22 January 2020
Bhubaneswar: Exactly 21 years ago on January 23 in 1999, the world woke up to a shocking story of the ghastly killing of Graham Stuart Staines (58) and his two sons Philip (10) and Timothy (7).
On the intervening night of January 22-23, 1999 Australian missionary Graham and his two minor sons were sleeping in a station wagon in front of a church at Manoharpur village in Keonjhar district when members of Hindu fundamentalist organisation Bajrang Dal set ablaze the vehicle burning to death all its occupants.
Graham who had come to India in 1965 for nearly 35 years lived and worked with some of the poorest Adivasi communities in Odisha.
Graham who had learned Odia and was fluent in Santhali had spent most of his time working with leprosy patients in Baripada, the district headquarters town of Mayurbhanj, a predominantly tribal district.
Rumours that Graham was carrying out forced conversions served as the justification for the hate crime.
The men who killed him did so because they thought he was converting Adivasis to Christianity-the charge, which was denied by Graham’s widow, Gladys, repeatedly.
The mob that committed the gruesome murders was led by Dara Singh, a member of the Bajrang Dal.
Dara Singh, the main accused in the case, was convicted and sentenced to death by the CBI court in 2003. The Orissa High Court commuted the death sentence to life imprisonment in 2005, which was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2011.
Mehendra Hembram, another accomplice of Dara Singh, is also serving life imprisonment in the case, while 11 other accused were acquitted by the High Court due to lack of evidence.
Last year in September, two decades after the gruesome killings, CBI sleuths succeeded in arresting Budhadeb Naik, 45, a close associate of Dara Singh who was convicted in the case, from his house at Nischitapur village in Mayurbhanj district.
Naik was allegedly among those who had set fire to the station wagon in which Graham and his two minor sons Philip and Timothy were sleeping on the fateful night.
Graham's story is a grim reminder of horrors of religious persecution when hate crimes against religious minorities are peaking up again.