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archive: In Manoharpur, Graham Staines is just a distant memory

In Manoharpur, Graham Staines is just a distant memory

Bibhuti Mishra in Bhubaneshwar
Rediff on Net
August 7, 1999

    Title: In Manoharpur, Graham Staines is just a distant memory
    Author: Bibhuti Mishra in Bhubaneshwar 
    Publication: Rediff on Net
    Date: August 7, 1999 
    An early morning shower had left the village main street sodden and an
    overcast sky gave the place a rather gloomy and sleepy look. It was
    difficult to believe that this nondescript and peaceful village of
    Manoharpur had witnessed one of the most ghastly crimes in recent
    years -- the Graham Staines murder -- just a little over six months
    ago on January 22. 
    The Wadhwa Commission that probed into the gruesome murder of the
    Australian missionary had submitted its report to the central
    government, which made it public only on Thursday. The people of
    Manoharpur, however, are unaware of the report. 
    I search out Thakurdas Murmu the sarpanch who too had deposed before
    the Commission. "I don't know what Wadhwa saheb has said but we've
    heard that Dara Singh has been found to be the main criminal. All the
    aides of Dara in the surrounding villages have gone underground,''
    Murmu said. 
    By now innocent-looking tribals have gathered around this
    correspondent in front of the ramshackle church that was also the site
    of the crime. I manage to identify one eyewitness, Raghunath Dehuri,
    who says, "We had heard cries of 'Jai Bajrangbali' but how can we say
    whether those who shouting the slogans were from any organisation?" 
    On queried whether Dara and associates worked for any religious
    organisation, Pradeep Mishra, a bank manager in Konjhar, is evasive.
    Instead he digresses on the Commission's report on Staines' character:
    ''Who says he was a good man? Ask any local person. There was forcible
    conversion and Dara is popular and yet to be nabbed because the local
    people shield him for fighting such conversion," he fumes.  
    Interestingly, John Mathai of the Baptist Union Church whom I met in
    Baripada totally agrees with the Commission's report of giving a clean
    chit to the Hindu outfits. "We never blamed any outfit. Even Gladys
    (who is away in Australia) did not blame any organisation. All of us
    are quite satisfied with the report," he assures me. 
    When asked about his deposition before the commission, where he had
    said that he had been threatened many times for conversions, Mathai
    said, "I said about threats but I did not blame any particular
    organisation. It could well be the work of fringe elements." 
    Most of the Christians in this town where Graham Staines had settled
    agree with Mathai. Another key witness S K Mohanty, a police
    inspector, says, "Dara has a proven criminal record and he might be
    working without any specific backup though he had worked for various
    parties and outfits at different times." 
    The proverbial shortness of public memory was manifest when most
    people in Baripada showed total indifference to the Staines murder
    case that had rocked the nation only in January. 
    Samuel Sahu, a converted Christian working in a local school, echoes
    the feelings of the people here when he says, "People are hardly
    bothered about the communal angle. This report about which we read in
    the papers is more an indictment of the Congress and the state
    government's failure. It is anti-Congress rather than anti-Hindu as
    the Congress hoped it would be."  
    Ajit K Tripathy, the home secretary, when asked about the strictures
    passed by the Commission on the state administration and the police
    force, said, "I had deposed before the Commission regarding the
    transfers of superintendents of police. But the Director General of
    Police had admitted intelligence failure. We are yet to receive the
    details of the Commission's report, about the First Information Report
    being doctored and all that. We will take suitable action when we get
    the details." 
    However, he admitted that the strictures show the Orissa police in a
    poor light and that the government would have to take steps to ensure
    that such events don't recur. 
    In Bhubaneswar people react to the Wadhwa report as yet another
    embarrassment for the Congress and an indirect victory for the BJP and
    while the entire issue gets politicised, there is little trace of any
    sympathy for the Staines family or concern about Dara still being at
    large. Mathai Marandi in Manoharpur sums it up nicely without meaning
    to do so when he says, crestfallen, "Now Dara will never be found."

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