Hindu Mob Murders Missionary Family In India
NEW DELHI, India (COMPASS) - Following the brutal murder of an Australian missionary and his two sons in the eastern state of Orissa on January 23, a group of Christian organizations appealed to India's Supreme Court for protection from leading members of the country's central government.
Australian missionary Graham Staines, 58, and his sons, Philip, 10, and Timothy, 8, were burned to death when the vehicle in which they were sleeping was doused with gasoline and set ablaze, allegedly by dozens of members of the Hindu fundamentalist Bajrang Dal. The vehicle was parked outside a small, makeshift church in the village of Manoharpur, about 1000 kilometers southeast of New Delhi. The murders are the most high profile and the most vicious in a recent spate of attacks on Christians in India.
Rev. Richard Howell, general secretary of the Evangelical Fellowship of India, said the decision to file an appeal with the Supreme Court was taken after various requests, appeals and memoranda to Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, the Union Home Minister and other government leaders merely ended in assurances. "The RSS and its allied organizations always accuse us of making the attacks against Christians an international issue, but they have now made it so with the killing of Dr. Staines."
The memorandum by the Concerned Christian Citizens (CCC) said, "Given the real communal agenda of the leading members of the present coalition government at the centre, the community can never be secure." CCC noted that protests from Christian organizations and secular groups had only aggravated and strengthened the resolve of the "Hindutva" (nationalist Hindu) forces to increase the violence.
Addressing a press conference, John Dayal, the convenor of the United Christian Forum, said, "Verbal assurances from the Mr. Vajpayee have been futile and they have proved their inability to take concrete steps to curb the problem of communalism. Rather than calling for a debate on conversion, there is an immediate need to call for a debate on communalism." Dayal also criticized the prime minister for failing to take action against the fundamentalist Hindu organizations and individuals who have been targeting Christians.
The memorandum was signed by the Evangelical Fellowship of India, Indian Social Institute, All India Catholic Union, Catholic Bishops' Conference of India, Etani Evangelical Trust Association of India, Vishal Jagruti, Dr. Ambedkar Study Circle, the Bahujan Students Union and United Dalit Students forum of Jawaharlal Nehru University.
On January 25, an estimated 10,000 people attended the funeral of Graham Staines and his two sons in Baripada. All courts and businesses remained closed. Staines, a native of Beaudesert, near Brisbane, had been working with leprosy patients in India for 34 years and was the secretary of the Evangelical Missionary Society (EMS).
Police have arrested 49 people in connection with the killings, including seven villagers. Authorities are still searching for the main suspect, Dara Singh, who has close ties with the Bajrang Dal. A reward of Rs 25,000 ($625) has been offered for his capture.
Indian President K. R. Narayanan described the killings as "belonging to the world's inventory of black deeds." In a strongly worded statement he said, "That someone who spent years caring for patients of leprosy, instead of being thanked and appreciated as a role model, should be done to death in this manner is a monumental aberration from the traditions of tolerance and humanity for which India is known."
Staines went to Manoharpur with his sons and Gilbert Venz, another Australian, last Wednesday to attend an annual five-day Bible camp that the EMS has been holding for the past 20 years. While the vehicle burned in which the Staines' were trapped, the mob reportedly danced, shouting, "Justice has been done; the Christians have been cremated in Hindu fashion." Staines was in the rear seat, clutching Timothy. Philip was in the front seat. Eyewitnesses said the mob stayed at the scene for nearly an hour and a half to ensure that the three were dead, before walking off into the darkness. The nearby church was not harmed.
Staines' wife, Gladys, said, "My husband and sons tried to get out of the burning vehicle ... but were prevented by the attackers. More than 50 people attacked the car when they were fast asleep."
She said her husband had faced strong opposition from some locals for his religious and social work. "I am terribly upset but not angry. My husband loved Jesus Christ, who has taught us to forgive our enemies."
Police say the attack was planned in advance and that Staines was the clear target. The attack came just before Christians in India had called for a day of fasting and prayer on January 26, on behalf of the people of Gujarat state. During the last few months, Christians in Gujarat have been the target of attacks by organizations allied with the Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), but this is the first time anyone have been burned alive.
The opposition Congress Party general secretary, Madhav Rao Scindia, blamed the Vajpayee-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government for not coming down heavily on the BJP's sister organizations instead of merely calling for a national debate on conversion.
The secretary of the Hindu nationalist Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), Baburaoji Desai, denied any involvement of the VHP or Bajrang Dal in the incident. He said both organizations were opposed to violence and that they never abetted any violence in any part of the country. Prime Minister Vajpayee and Home Minister L.K. Advani have condemned the killing and demanded that the culprits be severely punished.
Their statements have reportedly meant little to the Christian community. Local police and villagers say there have been four other incidents in the area over the past six months, including attacks on a Muslim rural market and a church. "We have been aware of the activities of the Bajrang Dal," said Mathai Marandi, a Manoharpur resident. "Despite several complaints, no action has been taken." Opposition parties in Orissa have called for a statewide protest on January 30 against the brutal killings.
Meanwhile, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has instructed its director general of investigation to visit Orissa and look into the incident. The Commission, noting recurring attacks on Christians in various states, issued notices to the chief secretaries of Orissa, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat, seeking implementation of immediate measures to prevent such events in the future. It also directed these states to report back within two weeks on progress achieved in their investigations and steps taken to provide protection to Christians.
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