Open letter to an MP: No stain on Staines

A. J. Philip
28 Sep 2020

Dear Shri Satya Pal Singh, MP,

Your parents had a purpose when they named you Satya (Truthful). They would have remembered Satyavan and his wife Savitri, who led such a truthful life that Yama, the God of death, was forced to allow the couple to live a full life.I do not know how religious your parents were. They could possibly have been motivated by the national motto Satyameva Jayate (Truth shall triumph) when you were named Satya. Did you remember your own name when you spoke in the Lok Sabha on the amendments to the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act (FCRA) Bill?

I heard your speech and found that you had not a single new point to make except to repeat some provisions of the Bill and endorse them. You proved to be a pucca “yes-man” of the government. No, I do not blame you for that for you would, otherwise, find yourself in the BJP’s dungeon.

You came to the House with a prepared script to not only gain public attention but also get into the good books of the powers that be. From the comforts and security of Parliament, you defamed a person whose name should be written in golden letters in the annals of mankind.

Of course, you knew that Australian missionary Graham Stewart Staines and his teenaged sons Timothy Harold Staines and Philip Graham Staines who were burnt alive at Manoharpur in Odisha’s Keonjhar district on the night of January 22, 1999, would not file a defamation case against you.

You also knew that under the law of the land, an MP cannot be taken to task for his statements in Parliament. You are given the immunity from criminal action to help you serve the public cause, not to heap calumnies on a dead person.Do you know what the then President of India, KR Narayanan, said about the killing of Graham Staines and his sons? He said, “it belonged to the world’s inventory of black deeds”. Twenty-one years after the macabre killing, you justified it on the ground that he deserved it as he was converting Hindus.

What’s worse, you “disclosed” that the police had found that the Australian missionary had raped 30 tribal women but a top Congress leader from Kerala had called the CBI Chief not to include it in the case file?

How will you, Mr Truth, feel if I write that someone had told me that you had raped 30 women, while you were the police commissioner of Mumbai? Of course, you will take me to court and the court will ask me who that person is who told me this. May I ask you the same question, which Congress leader pressurised the CBI?

You have totally forgotten that when the killings happened, the CBI functioned under Home Minister LK Advani. If Graham Staines was a serial rapist as you claim, was a single case registered against him anywhere in Odisha? 

It is difficult for me to believe that you were once an IPS officer. If this is how your mind works, I know how the poor people, especially the minorities, would have suffered at your hands. I am sure you would have heard the name of KS Dhillon, who served as DGP of Punjab and Madhya Pradesh, before becoming the Vice-Chancellor of Bhopal University, my alma mater.

Dhillon’s book “Defenders of the Establishment” (IIAS, 1998) which is a history of the Indian Police from the Vedic times to the last decade of the 20th century is a classic work. He begins the book with this sentence, “Unlike their counterparts in most Western democracies and Japan, police in the Indian subcontinent have never been held in high esteem by their compatriots”.

He elaborates, “Women would, in particular, avoid close proximity to a policeman for fear of compromising their reputation and personal safety. Most people believe that the police in the subcontinent routinely favour disreputable persons, political manipulators, influence peddlers, even confirmed criminals”.

When I heard your speech, I remembered these lines. I had two long meetings with Sardar Dhillon, whose daughter Preeti is a good friend. He divides the entire police fraternity into two, those who tweak the evidence to punish the guilty and those who tweak the evidence to punish the innocent.

Alas, you belong to an altogether different group, at once abominable — those who target the dead and make wild allegations against them to curry favour with the rulers. I wish you had done some homework before saying that Graham Staines raped 30 women.

If you have time, you can meet the Australian High Commissioner in India to find out how many Indians, mostly belonging to upper castes, seek visa to settle down in his country. Australia, not the USA and Canada, is now the favourite destination of Indians who increasingly find that their “Mathrubhumi” is the best place to fly away from. Curiously, you went to Australia to add to your educational qualifications.

Unlike the comfort-seeking Indians who want to go to Australia, Graham Staines, born at Brisbane in Australia, chose one of the least developed areas of India to go to. His contact with India began when he became a pen-friend of Santanu Satpathy. They shared a common birthday.

It was on Satpathy’s invitation that Staines first visited Baripada in 1965. His encounter with the inmates of the Leprosy Home there had a profound influence on him. For once, he decided to devote the rest of his life to serving the poor there. Perhaps, you might think that he fell for the female leprosy patients!

Of course, he was merely following in the footsteps of fellow Australian, Ms Gilbert, who founded the Evangelical Missionary Society at Mayurbhanj way back in 1896. Odisha had at that time better rulers than you and your ilk, who equate missionary work with rape.

The Leprosy Home at Mayurbhanj would not have come up without the munificence of Maharaja Shriram Chandra Bhanja, who donated 4.6 acres of land for the project. The Home became a haven for the leprosy patients in the region.

The arrival of Graham Staines was a red-letter event for those who stayed at the Home. In your speech, you mentioned the DP Wadhwa Commission report. I have not only read the report but also critiqued it when it came out in 1999.

Do you know that each one of the inmates who deposed before the Wadhwa Commission praised the humanitarian work of Staines and detailed how he had transformed their humble lives? Nothing surprising as millions of television viewers all over the world had seen them weeping copiously when they paid their last respects to Staines and his sons.
If you have the guts, I am ready to accompany you to Odisha. I do not have money at present for such a travel but I will borrow from my family and friends for the purpose. You are entitled to travel free of cost. Let us, for a change, stay at the Leprosy Home for one or two days. We will eat the same food they eat. You can talk to the people there. I will be a silent listener. You can ask them any question. I will honestly report your findings. Are you ready? 

Do you know that Staines was not alone in his work. He had in his wife Gladys Staines a loving companion and an able associate. Born in Sydney, Australia, she had made a visit to Baripada and had acquainted herself with Staines’ work before she decided to tie the knot with him 15 years before his killing.

What a cruel man you are to say that Staines was a rapist! Do you think Gladys Staines who lived in one of the most beautiful cities in the world would come all the way to Odisha to marry a “rapist” Will your daughter, if you have any, marry a serial rapist? 

Their children, Esther, Timothy and Philip, were never a hindrance for their work. They never asked their parents why they had to put up with the discomfort of Odisha when they could have enjoyed all the comforts of modern life in Australia.

Such thoughts never crossed their mind as they had been brought up in an atmosphere of giving and loving. The equanimity with which Gladys and her daughter received the news of their beloved’s death said it all. Nobody in his senses could have felt hatred for these noble souls.

Yet, on that fateful night, Staines and his two sons, who were sleeping in their Station Wagon, as was their won’t, were surrounded by a murderous gang. They sprinkled kerosene on the vehicle and put it to the torch. The three were burnt alive.

Justice Wadhwa begins his report, “The barbarity of the crime shook the whole nation. Every Indian had to hang his head in shame”. In the introductory paragraph of his report, Justice Wadhwa quotes President Narayanan”.

“That someone who spent years caring for patients of leprosy, instead of being thanked and appreciated as a role model should be done to death in this manner is a monumental aberration from the traditions of tolerance and humanity for which India is known”.

Are you a human being to call such a noble soul “a serial rapist” without a shred of evidence?

I do not know how many times you mentioned the word “conversion” in your speech. Let me quote the Wadhwa Commission report: Keonjar district had a total population of 15.30 lakh. Out of them, 14.93 lakh were Hindus. Christians, mostly tribals, were 4,707. 

According to the 1991 census, there were already 4,112 Christians in the district. Thus, there was an increase of only 595 in the Christian population. Could not 4,112 Christians have biologically produced 595 children over an eight-year period? I know all this is like reciting the Vedas into the ears of a “rogue buffalo” about to charge at you. I merely quoted a saying in Malayalam. I know that, unlike you, no bullock will charge at a dead person.

By the way, I have a query. The person who organised the killing of Staines was one Dara Singh. His full name is Rabindra Kumar Pal. He is from Itawa in UP. He first came to Delhi looking for a job. Since he did not want to work hard, he went to Odisha and began, first, harassing Muslims and, then, Christians.

His name has a “Pal” in it. Your name also has a “Pal” in it. Are you and Dara Singh related to each other, by any chance? I may be wrong but in India, there are many people who will justify anything and everything that their relatives and friends do. That is why I asked you this question.

Of course, you are the first to raise the rape charge against Staines. Two persons I know of have achieved good positions by accusing Staines of converting people. One became the Governor of Kerala. As Chief Justice of the apex court, he virtually justified the killing of Staines in a verdict he delivered. 

When a hue and cry was raised, he made a correction in his judgement, little knowing that a judgement delivered is final till it is set aside by a larger Bench. 

Another fellow who played a significant role in creating the atmosphere in which Staines and his children were burnt alive is today an honourable minister at the Centre. 

The fervour with which you read out a text, even when the Speaker advised you to confine yourself to the FCRA Bill under discussion, suggests that you have cleared the rite of passage and has become eligible for a ministerial post. However, your speech has left me with the firm conviction that you are not worthy of being called Satya Pal. For millions of people like me, you have, unfortunately, become a Jooth Pal!

Yours etc
ajphilip@gmail.com

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