No place for Conversion in a ‘secular’ nation
by Wadhwa Commission on 29 Jan 2011 11 Comments

[On 21 January 2011, upholding life penalty for Dara Singh and Mahendra Hembram in the murder of Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two minor sons on the night of Jan. 22nd/23rd 1999, the Supreme Court declared there was no justification for religious conversion in a “secular” nation as it amounted to interference in the religious beliefs of others through force, allurement or false premise that one religion is better than the other. The court released the remaining 11 accused of the charge of conspiracy mooted by the CBI.

In a boost to the Hindu community, beleaguered by foreign-funded evangelists and human rights hounds, a Bench comprising Mr Justices P. Sathasivam and B.S. Chauhan noted that “conversion” violated the constitutional spirit of non-discrimination on grounds of religion and the co-existence of religions on the basis of “equal respect for all religions”.

It is pertinent that though the burning alive of Staines and his two sons is spectacular and gruesome, the judges refused to classify it as “rarest of rare” cases, and observed, “…The intention was to teach a lesson to Graham Staines about his religious activities, namely, converting poor tribals to Christianity.” The judgment thus upheld that there was a powerful non-personal motive behind the murder of the Staines, and hence there was no convincing case for awarding the death penalty to Dara Singh and Mahendra Hembram.


Then, following an orchestrated campaign of outrage by church organisations and Christian activists, as early as 25 Jan. itself, without notice to other parties in the dispute, the Supreme Court judges deleted critical paragraphs in their judgment, namely,

-        “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”


Anyone can see this really hit the Christian ‘soul-harvesters’ hard. It is unfortunate that Justices P Sathasivam and BS Chauhan should have so hastily amended observations that were perfectly legitimate and completely in line with the 1977 judgment of the Supreme Court (a unanimous verdict by a 5 judge Bench in Rev. Stainislaus v. State of Madhya Pradesh, AIR 1977 SC 908 (Civil Appeal Nos. 1489 and 1511 of 1974: judgement pronounced Jan. 1977). The judgement clearly asserted there is no fundamental right to conversion and the state can legitimately prohibit conversion by force.


The Staines murder was investigated by the Justice D.P. Wadhwa Commission of Enquiry which submitted its report on 21 June 1999. Given the current interest in the case, and the need to contest conversions in Hindu society, particularly its weaker Tribal brethren, we publish excerpts of the Wadhwa Commission Report for the benefit of our readers – Editor]


Graham Stewart Staines: His Background


Graham Stewart Staines was born in Palmwoods, Queensland, Australia. His tryst with Mayurbhanj in the State of Orissa began in the year 1956 when he started corresponding with his pen friend Shantanu Satpathy who lived in Baripada. They used to correspond about flora and fauna of their respective countries. In 1965 Staines visited India for the first time. At the age of fifteen Staines, while still in Australia, saw the photograph of a Mayurbhanj boy Josia Soren of approximately his age with severe leprosy. This motivated Staines to come to India and work for leprosy patients. Gladys June Staines his wife met him in 1981 while she was visiting India. Gladys says that he impressed her by his love for the people with whom he associated as well as leprosy patients. They were married in 1983. …


Staines joined the Evangelical Missionary Society of Mayurbhanj (EMSM) and started his work in 1965. He first worked at Rairangpur in District Mayurbhanj and later shifted to Baripada (District Headquarters of Mayurbhanj) in 1983. Staines was essentially taking care of the Leprosy Home at Baripada but was also visiting churches on the invitation from local pastors where he took classes from the Bible and also classes in moral teaching. John Mathai, an evangelist with the Indian Evangelical Mission and a member of the Board of the Leprosy Home, says that Staines used to arrange speakers and take Bible studies in jungle camps. Jungle camps as described by Gladys Staines are camps for Christians wherein people are given instructions in Bible teaching, spiritual upliftment, moral teaching and teaching on health and hygiene. Staines was fluent in Oriya, Santhali and Ho languages. In fact, Staines assisted in translating a part of the Bible into the Ho language. In his application for residence permit in India Staines describes himself as “a person involved in Missionary work and his work with the Mayurbhanj Leprosy Home and Rajabasa Leprosy Rehabilitation Farm”. He also states in the said form that “he preaches the Gospel as and when time permits”. Under the head “profession or present occupation” in the application form he states “missionary trained in carpentry metal work and motor mechanics, clerk trained in accountancy.” In his application for extension of stay in India, he states that “he wishes to stay for missionary work including work with the Mayurbhanj Leprosy Home and the Rajabasa rehabilitation farm”


The EMSM to which Staines belonged was established in 1895 at the instance of the then the Maharaja of Mayurbhanj. It was first run by one Miss Kate Allenby. Staines took over the running of the Mission at Baripada only in 1983. Gladys in her evidence clarified that the Mayurbhanj Leprosy Home is a society registered under the Societies Registration Act, whereas the EMSM is a society registered in Australia. The EMSM in Australia is only a governing body for support. The Mayurbhanj Leprosy Home was registered as a society in 1982 and before that it was a part of the EMSM. …


Staines was by all accounts a popular figure in Baripada and involved mainly with Leprosy Home and leprosy related work. Balakrishnan, the District Collector of Mayurbhanj, speaks about Staines’ Popularity in Baripada. Gladys says that he had a good rapport with the people of the town especially because he spoke the local language. ….. Dr. Binod Das, the honorary Doctor in the leprosy home however felt that he was secretive about his going for the jungle camp at Manoharpur and as the honorary superintendent of the Leprosy Home, he maintained all accounts himself. Dr Das also says that Staines had a deep hatred for other religions and would not eat during the religious functions of other religions. However Gladys Staines strongly contradicted this and said it was wrong and that they used to attend religious functions of other religions. She said that they however would not eat ‘Prasad’ (religious offering) as it was against the Bible to do so. In one of his despatches to ‘Tidings’, Staines, however, described “Sanathan Dharma” as an animist sect. ….


Besides his Involvement with Leprosy Home, Staines was also involved in missionary work. The missionary work of Staines has come to light from the various despatches sent by him to Australia, which is published in a newsletter ‘Tidings’. Staines also used to take part in baptism ceremonies although he may not have necessarily carried out the baptism himself. Paul Murmu says that Staines attended baptism ceremonies and marriage ceremonies of Christian families whenever he was available. However, it is the despatches sent by Staines to Australia in the newsletter ‘Tidings’ that make it clear that Staines was also involved in active propagation of his religion apart from his social work. It is also clear from the said despatches that conversions were taking place in jungle camps. The missionary work of Staines obviously included organizing and conducting jungle camps, translating the Bible in tribal languages, preaching of the Bible to the tribals. …. His missionary activities did lead to conversions of tribals to his faith. …..


Dara Singh, His Antecedents and Associations/Affiliations


Dara Singh alias Rabindra Kumar Pal is the son of Mihilal Pal of village Kokara P.S. Dibyapua, Distt. Itawa U.P. Dara Singh came to Orissa along with his friend Chitaranjan Das @ Bapu who is the brother of Dipu Das. Initially he helped in the household of Rama Das, the father of Bapu and Dipu and assisted him in his grocery business. He later taught Hindi in the Maliposi school as a teacher. Subsequently he lost the, job as it was temporary. He then stayed in the house of one Kali Mohanta of Banbir.


The name Dara Singh is, however, known in the police records. Prior to this incident, he was involved in 10 criminal cases and one non FIR case under section 110 Cr.P.C. There are six cases registered against him in the District of Keonjhar and one non FIR case apart from the Manoharpur case i.e. Anandpur P.S. case no. 9/99. In the District of Mayurbhanj four cases were registered against Dara Singh. 


[Dara Singh’s] activities in the past have been in respect of the cow protection movement and aimed against Muslim cattle traders. The Commission has scrutinized the evidence before it and especially the evidence of the associates of Dara Singh who were involved in the carnage at Manoharpur. There is no evidence to suggest that any of the persons involved in the crime was in fact a member of either the Bajrang Dal or BJP or any organization. There is nothing to suggest in the evidence before the Commission or in the investigation conducted by the crime branch and the CBI thus far that there is involvement of any organisation even that of Bajrang Dal in the planning and the execution of the crime.


In televised interview, Dara Singh has denied his involvement in the crime or his connection with any organisation. He was interviewed by Binoy Bhushan Patnaik, a Journalist. His interview was recorded on video. This was shown on TV on 29th March, 1999 under the programme “Aaj Ki Baat” in the Star Plus Channel. This video film was shown to witnesses which included police officers and they were asked if they could say that it was Dara Singh who gave the interview. Only Purna Chandra Mahanta and Debendra Mahanta were able to identify Dara Singh as the person interviewed. …..


How Staines met his tragic end


On the 20th of January, 1999, Staines left the Mission House at Baripada at around 4.00 P.M. for Manoharpur to attend the jungle camp scheduled to be held from 21st January 1999 to 24th January 1999. Staines was accompanied by his two minor sons Philip and Timothy. They were also accompanied by Gilbert Venz from Australia, Shubhankar Ghosh from Cuttack, Victor Khojee from Kanpur, Rajendra Swain from Cuttack, Nimai Hansda and Peter Murmu, his drivers and Baiyu Hembram and Paul Murmu from Baripada. …. …


While the jungle camp was so peacefully being conducted, unknown to Staines, …. Dara Singh, a notorious criminal (as per police records) of Keonjhar and Mayurbhanj was busy mobilising tribal youth from different villages in the area to form a militant group under his leadership. Dipu Das (a close associate of Dara Singh) in his interrogation reveals that youth from Gayalmunda and Bhalughera had approached Dara Singh sometime in August 1998 to stop the Christians from converting Hindus to Christianity. Dipu Das also recounts that he and Dara Singh went to Manoharpur in December and stayed in the house of Mahendra Hembram where they discussed about the Christians and Mahendra Hembrem showed them the Church. …. …


Around 8.00 pm. in the evening the mob started gathering in the wheat field of Srikant Purthy at Jamdwar in Dimridiha near the fire which was lit there. They came in batches and the number grew to around 30-35 people. …… The mob then led by Dara Singh proceeded to Manoharpur at around 11.00 P.M. Some of them took lathis which were lying in the field and about 10 or 12 of them were carrying torches. Srikant Purthy and Rajendra Hembrem say that Dara Singh was carrying a cloth bag and an axe. According to Dipu Das the mob divided itself into three groups, one group was to attack the jeeps, the other was to attack the tent in which the missionaries were staying and the third to guard the villagers and their houses.


On reaching the Church around midnight the mob did not see any tent. They surrounded both the vehicles and started banging them with lathis. Dara Singh, who led the first group, attacked the vehicle ORM-952. They were joined by the second group who reached immediately afterwards. Third group was guarding the houses. They cut the tyres of the vehicles. On realising that there was nobody in vehicle ORM-952 Dara Singh diverted his attention to the vehicle ORM 1208. The mob then tried to open the door of the driver of that vehicle, which they could not do but the door lever was broken. They broke the glasses of the vehicles. The mob then picked up the straw, which was kept on the top of the vehicle, and pushed the same inside as by now the glass-panes had been broken. Straw was put both inside and under the vehicles and then set on fire. …….. Staines and his two children died from suffocation and result of the burning.


Soloman Marandi says that Dara Singh was giving directions to the mob. He also identified the photographs of Dara Singh. Similarly, Ragunath Dehury also identifies Dara Singh’s photograph and states that he was present at the scene of occurrence on that fateful night. Rabi Soren in his statement under section 164 Cr PC says that Dara Singh was present at Manoharpur at that night and that he took the straw from the top of the jeep and put it inside the vehicle and set it on fire with the matchbox.


After Staines and his two sons were burnt to death, the mob left when a whistle was blown three times. While leaving they shouted slogans “Jai Bajrang Bali” and “Dara Singh Zindabad”. ……………




The population in the district of Keonjhar as per the Census report of the year 1991 and also till 1998 (based on decennial growth rate) is as under:



Category of Population


As on 1998 based on decennial growth rate


Hindus (which mostly include SCs/STs)








Christians (mostly STs)












From the record, it appears that the motive for the crime was that there were conversions of illiterate and poor Hindu tribals to Christianity on certain premises but these conversions were not necessarily inspired by Staines. We examine the evidence in this respect:


Timothy Murmu @ Chaitanya Murmu, Pastor of the Church at Manoharpur said that no force was used on anybody for conversion. He added that by becoming Christians economic conditions did not improve but persons who got converted “get inner peace and become better human beings”. As to how he himself became a Christian he said he was suffering from an acute illness of fever and some incurable disease for one year. He remained bedridden for one month, took lot of medicines and spent more than Rs. 2,000/- for his treatment and yet he could not be cured. He said his wife lost all hopes and then she heard that if a Christian prays for somebody, he would get cured. His wife called some Christians to his house. He, however, continued his medicines and within one week he was cured. Then he decided to become a Christian. He also said that in his village Manoharpur most of the persons who became Christians were those who in the past suffered from incurable illness but after becoming Christians they had been cured. He gave the following instances of persons who were converted to Christianity on this account –


1) Kebe’s mother was dying from high fever and “we all prayed for her and she survived then the entire family got converted to Christianity”.

2) Manaki Gargi was earlier Hindu. In 1995 he became Christian but as he could not be cured of his high fever, he got reconverted to Hinduism.

3) Family of Kala Marandi remained Christian for 3 years. Her husband was suffering from some incurable disease. He got cured when he became Christian. One day he went to Thakurmunda by cycle and when he came back he died. Kala Marandi then again became Hindu in 1998.

4) Nimai Hansda was suffering from fever. He came to him (Chaitanya Murmu) who told him that he was also suffering from fever but was cured after he became believer of Christianity. Nimai Hansda was also taking medicines but after becoming a believer of Christianity he was cured. …..


Paul Murmu a Pastor who accompanies Staines from Baripada stated that subject to availability Staines also attended baptism ceremonies and marriage ceremonies of Christian families in that area.  He said whenever Mr. Staines was unable to come, he would ask him to go and attend any such ceremony. He said Mr. Staines would be intimated about the programme. He allowed the vehicles to be used for the purpose.


John Mathai, is a Linguist and is based at Baripada. He is working for the Indian Evangelical Mission which has its headquarters at Bangalore. He said if anybody accepts the Gospel and wants to come to the fold of Christianity, he would come to the Church leader and if the church leader considers that the person really wants to embrace Christianity, then after a few months baptism would be given to him. It is only then that a person becomes a Christian. 


John Mathai said that though he was engaged in spreading Gospel in the Thakurmunda area, there was no specific hostility exhibited by the villagers against the foreigners in the Jungle Camp at Baliposi. He was asked if he could say what was the motive behind this hostility exhibited at the time of jungle camp in Baliposi. His reply was that since Christianity was spreading in that area, that might be the reason for the hostility. For the area, he said that he meant Thakurmunda. In answer to another question as to what role Staines used to play during the jungle camp, he said that Staines used to arrange speakers and he himself would take Bible studies. Sometimes, if necessary, Staines also used to translate from English to Oriya. John Mathai was looking after the affairs of EMSM in the absence of Staines who went to Australia with his family for about a year. John Mathai said that EMSM was mainly involved in Leprosy Home work. It was also supporting Staines in his mission to encourage Christianity at different places. He added that by encouraging he meant if any person needed Bible teaching, Staines would arrange someone for the purpose. At times he would also give suggestions if there were problems of local church leaders. John Mathai was then asked if he could describe the motive which led to the killing of Staines and his two children. His answer was:

“What I feel is that Christianity is spreading in that area.  One, reason to kill them might be to stop the spread of Christianity and those who had already become Christians would go back to their original religion.”


John Mathai also said that he did not think that Staines was ever responsible for establishment of any church group in the area of Mayurbhanj and Keonjhar. He said that increase of population of Christians in Mayurbhanj and Keonjhar was on account of conversion to Christianity. This conversion, however, he said was among the Ho and Santhal tribes. He was asked if this conversion to Christianity was confined mainly to illiterate and poor people in the tribal areas of Ho and Santhal and not to the educated and well to do persons in the Districts. Answer of John Mathai was:

“The conversion to Christianity is mostly confined to poor and illiterate people in the tribal areas. But there are educated people also in the tribal areas who have embraced Christianity. I cannot say if in any town or city any educated or well to do person has embraced Christianity. There would be about 4-5 such educated persons in the tribal area who have embraced Christianity.”


Nimai Hansda is a cultivator and resident of Manoharpur. He himself earns about Rs.5 to Rs.20/- per day. His children also collect Sal leaves, stitch and then sell them. He said he was converted to Christianity two years earlier. None of the members of his family have however been converted to Christianity. He said he was ailing for a long time and he was cured after he embraced Christianity. He said all his family members advised him to convert to Christianity since his treatment in the Government hospital had failed. Nimai Hansda said that his understanding of Christianity “is that one goes to church regularly and gets cured”. He added that after embracing Christianity, his financial condition has not ‘improved’.


Nehemiah Tudu is from village Raika in Mayurbhanj and is a Pastor. He is a cultivator and also works as a daily labourer. He said he regularly attended the jungle camp at Raika and other jungle camps occasionally. He said that about 200 people had been converted to Christianity after he became Pastor of Raika Church and half of them had been baptised and others had only accepted the faith. …..


Manika Gagrai is of village Dumurdiha in District Keonjhar. He said he was born in a Hindu Family. He, his mother and his wife were suffering from fever. Sankhai Marandi, a Christian, who was known to him advised him to get converted to Christianity so that he could be cured. Manika Gagrai adopted Christianity. Sankhai Marandi also offered prayers at that time in his house. Manika Gagrai said he had not been baptised but only became a believer of Christianity and attended church regularly. He said his health became worse and he developed tuberculosis. Staines visited him after he suffered from tuberculosis and advised him to take medicines which he took from a doctor at Karanjia. He then developed blood pressure. He said that thereafter none of the Christians helped him. As he was not cured, he again got himself converted to Hinduism. That was a week before the Makar Sankranti in the year 1999. He said he got himself reconverted to Hinduism voluntarily.


S.C. Bala, Deputy Superintendent of Police of the Crime Branch who investigated the case from 2nd February, 1999 till 7th April, 1999 was of the opinion that the motive of killings of Staines and his two children “appeared to be that non-Christian people were aggrieved on the ground that Christian fathers/missionaries who are converting the people to Christianity in a deceitful manner by giving allurements.”


Loknath Behra of the CBI stated that the crime was perpetrated by Dara Singh and his men and that investigation so far conducted revealed that Dara Singh took his accomplices for the crime by stating that “let us go and assault the Christian missionaries who have come to Manoharpur as they are indulging in conversion of innocent tribals to Christianity and are spoiling our religion and culture”.


Thus, the inference is:

1) Conversion was confined to poor and illiterate tribals belonging to Ho and Santhal Tribes.

2) Conversions were done of people who were suffering from acute ailments and they were nurturing a hope that they would be cured if they converted themselves to Christianity.

3) Economic conditions of the converted Christians, however, did not show any improvement as deposed by the witnesses. However, the Investigating Team found that since the converted Christians stopped taking ‘handia’ (rice beer) and saved money by avoiding unnecessary expenditure on ‘bali’ (sacrifice) of hens and goats to appease spirits which the local tribals believed in, their savings was utilised for a better life.


Tidings’ is a newsletter published from Australia by Australian Missionary Tidings. It is a monthly publication and contains “Missionary Mail” from various countries from all over the world. Despatches sent by Staines and his wife Gladys Staines were also published in each issue of the Tidings. Some of the issues of Tidings were collected by the investigating Team of the Commission from Gladys Staines. A communication was addressed by Mr. D.G R Patnalk, Secretary to the Commission, to Mr. Ralf James Cameron, President, Evangelical Missionary Society of Mayurbhanj, Australia to send to the Commission copies of ‘Tidings’ from January, 1996 to February, 1999 containing information relating to the Mission in Mayurbhanj. A reminder was also sent to Mr. Cameron by Mr. Patnaik on 17th May, 1999. There has, however, been no response to the fax messages sent by Mr. Patnaik. The issues of ‘Tidings’ which were obtained from Mrs. Staines were put to her during her statement. It will be advantageous to reproduce what has been recorded in these issues from the despatches from Staines:-


“JUNE, 1997

Graham and Gladys Staines

Mayurbhanj, 25 April

The first jungle camp in Ramchandrapur was a fruitful time and the Spirit of God worked among the people. About 100 attended and some were baptised at the camp.


At present Misayel and some of the church leaders are touring a number of places where people are asking for baptism. Five were baptised at Bigonbadi.


Pray for the Etani Trust in which the mission properties are vested. One man managed by underhand means to get parts of the properly in his own name and a number of nominal Christians of the Baripada church are also trying to get some of this valuable property for themselves. The Trust is having to take legal action to rectify this.”



“Graham and Gladys Staines

Mayurbhanj, 23 July

Praise God for answered prayer in the recent Jagganath car festival at Baripada. A good team of preachers came from the village churches and four OM workers helped in the second part of the festival. There were record book sales, so a lot of literature has gone into people’s hand.


Pray for a man named Surja Singh who bought a Bible. He first heard the gospel in his home village in 1989. He told others to follow Christ, but did not do so himself. For some time he had been wondering where he could get a Bible to read again about the Lord, who he believes is the only one who can deliver him from the fear of evil spirits.”



“Graham and Gladys Staines

Mayurbhanj, 19 September

Praise God we now have the Ho New Testament in Oriya script and many copies are now in the hands of the Ho people. Pray that it will be used of God to speak to many as they read his word in their own language.


The wife of Surga Singh, the new believer from the Car Festival, is also interested but it is a slow process for an illiterate mother to understand so much that is new. Pray for them as they plan to move soon to Bhubaneswar and are concerned about finding fellowship and teaching there.


The Ho believers in Thakurmunda still face persecution. From time to time the village people
have beaten them up, broken their bicycles and not allowed them to worship in their own church building. Three people came to Baripada to meet district officials and petition for justice. Pray that action will be taken to allow freedom to worship.

APRIL, 1998

“Graham and Gladys Staines

Mayurbhanj, 11 February

Jungle Camp means four days of Bible teaching, prayer and the fellowship of Christians living together. It enables believers from other churches to meet with local Christians to discus experiences and encourage one another. Also speakers from other places broaden the vision of those whose lives have been confined to one small village. The teaching helps the church leaders to further develop material for their own regular ministry.


The camp can also create hunger in the hearts of those who come just to observe. Each camp has a bookstall, which for many is the only chance to buy Christian literature.


The three camps held so far this year were well attended and others are to be held in the next few months. There are different needs in each place. Pray for wisdom for the leaders and responsive hearts in the people.


One lady commented after reading some of the Ho New Testament - ‘God’s word is just so fresh and new to me as I read it now’. It was also encouraging to see so many Ho people following the references in the Ho New Testament during the messages at Sarat Jungle Camp. We sold all the New Testaments we took there.


22 February - We have just arrived home from the Baliposi camp a day early. Some people from a militant Hindu group who are persecuting the Christians came to the camp but were not able to disturb the meetings. On the last evening the police came and told us to stop the meeting and leave, as they would not be able to protect us. We had to pack up quickly and leave for a three-hour trip home, without eating any evening meal. Pray for the believers at Baliposi and that the authorities will take proper steps to maintain peace and deal with those stirring up communal strife.”


MAY, 1998

“Graham and Gladys Staines

Mayurbhanj, 20 March

Six men came to Baripada to speak with officials in the intelligence department regarding the tension in the Thakurmunda area. Pray that appropriate steps will be taken to ease the situation and that God will work in the lives of the troublemakers.


Over the next two months there will be a programme of baptism in nearby villages for those asking for them. These are times of witness to non-Christians too.”



“Graham and Gladys Staines

Mayurbhanj, 19 May

There are many new believers in the Manoharpur church and the work is growing. The devil is now finding opportunity to hinder the work of God. There is disagreement between the young people and the older men of the church. A problem arose about the land on which the church is built and the planned Vacation Bible School had to be cancelled. Last year more than 100 children attended this programme.


The translation of Daily Life into Oriya is complete. Pray for the checking of the text and that the printing will be done well and speedily.


We have been told that a militant Hindu group plans to concentrate on Mayurbhanj and Keonjhar districts to turn Christians back to Hinduism. Pray for wisdom, grace and steadfastness for all God’s children.”


AUGUST, 1998

“Graham and Gladys Staines

Mayurbhanj, 19 June

In many churches here Sunday schools have ceased to function. I have been advocating these and at a recent church leaders meeting I heard that some have re-started this work. It is often difficult to find the right ones to conduct Sunday school and mostly they have to do it without materials as very little is available.


The Vacation Bible School that was to be held in Manoharpur was cancelled because of problems in the church there. Two hundred and eight children registered for the one at Raika, but because of the extreme heat only 120 came. It was an excellent time and some young people who teach in VBS are being trained and encouraged for children’s work and Sunday school.”


“Graham and Gladys Staines

Mayurbhanj, 21 August

Recently Paul, Matthew, Nehemiah and Misayel went to Deleswar church near Sarat where they encouraged the believers and talked about some problems. The leaders there are still unstable. Some young who asked for baptism were found not to be ready.


There are still divisions in the church at Manoharpur and the churches at Durakuntia and Burudi are very weak.


It is lovely to see the little girls being cared for in the Rairangpur hostel. They have a wonderful opportunity to learn to read and to learn of the Lord.


Paper work for the hostel extension has been submitted to the offices of the government authorities. Pray that it can be built soon to provide more accommodation.”



“Graham and Gladys Staines

Mayurbhanj, 18 September

Four men visited Manoharpur church to discuss the problems there and much was sorted out. A man who seems to want to be the head of the church wants to bring in or join with two other groups who do not teach and walk according to the scriptures. Others in the church, particularly young men, who were following this man, now do not do so. Pray for wisdom and grace for Timothy who leads the church there.


There has been good rain here recently, though it is too late for much of the rich crop.”



“Graham and Gladys Staines

Mayurbhanj, 19 December

It is encouraging to hear of some improvement in the church at Manoharpur and that they are preparing for the jungle camp.


Misayel, Paul and Nehemiah visited Patna in early December but as many were away rice harvesting they could meet only with a few. They were able to encourage a new believer who had been a priest of the Sana Dhoram, an animist sect. The village people pleaded with him not to become a Christian, saying, ‘How can we continue our worship if you leave us?’ ‘You can do so you like, but I am following Christ’ he said. Continue to pray. God is working.”


Staines in his despatches to the ‘Tidings’, which are on record, has made reference to militant Hindu group twice. In the issue of April 1998 there is reference to a communication dated 22nd February 1998 from Staines. In that he said that he had arrived from Baliposi camp a day earlier as “some people from a ‘militant Hindu group’ who were persecuting the Christians came to the camp but were not able to disturb the meeting”. Similarly, in the issue of July 1998 Staines wrote “We have been told that a ‘militant Hindu group’ plans to concentrate on Mayurbhanj and Keonjhar to win Christians back to Hinduism”. Earlier in November 1997 issue Staines complained that Ho believers in Thakurmunda “still face persecution” and from time to time the village people have beaten them up, broken their bicycles and not allowed them to worship in their own church building. It is IEM which is active in Thakurmunda area and activities of EMSM are not confined to this area. This is from the statement of Gladys and also from the statement of John Mathai. Baliposi camp is organized by IEM in Thakurmunda area.


In her statement Gladys was unable to identify as to which ‘militant Hindu group’ Staines made reference. However, on the basis of various intelligence reports emanating from the police it does appear to me that reference to ‘militant Hindu group’ has perhaps been to the Bajrang Dal. As held earlier, there is no evidence that Bajrang Dal is involved in the present gruesome murder of Staines and his two little children. Moreover, in his statement Pratap Chandra Sarangi, who is State Coordinator of Bajrang Dal in Orissa, was categorical that re-conversion to Hinduism is not one of the objects of Bajrang Dal. In his affidavit he had stated that Bajrang Dal was not involved in the gruesome murder and that Dara Singh was never a member of the Bajrang Dal. Sarangi stated that Bajrang Dal is an independent forum associated with Vishwa Hindu Parishad. He described the objectives and activities of the Bajrang Dal. It is not necessary to go into that as Bajrang Dal is not an unlawful organization.


From these issues of the ‘Tidings’, following circumstances emerge:

1.       Jungle Camps were regular features in the Districts of Mayurbhanj and Keonjhar. Jungle Camp means four days of Bible teaching, prayer and the fellowship of Christians living together. It enables believers from other churches to meet with local Christians to discuss experiences and encourage one another. Also speakers from other places broaden the vision of those whose lives have been confined to one small village. The teaching helps the church leaders to further develop material for their own regular ministry.

2.      The camp can also create hunger in the hearts of those who come just to observe. Each camp has a bookstall, which for many is the only chance to buy Christian literature.

3.      Conversions did take place in Jungle Camps. These conversions were not caused by any threat, inducement or duress.

4.      There was dispute among Church leaders of Manoharpur Church and attempts were made to sort out the differences among them. Differences were so acute that the Vacation Bible School which was to be held in Manoharpur was cancelled. There was tension in Thakurmunda area between Christians and non-Christians.

5.      From July 1998 issue, it does appear that persons who had been converted to Christianity were Hindus.

6.      Though Staines was involved in ceremonies connected with baptism it was not ‘that he would baptise persons who are not true believers. In the issue of Tidings of October 1999, he reported that some young people who asked for baptism were not found to be ready”.

7.      In the issue of January-February 1999 he mentions Sanatan Dharam (Sana Dharam) as an animist sect.

8.      Tension was brewing between Christian and non-Christian villagers because of the spread of Christianity.


The incident at Manoharpur was an avoidable tragedy


There are various reasons indicated below which lead to the conclusion that an efficient and responsive administration could have prevented this unfortunate incident.

1. Tension between Hindus and Christians in certain areas of Mayurbhanj and Keonjhar Districts:

It is evident from the various issues of the news magazine Tidings which were produced by Gladys Staines that there was tension in the two districts and that jungle camps held by the Christians were facing resentment and hostility from the Hindus. John Mathai speaks about the disturbance in the camp at Baliposi. He further states that the officer in charge of Mahuldia Police Station had escorted the participants to safety saying that the police could not provide protection to the camp as general elections were around. He further states that for the last seven years there has been tension between Christians and non-Christians. He cites an instance of 1992, in which the Sunday worship at Basantpur Church (which is 4 kilometers from Thakurmunda) was disrupted.


Lalit Das, the former Superintendent of Police of Keonjhar, cites an incident of July 1998 at Jogiabandha when the villagers objected to the presence of one Fr. Vergese in their village.


Nehemiah Tudu states that previously the relationship between Christians and non-Christians was cordial but in the last 4 years there have been disturbances.


In Manoharpur itself there was some friction between Christians and non-Christians as non-Christians had objected to the playing a music cassette containing Christians songs during a Christian wedding. In the November ‘97 issue of ‘Tidings’ Graham Staines writes that “Ho believers in Thakurmunda still face persecution. From time to time the village people have beaten them up, broken their bicycles and not allowed them to worship in their own Church building....” He further writes in the May ‘98 edition of the ‘Tidings’ that “six men came to Baripada to speak with officials in the Intelligence Department regarding tension in the Thakurmunda area.... He says in the July ‘98 edition of ‘Tidings’ that militant Hindu groups plan to concentrate at Mayurbhanj and Keonjhar to win Christians back to Hinduism.


The Investigating Team of the Commission cited several reasons for the generation of tension between the Christians and non-Christians.  It opines that tension is caused due to:


(i) Christian villagers who were earlier contributing to the village festivals, not giving ‘chanda’ (contribution) after embracing the religion.’

(ii) Their non-participation in local religious festivals and tribal dance etc;

(iii) Their adoption of anti-tribal customary practice of ploughing land during Raja, Makar Sankranti and other festivals of local non-Christian tribals,

(iv) Since the converted Christian?s stopped taking ‘handia’ (rice beer) and saved money by avoiding unnecessary expenditure on ‘bali’ (sacrifice) of hens and goats to appease spirits which the local tribals believed in, their savings were utilised for a better life. Such conduct of the Christians was resented by the other villagers. These issues gradually became causes of friction between Christian and non-Christian communities in the villages.


Evidence before the Commission does not indicate any open serious division between the Hindus and the Christian communities. However, evidence does indicate that there was underlying tension between them. This was especially owing to the fact that the Christian tribals in certain areas used to plough the land during the Raja Festival (when according to tribal custom the land was to be kept fallow) and the non participation of the Christian tribals in village festivals. This tension was more pronounced in the Thakurmunda area. Evidence before the Commission also indicates that the police had little knowledge about the conduct of jungle camps in the Districts and did not take any serious note of the underlying tensions between Christians and Hindus.


2. Laxity of the State and district administration :

Though the question on conversions and re-conversions are being discussed separately it is necessary to point out here that the various officials of the police and Distt. Administration knew very little about the activity of conversion taking place in the Districts. They also did not take note of the fact that this was causing some tension between the Christian and Hindu communities in the villages. Santosh Upadhyaya former S.P. of Mayurbhanj stated that there were no conversions there in his time. J.K. Mahapatra feigned ignorance about jungle camps or conversions. A.R. Khan did not know about the holding of jungle camps. R. Balakrishnan, Distt.  Magistrate of Mayurbhanj stated that although there were conversions, they were not owing to force or inducement. Saurab Garg, Distt.  Magistrate of Keonjhar did not know about any conversions in his District. Both the District Magistrates and the Superintendent of Police also did not have a proper working knowledge of the Orissa Freedom of Religion Act and were not aware of the provisions of the Act and its rules. M.K. Dwivedi who was the acting S.P. of Keonjhar at the relevant time stated that he was not aware of the jungle camps and that there was no complaint regarding conversions to Christianity during his tenure.…..


3. Failure of Intelligence :

The functioning of the District Intelligence Bureau was far from satisfactory. ….


The IB keeps a watch on the activities of foreign missionaries and flow of foreign funds for missionary work. Since conversions on the large scale can result in social tension and disruption of law and order, the IB keeps track of approximate conversions taking place in various parts of the country.In the case of Keonjhar district (in which Manoharpur is located), the Christian population which was 2595 in 1971 increased to 4112 in 1991. The growth was not considered alarming by the IB. Neither the State police/Special branch/local police or the IB was aware of any strong social tension due to conversions in the region. ….


The IB’s perception is that the incident at Manoharpur was a law and order problem and their role would be twofold for incidents of this nature. Where information exists with the IB of the imminence of such a clash, the local police would be informed. Where a deep-rooted State or National Level conspiracy has taken place, the IB would utilise its expertise for unravelling such a conspiracy. As far as the Manoharpur incident, the IB did not have any prior information of Hindu-Christian tension and in its perception the incident was purely local and not the fall out of a high level conspiracy.


There is, thus, total failure of intelligence both at State and Central levels. There has also been failure at the State level in maintenance of law and order, it not being alive to the prevalent situation. In sum, therefore, a responsive and efficient administration which has its ear to the ground and which acts on intelligence information available with it and whose officers are given a reasonable tenure could have prevented the carnage at Manoharpur.


[The complete report is at:]

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