliners accused Christian missionaries of forcibly converting poor and low-caste Hindus and tribals. The convicted killer Dara Singh was treated as a hero and reportedly was protected by some of the villagers. In an interview with Hindustan Times, one of the accused killers, Mahendra Hembram, told that "they 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:

In India

On his 24th birthday, on 18th January 1965, he arrived in India. As Graham walked the streets of Baripada in Orissa, his heart melted at the hapless plight of the people suffering from leprosy. He showed a deep commitment to God and men and had a clear missionary vision. He felt deep in his hart that it was his divine call and commission to communicate the love of Christ to the untouchables of the community by serving them. He joined the Evangelical Missionary Society of Mayurbhanj in 1965 and started his work with leprosy patients. He learnt Oriya, Santhali and Ho, the languages spoken by the local villagers and tribal people. As a matter of fact, even the Government authorities banked on him for composing a song in the Santhali dialect, to popularize the polio immunization drive among the tribes.

"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 to 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."

Supreme Court of India Judgement

A trial (sessions) court in Bhubaneshwar, the capital of Orissa State, sentenced the convicted ring leader Dara Singh of the mob to death by hanging for killing Staines and his two sons. In 2005, the Orissa High Court commuted the sentence to life imprisonment. The Supreme Court upheld the High Court decision on 21 January 2011.

“In the case on hand, though Graham Staines and his two minor sons were burnt to death while they were sleeping inside a station wagon at Manoharpur, the intention was to teach a lesson to Graham Staines about his religious activities, namely, converting poor tribals to Christianity,” the court said. The Court stated "Our concept of secularism is that the State will have no religion. The State shall treat all religions and religious groups equally and with equal respect without in any manner interfering with their individual right of religion, faith and worship." Yet, condemning religious conversions, the Court also said "It is undisputed that there is no justification for interfering in someone`s belief by way of `use of force`, provocation, conversion, incitement or upon a flawed premise that one religion is better than the other".

Dismissing the Central Bureau of Investigation's plea for death penalty to Singh, a Bench of Mr Justice P Sathasivam and Mr Justice BS Chauhan endorsed Orissa High Court's finding that his crime did not fall under the rarest of rare category. In its 76-page judgement, the court came out strongly against the practice of conversion. However, four days later, on 25 January 2011, the Supreme Court of India in a rare move expunged its own comments with regards to conversions from its Verdict.

Glady Staines

During the month of June in 1981, while Graham was working with leprosy patients in Baripada, is a city in Mayurbhanj district in the state of Orissa, India, there was a tall beautiful and soft-spoken lady who involved in a youth mission was headed to India as part of a global youth mission, Gladis Weatherhead of Ipswich, Queensland, Australia as part of the mission, come to Baripada and circumstantially met him. Graham married Gladys in 1983, in Australia and returned to serve in India together and they worked together since then. Gladys, who was trained as a nurse, was an apt and suitable helper for Graham at the Mayurbhanj Leprosy Home. This sacrificial couple made their home in an old house within the mission compound in Baripada and chose a very simple lifestyle. They had three children, a daughter, Esther Joy and two sons, Philip Graham and Timothy Harold. His family-life also stands as a shining example.

Dr.Graham Stuart Staines spent 34 years of his life serving the people with love, extending the grace of our Christ and had been working in Orissa among the tribal poor and especially with leprosy patients since 1965. After Graham’s alive, Gladys continued to live in India caring for leprosy patients until 2004 before going back to Australia. Shortly after the sentencing of the killers, Gladys issued a statement saying that she had forgiven the killers and had no bitterness towards them. In 2004, she decided to return to Australia to stay with her daughter and father. She however said that she would continue to look after the people she and her husband had been looking after so far. In 2005, she was awarded the Padma Sree, a civilian award from the Government of India, in recognition for her work with leprosy patients in Orissa, India.

Source: Dr. Staines