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January 27, 1999
ASSEMBLY POLL '98
Bajrang Dal allegedly 'zeroed in' on Stains to 'end' conversions
Arup Chanda in Manoharpur
An uneasy calm prevailed at Manoharpur in Orissa where an Australian Christian missionary, Graham Stewart Stains, and his two children were torched alive on the night of January 22 allegedly by Bajrang Dal activists.
Despite the presence of a large contingent of armed policemen, the tribal villagers are too shocked to talk about the incident. They feel insecure and assurances by politicians who visited them have failed to have any impact on their minds.
Orissa Chief Minister Janaki Ballabh Patnaik, Union Steel Minister Naveen Patnaik and Congress general secretary Madhavrao Scindia came to the village after the gruesome killings.
On the spot investigation revealed that the murders were meticulously planned.
It started with a wedding party in a Christian Santhal family at Manoharpur village bordering Mayurbhanj and Keonjhar districts of Orissa. Two weeks ago, as the tribals sang and danced to the beat of drums celebrating a marriage, Bajrang Dal activists swooped in.
They asked the tribals to stop the celebration and threatened them with dire consequences. However, these innocent villagers could never imagine that the outcome would be so brutal.
Each year, during this time, Christian missionaries observe a jungle festival in this area.
Manoharpur is a remote village with dusty roads deep inside Keonjhar district. The nearest town of Anandapur is 45 kilometres away and the local block of Thakurmunda is 13 kilometres away.
According to the local villagers, Stains arrived at the village with a team of 13 men and his two children, Philip, aged nine, and Timothy, aged six, on January 20. Stains had been coming to this village each year to organise the jungle festival.
Holding discourses on the Bible, listening to the problems of the villagers, offering medical help and providing solutions to their problems are part of the festival. Stains had been doing this for the last 14 years.
Not only residents of Manoharpur but people from faraway villages like Tulsiboni, Sankulpada, Kundla and Gopinathpur converge on the village for the festival. More than 300 persons had come to this village.
Sudam Marandi, a villager, said, "Nemai Hansda is Dr Stains's driver. Hansda's sister Martha is married to Shyamsunder Marandi of Manoharpur village. With Martha's help, 31 families in this village embraced Christianity on January 20. Stains was present at the ceremony."
The Bajrang Dal, which had allegedly been carrying out threats to the tribals for embracing Christianity, could not tolerate the conversions. They allegedly felt that if the conversions continued their authority in the area would erode.
"They (the Bajrang Dal) identified Dr Stains as their main enemy in their 'crusade' against conversions and decided to kill him. The moment they came to know of the conversions on January 20, they decided to strike," said Calet Majhi, another villager.
On the night of January 22, Stains's companions, after finishing dinner, went to sleep inside a house near the makeshift church. Stains and his two children, Philip and Timothy, went to sleep inside the station wagon.
Around midnight they heard sounds and noticed commotion outside the house. People were shouting "Jai Bajrang Bali" and "Jai Dara Singh". As the men tried to venture out, some youths armed with iron rods threatened them with murder if they came out.
Stains's driver Nemai Hansda ignored the threat and ran out. He was severely beaten up while the armed men chased the others. "We ran back into the house and bolted the door.
"After sometime, we could smell that something was burning and could hear Stains and his children crying for help. The slogan-shouting by the attackers continued. After some time they went away,'' said one of Stains's men.
"As we ventured out, the villagers joined us and we found the charred bodies inside the burnt vehicle."
The attackers were confident they would not meet with any resistance as the nearest police station is 45 kilometres away and one has to travel 15 kilometres to make a telephone call.
After completing their job they walked away as the villagers dared not resist them due to lack of arms. Before leaving they threatened to burn down all Christian homes if the police was informed. The villagers rushed to the nearest phone booth and informed Gladys Stains.
A red alert has been sounded throughout Orissa and close watch is been kept in the communally sensitive areas. The police have so far arrested 49 men including three students of a local college.
However, the man who is allegedly behind the killings, Dara Singh, a local Bajrang Dal leader, is still at large.
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