Graham Stuart Staines

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The unfortunate events of 1999, recreated

Murder in the Cathedral, April 4, 2019: The Times of India

Graham Staines along with his family (File Photo)
From: Minati Singha, April 5, 2019: The Times of India

He is accused of murder most vile. She has forgiven him his sins. Religious fanatic, Dara Singh. The forgiving widow, Gladys Staines.

Sujay Gupta presents two different people inextricably linked by the homicide of the late missionary Graham Staines Dara Singh Checklist for travel to Thakurmunda, Karanjia and other parts of Dara territory: Torches, mosquito repellents, a good map, plenty of water and munchies, lots of dum. And a portable VCD player with a copy of Sholay. We really do recommend a quick dekko of Sholay.

Just to be prepared. As you drive into the forests of Thakurmunda, expect the woods to say 'Arre o sambha'. Stop at a village teashop and ask if they know Dara and a tribal is likely to remark, "Woh kaun hain? We don't know him. Yes, we have heard of him and our children are afraid. They go to sleep when we tell them that Dara is coming."

Well... Dara a.k.a Rabindrapal Singh is behind bars in Bhubaneswar, but the Dara myth glares at you from the fields, forests and weekly markets. Is he for real? Is he a ghost? Is he a criminal? But at some point in the parallel Dara Singh and Gabbar Singh story, the paths - like a fork in the road, go their separate ways. Sholay was the quintessential Good versus Evil tale. The Dara Singh and Graham Staines story is that. But not completely.

The Mahatos, a Hindu community that lives in these pockets are cow worshippers and one of Dara's strongest supporters. They and a section of the non-tribals see this tall, bearded man from Etawah in Uttar Pradesh, as a stopper of conversions and a saviour of the cows. Obviously, his links with the R S S, Bajrang Dal and the VHP are a natural corollary. But that would be missing the wood for the trees.

Dara was a Hindi teacher in Etawah - the same place in UP that has another illustrious son called Mulayam Singh Yadav. He then moved to Delhi and met Bapu Das of Rudhipada village of Keonjhar district in Orissa. Das brought him to Orissa about 13 years ago and introduced him to his brother Dipu Das. According to the CBI-Orissa police report on the Staines murder case, extracts of which were published in a national weekly, Dara ran a grocery store, was a farmer and then sold grocery in weekly markets in the Keonjhar and Mayurbhanj districts. This is when he came in contact with cow protectors, religious fanatics and others of the same ilk.

One of his accomplices, Abhi Mahato, a co-accused in the Staines murder case, says: "He is a natural orator, gave fiery speeches and loved attention. And he was always upto something." Even Dara did not know that the little 'something' that he planned at Manoharpur village on January 23, 1999 would have the repercussions that it did. That two young boys would be travelling with the man that he allegedly planned to kill. And that the Staines' alleged killing would prove to be different from earlier, more local 'projects' that included the murder of a priest, Father Arul Doss, in August and the merciless hacking of a trader, Shiekh Rehman, only a month after that. Yet, even today, a villager, Nandi Mahato, says, "He protects Hindus. He protects cows."

As you drive back from Thakurmunda towards civilisation, Sholay seems like a teddy bears' picnic. Gladys Staines Dreams are made of these. A small dairy farm in Ipswich, Queensland, Australia. Farming and grazing cattle by day. Listening to tales by the fireside after supper at night. You've heard the story of Staines dada - Graham, the missionary and his two sons who were murdered by a religious fanatic in Mayurbhanj, Orissa. This is the story of Staines didi - Gladys, his wife. And widow. As the Graham Staines murder trial is in its closing stages and the rest of the world watches the final countdown to a murder that "pricked the conscience of the nation", Gladys is working furiously to keep the smiles of hundreds of leprosy patients intact.

This is Gladys's dream - something that Graham wasn't allowed to continue. This is also Gladys's journey. From Ipswich to Baripada. From a dairy farm to a missionary home. From grazing cows to raising hopes. This was also Graham's journey. Also from Beudesert, South of Brisbane and 40 kilometres from Ipswich, to Baripada. Graham took this journey 16 years before Gladys did.

"It was an act of God. We lived close to each other, but never met. God brought us together in Baripada, Orissa," she avers. After her schooling, she completed her nursing training and specialisation in childcare. A friend told her about India and the work of the missionaries there. She says: "It was then that I felt I heard the call of God and wanted to serve abroad."

Gladys joined a training organisation that took her first to Cuttack and then to Baripada in November 1981. She and her 'leaders' went to meet Graham to discuss opportunities of working together. "There I sat in the drawing room of his house waiting. I thought his wife would come out and serve us tea. But the lady and the tea never came. I discovered that he was 40 and unmarried," the 42-year-old recalls her first meeting with Graham. Slowly, the dream took shape... Three beautiful children, Esther, Philip and Timothy. The work with the leprosy patients. But it was too good to last. What follows is a tale told, narrated, reported and televised hundreds of times. It's a tale of death. But it never dies.

On January 23, 1999, Graham and his two sons went to Manoharpur in the neighbouring Keonjhar district. Hindu fanatics led by Dara Singh attacked the jeep and set fire to it. Gladys's dream turned to ashes. Or so it seemed. At a time when everyone thought that she would take the next plane back to the dairy farm, she stayed. And even had the courage to forgive the killers of her husband and her sons and accept what happened. In the book Burnt Alive, she talks about an inner voice she heard about a week before the Manoharpur murders: " inner voice asked me whether I was willing to give all that I love - my husband, children, possessions for Him. Tears began to roll down my cheeks. Then I told Him, 'I am willing. Take all I have. My husband, children and everything I have'..." It's been four years since Gladys saw the ashes of the burnt jeep. During this time, she and her daughter Esther have stoked the embers and lit a new fire. Of hope and restoration. And it is visible in Baripada.

A leprosy out-patients' hospital is under construction and will be completed by January next year, the fifth death anniversary of Graham Staines. "I am looking for committed staffers and doctors, who will work round-the-clock," says an optimistic Gladys. In between, there are bills to be paid, funds to be arranged for, chief ministers and IAS officers to be called up, a life to be led... For Gladys, the dairy farmer's daughter, dreams are now made of these. Download The Times of India News App for Latest Home News.

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