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January 25, 1999
ASSEMBLY POLL '98
Conversions form a grim background to missionary's murder
Bibhuti Mishra in Bhubaneswar
Conversions appear to be the cause for the carnage that led to the horrific deaths of Christian missionary Graham Staines and his two young sons in Manharpur on Saturday.
For the last 19 years, tribals in this area are being converted to Christianity. As late as January 22, under the cover of a forest camp, 31 tribal families were converted in Manharpur, which was provocation enough for the Hindu tribals to strike back.
There has been a long-standing conflict between the Hindu tribals and neo-converts, and the latter had time and again lodged complaints with the police, narrating tales of harassment. Major scuffles between the two communities had taken place in 1983, 1993 and 1997. A minor conflict had occurred on January 5 in Manharpur, when Christian music was played at a marriage ceremony.
The police is said to have done little to curb the anti-conversion feeling rampant among the tribals. In fact, the district does not have a superintendent of police.
The prime suspect, Dara Singh, appears to have masterminded the outrage. Fortynine Bajrang Dal and RSS workers have been arrested so far and Rs 25,000 announced as a reward for Singh's capture, but some say the Bajrang Dal's involvement in the carnage is still open to question.
Claims Gainsu Soren, 45, an eyewitness: "We did not hear any shout of 'Jai Bajrang Dal' although the miscreants were creating a ruckus and beating the vehicle with bamboo sticks while pouring petrol on it and setting fire to it."
The police inaction in an area with a history of such clashes is strange. By all accounts, last week's conversions appear to be the provocation as there has been widespread resentment in the area comprising 20-odd villages. The incident at Udaygiri a month ago, when angry tribals dragged out two criminals from the jail and set fire to them before torching a Christian colony, is seen as another such outburst of resentment.
Meanwhile, the missionary's wife Gladys is a picture of poise as she says: "I'm not angry. God gives and takes lives. They (the miscreants) should be pardoned."
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