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Graham Staines

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Graham Staines
Graham Stuart Staines

18 January 1941 (18 January 1941)
Died23 January 1999(1999-01-23) (aged 58)
Cause of deathMurder by burning
SpouseGladys Staines

Graham Stuart Staines (18 January 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 in India by members of the Hindu nationalist group, Bajrang Dal.[1] In 2003, Bajrang Dal activist Dara Singh was convicted of leading the murderers and was sentenced to life in prison.[2]

Staines had been working in Odisha since 1965 as part of an evangelical missionary organisation named "Mayurbhanj Leprosy Home" caring for people who had leprosy and looking after the tribal people in the area who lived in abject poverty.[3] However, some Hindu groups argue that during this time he had tricked, lured or forcibly coerced many Hindus into believing in the Christian faith. The Wadhwa Commission claims that although some tribals had been baptised at the camps, there was no evidence of forced conversions.[4] Staines's widow Gladys has also denied forced conversions ever happened.[5][6]

Gladys continued to live and work in India caring for those who were poor and were affected by leprosy until she returned home to Australia in 2004. In 2005, she was awarded the fourth highest civilian honour of India, the Padma Shree, in recognition for her work in Odisha.[7][8] In 2016, she received the Mother Teresa Memorial International Award for Social Justice.[9]

Early life and early career[edit]

Graham Staines was born in the Sunshine Coast suburb of Palmwoods in the Australian state of Queensland. He visited India for the first time in 1965 by joining the Evangelical Missionary Society of Mayurbhanj (EMSM), and work in the remote tribal area of Odisha state, which had a long history of active Christian missionary style work. He took over the management of the Mission at Baripada in 1983 after helping to establish the Mayurbhanj Leprosy Home as a registered society in 1982.[10]

Personal life[edit]

Staines met Gladys in June 1981, while they worked together taking care of leprosy patients on the mission field. Not too long after that they decided to get married, in 1983; they worked together until his death. Together they had three children: a daughter, Esther, and two sons, Philip and Timothy.[11] During the course of his work Staines had managed to assist in the translation of part of the Holy Christian Bible into the language of the Ho people of India, which included his crosschecking the work with the entire manuscript of the New Testament, though it is largely believed his main focus was on his ministry to the lepers.[12] It was reported that he could speak the Odia language fluently, and was popular among the patients whom he had managed to cure.[13] In addition to this it was also reported that he used to teach people how to make mats and baskets out of rope, sabai grass (Eulaliopsis binata) and tree leaves.[14]

Death and reaction[edit]

On 22 January 1999, Staines attended a jungle camp in Manoharpur, which was an annual gathering for Christians in the area to congregate for a conference and discuss their beliefs in a social setting. The camp was on the border between the tribal villages of Mayurbhanj and Keonjhar, which is located within the district of Odisha. He was travelling to the village of Kendujhar with his sons, who were on a break from their schooling in the hill city of Ooty in southern India, when they decided to take a break from the journey towards the jungle camp, and elected to spend the night in Manoharpur, sleeping in the vehicle due to the severe cold at the time. His wife and daughter did not accompany them on the journey, having decided to remain behind in the town and municipality of Baripada.

A mob of about fifty people, armed with axes and other implements, attacked the vehicle while Staines and his sons were fast asleep, and set the station wagon alight, trapping them inside and burning them to death.[15]

Staines and his sons had awakened and apparently tried to escape, but were prevented from doing so by the angry mob of vigilantes.[16]

The murders were widely condemned by religious and civic leaders of the time, along with politicians and journalists. The US-based Human Rights Watch group accused the Indian government of failing to prevent violence against Christians, and for exploiting the sectarian tensions that existed at the time for their own political gain. Then-prime minister of India, Atal Behari Vajpayee, a leader of the BJP, condemned the "ghastly attack," and called for swift action in catching the killers.[17] Published reports stated that the church leaders alleged the attacks were carried out at the behest of hard-line Hindu organizations seeking revenge for what they perceived to be forced conversions of the tribal poor into Christianity.[18] Dara Singh, who was convicted of the murders, was treated as a hero by the hard-line 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 the women brassieres and sanitary towels."[19]

In her affidavit before the commission on the death of her husband and both sons, Gladys Staines stated:[20]

The Lord God is always with me to guide me and to help me try to accomplish the work of Graham, but I sometimes wonder why Graham was killed, and what also made his assassins behave in such a brutal manner on the night of the 22nd/23rd of 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 be reformed.

The Least of These: The Graham Staines Story, a film that is based on his killing, was released in 2019.[21]

Supreme Court of India judgement[edit]

A trial (sessions) court in Bhubaneswar, the capital of Odisha (then named Orissa), sentenced the convicted ringleader of the mob, Dara Singh, to death by hanging for killing Staines and his two sons.[22] In 2005, the Orissa High Court commuted the sentence to life imprisonment. The Supreme Court upheld the High Court decision on 21 January 2011.[23]

"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. All these aspects have been correctly appreciated by the High Court and modified the sentence of death into life imprisonment with which we concur." the court declared. 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." 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".[24]

Dismissing the Central Bureau of Investigation's plea for sentencing Singh to death, a Bench of Justice P. Sathasivam and Justice B. S. Chauhan endorsed the Orissa High Court's finding that his crime did not fall under the rarest of rare category. In its 76-page judgment, 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.[25] This was perhaps done due to severe criticism from the media.[26][27] Leading editors, media groups, and civil society members from across the country signed a statement taking strong exception to the Supreme Court's observation that the killing of Graham Staines and his two minor children was intended to teach the Australian missionary a lesson for preaching and practising conversion.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Parashar, Swati (5 March 2014). Women and Militant Wars: The politics of injury. Routledge. p. 27. ISBN 978-1-134-11606-5. Retrieved 13 February 2021 – via Google Books. The Sangh Parivar (literally known as the Sangh family) includes groups such as the Rashtriye Swayamsewak Sangh, the Bajrang Dal, Shiv Sena and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. They articulate a militant Hindu nationalist politics, opposing the Muslim 'other'.
  2. ^ Natasha CoutinhoNatasha Coutinho (20 February 2019). "Sharman Joshi brings Graham Staines' story to the screen". Mumbai Mirror. Retrieved 28 January 2022.
  3. ^ Singha, Minati (23 January 2020). "21 years on, Odisha village still weeps for Graham Staines". Times of India.
  4. ^ "In the age of fake news, flashback to first kill". www.telegraphindia.com. Retrieved 31 May 2019.
  5. ^ "Missionary widow continues leprosy work". BBC News. 27 January 1999.
  6. ^ "Rediff On The NeT: Vir Sanghvi on the Orissa incident". Rediff.com. 8 February 1999. Retrieved 16 April 2015.
  7. ^ Biswas, Soutik (22 September 2003). "Widow keeps missionary's memory alive". BBC ,News.
  8. ^ "South Asia | Missionary widow's emotional return". BBC News. 18 May 2005. Retrieved 16 April 2015.
  9. ^ Forgiver feted. Christianity Today Jan. 2016, p.17.
  10. ^ Hindu Vivek Kendra. "Graham Staines: His Background". hvk.org. Archived from the original on 9 April 2011. Retrieved 13 October 2010.
  11. ^ "Film marks the 20th anniversary of missionary Graham Staines' killing in India". Religion Unplugged. Retrieved 7 April 2020.
  12. ^ "Bible translated in Oriya dialect". Hindustan Times. 25 November 2006. Retrieved 7 April 2020.
  13. ^ BANERJEE, RUBEN (8 February 1999). "Staines' killing: Murder of Australian missionary and his two sons in Orissa shocks India". India Today. Retrieved 7 April 2020.
  14. ^ The politics behind anti Christian violence : a compilation of investigation committee reports into acts of violence against the Christian minorities. Puniyani, Ram. Delhi: Media House. 2006. pp. 261–265. ISBN 81-7495-237-3. OCLC 182969294.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  15. ^ "Rediff On The NeT: Missionary, children burnt alive in Orissa". Rediff.com. 23 January 1999. Retrieved 16 April 2015.
  16. ^ "Staines murder case: Dara seeks review of SC verdict". Indian Express. 9 March 2011. Retrieved 16 April 2015.
  17. ^ "South Asia | Thousands mourn missionary's death". BBC News. 25 January 1999. Retrieved 16 April 2015.
  18. ^ "SOUTH ASIA | Missionary 'killer' arrested in India". BBC News. 1 February 2000. Retrieved 16 April 2015.
  19. ^ "Australian missionary's killer sentenced to death". The Daily Telegraph. London. 23 September 2003.
  20. ^ [1] Archived 9 April 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  21. ^ "The Least of These - The Graham Staines Story".
  22. ^ "Hindu Given Death for Killing Missionary". The New York Times. 23 September 2003.
  23. ^ "Graham Staines case: Supreme Court refuses death penalty". Ndtv.com. 21 January 2011. Retrieved 16 April 2015.
  24. ^ Rabindra Kumar Pal @ Dara Singh vs Republic of India, 72 (Supreme Court of India 21 January 2011), Text.
  25. ^ "The Pioneer". Dailypioneer.com. Retrieved 16 April 2015.
  26. ^ "Expunge remarks against Graham Staines". The Hindu. Thehindu.com. 23 January 2011. Retrieved 16 April 2015.
  27. ^ "SC changes controversial paras in ruling on Staines' killings". The Times of India. 25 January 2011. Retrieved 16 April 2015.

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