Thinking Graham Staines and his Children in times of Jubilation over Ram Temple

By Subhas Gatade  

The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living.

– Marcus Tullius Cicero

Politics is nothing but theology in action

– Ambedkar

1.

Right-wing politics suffers from a common syndrome everywhere.

It never feels confident to project its own icons for the rest of the humanity, whatever might be their claims about their worldview,  it knows that its own icons are detested by a wide spectrum of people.

The easiest way it finds to overcome this lacunae is to appropriate already established icons – who  were even opposed to their world view as well  and claim them their own. In fact, it does not have any qualms in utilising dates – bearing special significance for exploited and oppressed and marginalised of the world – to put their stamp on it.

The project of Hindutva Supremacism – which yearns / strives to transform a Secular, Socialist, Democratic and Sovereign Republic into a Hindu Rashtra has perhaps achieved near perfection in this kind of politics.

2.

All of us have been witness to how 6 th December, the day when Dr Ambedkar breathed his last ( 1956) – which use to be a day of rallies and meetings – all over the country – joined in by dalits and other deprived sections of society, resolving to rededicate oneself for fulfilment of his vision of social equality, has slowly transformed itself before our own eyes as a day, when these Supremacist formations demolished a five hundred year old mosque called Babri Mosque ( 1992), in ‘complete breach of law’ – as the Supreme Court itself declared in its judgement delivered by a five judge bench ( 2019).

Or how Gandhi as well as Dr Ambedkar – great leaders of our anti -colonial and social emancipation movement respectively – who were always looked with disdain in the Hindutva schemata of things have now been included in the list of  Pratah Smaraniya ( worth remembering in the morning ) by their patron organisation – which calls itself a cultural organisation. Similarly we have all been witness to attempts since around a decade to propagate 25 th December as ‘Good Governance Day’ supposedly to celebrate Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s birthday and thus slowly overshadowing 25 th December celebrations around birthday of Christ.

3.

The list of such dates – which Hindutva can claim its own as a sign of their ‘valour and triumph’ received a further boost when it was announced that the Ram Temple inauguration at Ayodhya would take place on 22 nd January. Definitely they would not have imagined that their selection of this date would raise a tremendous controversy – where even supposed leading lights of Hindu religion – the various Shankaracharyas – would raise objections of various kinds. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qkSAOYTSgYo&pp=ygUba2FyYW4gdGhhcGFyIHNoYW5rYXJhY2hhcnlh; https://www.youtube.com/watchv=Q7db6iMylg4&pp=ygUba2FyYW4gdGhhcGFyIHNoYW5rYXJhY2hhcnlh). Questions were also raised in political circles why the programme was not being organised on Ram Navmi – the day which is celebrated as birthday of Ram – and a clear ‘political motive’ was discovered for this selection. The main opposition party like Congress – whose three leaders were invited for the programme – decided not to join the celebrations because basically it was for them‘BJP’s political event.

4.

Selection of this date also helped rekindle memories of another dark day for the marginalised people in the country, which had put the then BJP led government at the Centre in bad light.

It brought back the memories of burning alive of a Christian missionary from Australia and his two children  when they were asleep in a van in Orissa by a criminal fascist group which had obvious links to Hindutva Supremacist formations. (22nd January 1999)

A question was raised how or why they ‘smartly’ invisibilised the 25th anniversary of this gory incident in India’s recent history where it was impossible for them to run away from any responsibility.

Despite their best wishes to the contrary the saga of Graham Staines came  back to haunt them again.

5.

Remember it was another dark day in our democracy then, when a Christian missionary from Australia named Graham Staines – who lived/ worked in the tribal dominated area of Manoharpur (Orissa) since decades, (who alongwith his wife Gladys served the poor and lepers there) – and his two children Philip and Timothy, were burnt alive by a gang of Hindutva fanatics led by one Dara Singh. Their claim was that Staines was engaged in converting innocent tribals to Christianity. 

What was noticeable that this barbaric act, where the perpetrators’ obvious links to Hindutva Supremacist formations were visible,( The Indian Express, August 15, 1999 ; https://cjp.org.in/remembering-the-graham-staines-murder),  had received enough condemnation in the national-international media as well, which had already being writing about growing attacks on Christians in different parts of the country since the formation of a coalition government at the Centre led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee. (1998)  The then President of India, K.R. Narayanan, had also condemned the act in no time and called it ‘a monumental aberration of time-tested tolerance and harmony. The killings belong to the world’s inventory of black deeds.’

6.

What had further irked the BJP-RSS leaders then that this gory incident and the ‘glorification’ of these killers by a section of the population in the region, who had even formed committees like ‘Dara Sena’ etc for the murderers’ support, had raised serious doubts about the status of religious minorities under the reign of Atal Bihari Vajpayee the world over.

Analysts had even brought PM Vajpayee’s speech under scanner – made few weeks before the incident- where he had even called for a ‘national debate on the conversion of tribals to Christianity‘ which could be easily construed as rationalising of targeting of Christians in the country.

The context to this statement was PM Vajpayee’s visit to tribal majority area like Dang in Gujarat where there were reports that Hindutva activists had burnt down ‘[t]hree dozen small log churches in the bamboo and sal forests not too far from Surat’  (https://thewire.in/communalism/graham-staines-murder-25-years. What had further perturbed analysts was that despite mass participation of people in this targeting of Christians it appeared that he had tried to reduce the gravity of the situation by saying that the ‘arson was done by fringe elements’.

The courts ultimately decided that Dara Singh be awarded  life imprisonment  for his inhuman and barbaric act but the judgement did not underline the role of Hindutva Supremacist organisations which had created an ambience of hatred and bigotry in the region, nor it mentioned alleged organisational links of the murderer to its frontal organisations.

Perhaps the most disturbing part of the judgement – which had to be expunged later because of tremendous uproar over it – was that it had made some controversial statements about Graham Staines, which again seem to provide a justification of sorts for the barbaric act of killing someone alive.

The ruling of the Supreme Court said,

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.’  (https://morungexpress.com/the-least-of-these-rethinking-conversion-in-light-of-the-graham-staines-story)

As rightly mentioned despite expunging of these remarks, it further strengthened the perception that Staines only got what he deserved which in a way continued to justify his murder in the public’s imagination (https://morungexpress.com/the-least-of-these-rethinking-conversion-in-light-of-the-graham-staines-story)

7.

The 25 th anniversary of this barbaric killing of someone who served the poor and his two innocent children is over.

People in the know of things would tell you that Gladys – wife of Graham Staines has returned to Australia after helping inaugurate / build a hospital for lepers in the region. It has been widely reported she has ‘forgiven the killers of her husband and her two children’ because according to her they knew no other language. Her daughter – the only other surviving member of her family is working as a doctor in Australia

But this is not the end of the story, perhaps should not be the end of the story.

Today when conscious attempts are on to even deprive us of our memories, ‘surrender our memories‘ (https://scroll.in/article/1061871/ram-temple-shows-hindutva-demands-complete-surrender-even-of-our-memories) it is important to keep a vigil on our memories, remember how this brutal killing of Graham Staines was a milestone of sorts in the forward march of the ascendant Hindutva Supremcism, unleashing of the forces of hate and exclusion in this part of the Subcontinent.

Look closely and you will find that it provides a glimpse of the violent future which awaited then ( still a) secular India.

The killings could be said to be precursor of the bloody developments which awaited us in the wee hours of 21 st Century or the way state looks the other way when such killings start . Many of the phenomenon which slowly got normalised had perhaps their roots in this barbaric killings. The shameless ‘glorification of his killers, the rationalisation of sorts of such crimes against humanity by the dominant political elite in the country or even custodians of power or the way top judiciary also developed amnesia regarding Constituional Values and Principles for a while and even tried to  justify the ‘anger of the murderers’ – all the elements which further bloomed  had their origins in this killing.

Remember it was a precursor to Gujarat Carnage ( 2002) when more than a thousand innocents were killed after the Sabarmati express had caught fire – under the watchful eyes of the present PM – who had been CM of the state then or even the killings at Dulina – when Dalits carrying corpses of dead cows were killed similarly by Hindutva fanatics (2002) ( https://www.roundtableindia.co.in/what-happened-on-the-evening-of-15-october-2002/) and how rest of the society tried to justify these killings.

8.

As I said in the beginning right-wingers everywhere have an uncanny ability of appropriating icons and even dates to further legitimise their anti-human agenda.

9/11, the date which has been remembered everywhere earlier as the day when CIA sponsored coup occurred in Chile – which killed its Socialist President Salvador Allende, killed and brutalised thousands of thousands of Chilean people and inaugurated an era of US supported Pinochet dictatorship – is now more recalled for the 9/11 terrorist attacks on US soil by a terror module led by Al Qaeda fanatics – which killed around 3,000 innocent people.

We should always bear it in mind, henceforth whenever they talk of the political program they held in Ayodhya on 22 January in a triumphalist mode, perhaps they should be reminded that how their worldview of hate and exclusion keeps playing havoc with the lives of innocents.

How despite their best wishes another India still survives (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GiZ4c8F9Crg&pp=ygUVcmF2aXNoIGt1bWFyIG9mZmljaWFs)

How in their hour of victory there are voices who dare to say that on 22 nd January, a ‘’Bharat of their Dreams has ended’ (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AVhqZ5WG_WA&list=RDCMUChWtJey46brNr7qHQpN6KLQ&start_radio=1)

They should be told that the Single Lamps / Diyas which were burnt on 22 nd January in the memory of Staines and his children  in remote corners of Orissa look more powerful and bright than thousands of those diyas which they had lit on the banks of Sharau.

Their brightness emanates not from the brute state power they want to exhibit always but it emanates  from the fact that  they stand for peace, justice and humanity and living harmoniously with every other human being and also with nature.

Subhash Gatade is a left  activist associated with New Socialist Initiative


(This article was published in Countercurrents)

Join Our Newsletter
And get notified everytime we publish a new blog post.
Share Your Love
Freevoice
Freevoice

I write because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, said George Orwell. As a writer, I never kowtow to the whims and dictates of the sacred godmen or godwomen, the political bigots and hypocrites, dealers of laymen, the dishonest and self-serving intellectuals, traders of religions, the betrayers of ‘other’ Indians who eke out a living by their sweat, who are living in fear for being lynched for this and that.

Articles: 116